Biggles: Adventures in Time

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"Religious Transvestite Bank robber. That one's not even in the book "

Sept 06, 2011

When I was younger I had a copy of Blues Brothers on VHS that had been recorded off the TV. Recording all the ad breaks there was one TV spot for the film Biggles that I had to watch every time I put that tape on. The trailer had it all action, comedy a catchy theme tune (I'm sure that will be debateable) and above all it was a British production. Unfortunately back then access to films wasn't as easy as it is now and I never got to see it (cue sad face). Things changed a couple of years ago when I quite accidentally came across the flick playing on the MoviesforMen channel. Not quite what I was expecting this has become one of my favourite viewing experiences.

While I never got to see this film when it came out it was something that was always on my radar. While the movie has faded from most people's consciousness one thing kept it in mine, Peter Cushing. Being a rabid horror fan you can't get any better than the Hammer Horror greats and I always try to watch anything featuring Cushing, Lee and Price. Biggles was notable for being Cushing's last ever onscreen performance before his death.

While I didn't have access to the film itself I found a whole host of information about the production that really explains the bizarre movie that was cobbled together. Much of the decisions her will have most viewers scratching their heads but I'm actually glad it happened as this is a truly unique film.

Biggles is actually the main character in a long running book franchise that chronicles the life of war hero and pilot. This series of book is up there with the Bond franchise with a distinctive British protagonist (I haven't read the stories myself). Aside from the Bond films back in the 80's the British film industry was beginning to flounder so a big budget interpretation of the books was given the go ahead. Then Back to the Future was released.

As Biggles was still in the script writing process someone had a "great idea" to retool the entire story and add in time travel elements. What was intended to be a period piece similar to the Indiana Jones franchise evolved into a copy of the time period with one of the silliest time travel devices known to film.

Now named Biggles: Adventures in time, the story now goes like this. Jim Ferguson a car salesman (that's right Biggles isn't the main character) in modern day 1986. After being contacted by a strange man (Peter Cushing) he finds himself transported back to 1917 where he saves the life of pilot James "Biggles" Bigglesworth and is returned to the 80's. That in itself could have been the entire premise but this film had grander ideas. Peter Cushing is actually Biggles former commanding officer and explains to Jim that Biggles is his time twin. Take that in for a moment, it is what it sounds like.

A time twin as it is explained in the movie is when a person is in danger they are transported through time to aid the person they are connected to. No they do not look like each other and no they are not related. Logic is not this films strong suit. Throughout the film Jim is constantly transported back to various times in Biggles past as together they try to stop the Germans from creating a weapon that will change history.

I can fully understand why it flopped. Alienating an already established audience is never a good step; fans of the books were quite rightly miffed at the supernatural elements. People who hadn't heard of the book were in for a film that really had schizophrenic tendencies. Suspension of disbelief is always needed in films but for a big budget (at the time) going for a James Bond style franchise maybe it went too far. Despite all this I love this film. So bad its good has never been more apt which you can see from the below trailer.

How could you not want to watch that? The story granted has lapses in reality but what 80's movie didn't (Howard the duck anyone). The idea of a time twin is a silly concept but it leads into some brilliant action sequences and I'm sure if they had been successful enough to warrant more sequels a more detailed explanation could have been given (German experimentation?). This film really seems like a setup for more movies as a lot of the time is spent trying to explain what is happening (yes they kind of failed there). Most of the film is a series of action sequences across time flimsily strung together with the threat that the Germans are building a secret weapon.

Even with all the supernatural stuff the actual period settings are well crafted and perfectly create a feeling of war time Britain. Biggles (Neil Dickson) is a perfect representation of man serving his country and a hero anyone can get behind. These sections are so good while I really enjoy this film I can see the potential this originally had as a franchise of WW1/WW2 exploits. It's a little bit sad when a movie was so close to creating a valid franchise.

This film has some excellent action sequences and above all has one of the most thrilling scenes ever captured featuring Tower Bridge. Given special permission to perform stunts in around and on the bridge because the filmmakers were creating a movie of a British icon (they must have been pissed when they saw the finished film). No film before or since has been allowed such access due to the risk of damage. With Biggles transported to modern day (time travel works both ways) and the police chasing Jim (don't ask why it's all very overly complicated) we are treated to a sequence where the police scale the bridge (Peter Cushing character lives there apparently?) and send a helicopter after them. Its brilliant stuff and all the more satisfying as the stunts and location were real.

If you watched the trailer above you will have heard that genius theme tune 'Do you want to be a hero'. I have a weak spot for 80's music in movies and this plays throughout Biggles. Yes it's extravagant but every time I hear it I can't get it out of my head for days. In fact I think it's the main thing I love about this film elevating every scene it plays over.

By branding something so bad it's good you'd think that meant I would give most of the poor qualities of the film a pass but there are some major downfalls. Lapses in logic ignored the modern day sequences can be a real let down. When the movie starts the 80's are fine as a framing device but once Biggles has been introduced any moment he's not on screen is a real drag. I find myself waiting for the time travel sections so we can get back to the war effort. That said without the modern day (that's 1986) we wouldn't have that great Tower bridge section (it also leads into the finale).

Taken as 80's cheese this is a brilliant time waster but unfortunately this really is one film that ended two separate franchises. The Biggles saga didn't need any silly gimmick and probably would still be running today had it not been for this film. On the other side, while silly the Adventures in time had real potential and variety to it. Each if treated as separate films may have had more than one entry each.

I sit and wonder at the state of the movie industry as they dredge up crap from the past to endlessly remake. Biggles is a killer franchise that really could do well and I wonder why no one has ever tried to resurrect it. If it ever does find its feet don't expect the adventures in time moniker.

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