Action/Adventure
Biggles: Adventures in Time
.
Dir: John Houghton
Star: Neil Dickson, Peter Cushing, Fiona Hutchison, Alex Hyde-White
Cert / Year: PG - PG 13 / 1986
Format: DVD R2
'

American fast food entrepreneur Jim Ferguson (Alex Hyde-White) attempts to write a speech for his big product launch party when he is interrupted by a strange experience, which catapults him back in time to the Western Front in 1917. He helps a British pilot escape from his crashed aircraft, only to be immediately thrown forward again to his own time. Left a little shaken by the event, Ferguson attends the party the following day. He is again dragged backward through time, this time into an aeriel dogfight between two biplanes. As before once the pilot is safe, Ferguson returns to his own time to a crowd of bewildered onlookers. Fleeing the scene, Ferguson turns to the mysterious British Colonel Raymond (Peter Cushing) who explains that Jim is the "time-twin" of British flying ace Captain James "Biggles" Bigglesworth (Neil Dickson). Which means that whenever he is in great danger Jim will involuntarily be hauled through time to help him, and in this case they must destroy a deadly German secret weapon that could change the whole course of the war.

A good idea with an inventive approach which bypasses the existing 98 Biggles stories and creates a story which owes a lot to Back to the Future and was another in the spate of eighties time travel movies. On the plus side this barmy little film attempts to resurrect the classic RAF hero Biggles, created by Captain W.E. Johns and who was such a popular literary hero. By overlooking the established stories the film attempts something new and throws in the mcguffin of Biggles having and being a "time-twin". Lacking the huge budgets of its American counterparts, Biggles wasn't much competition for them but certainly earned itself a popular child following as a good old fashioned yarn spun into a jolly sci-fi/adventure film romp with a yell of "chocks away Ginger". Our hero and his plucky, dashing Brit flyer aces continue in their traditional brand of teaching the sausage guzzling Hun how to fight a war honourably, with manners, good taste, a defined sense of fair play and the manly smell of a pipe. But the introduction of the modern character of American entrepreneur and chef Jim Ferguson is really just a lame excuse to shoe horn in a band of "token yanks" to sell a film overseas and maybe squeeze a television series out of it and to hell with the established character of Biggles. As it is the film suffers from the Yank interference and becomes an exercise in camp raillery at the expense of the character, which is infuriating and dissappointing for anyone who grew up reading these books.

This is a great movie, primarily targeted at the pre-teen audience though it is very silly and simplistic and with an endearing and unequivocal charm all of its own. The characters of Algy, Bertie and Ginger were very well cast and fit superbly with the old Captain W.E. Johns stories. The actors in these supporting roles were surprisingly good. One of the best scenes of the film has to be when Biggles' 3 companions walk lightly armed with their hands behind their backs into a courtyard full of German soldiers and politely say "I say..... I don't suppose you chaps would consider surrendering?" Or when Von Stalhein proposes a toast "to war" and Biggles fires back a toast "to peace". Brilliant, that is the sort of thing that we expected from a Biggles story and a Biggles film and we don't get enough of it! Good old indefaticable British pluck, pride and bravery, straight from the era of "boys own" or "commando" stories which so many of us grew up with.

Where the film fails partly is that Biggles appears to be a secondary character, but Neil Dickson doesn't provide a particuarly commanding performance either. Algy, Bertie and Ginger crop up as you would expect but they are terribly underused and what we get serves little purpose. We don't care about Ferguson's business and friends in the USA, or the mcguffin about the Germans having a secret weapon during the first world war (raise eyebrow sarcastically). What we want is Biggles and lots of him and his heroic aeronautic antics, that is after all what anyone who has read the books would expect. Alas, no, we get a dumb convoluted tale which is firmly aimed at the kids and over indulges in pandering to the whims of the American audiences including some dreadful British stereotyping.

As for the music, the band Stanislas were firmly under the influence of Jon Anderson from the synth/rock band Yes and his input is very evident and for the most part works well. Although, I have to admit there is only so many times that you can hear the song "Do you want to be a hero?" in an hour and a half. There is also a musical influence in the film by Queen bassist John Deacon which isn't a bad thing but if Queen had done all the soundtrack we could have had a stronger feel to the film, which was present in Flash Gordon and Highlander. The film hasn't got a deep or intellectually stimulating storyline, so isn't difficult to follow but there again, this is an eighties "kids" movie so don't expect too much from it. There are some good special effects for the time, but they have dated badly and some of them look decidedly poor now. The film doesn't waste any time getting started and proves to be a great sci-fi adventure romp with a great sense of fun and humour.

Neil Dickson gives a jovial but monotone performance as the eponymous hero Biggles and even manages to appear the dashing hero at times, with plenty of "tally ho chaps". Alex Hyde-White however steals the scenes as he appears the more prominent character with the titular character appearing little more than a sidekick. The fabulous Peter Cushing provides a cool supporting performance in one of his last big screen roles as Colonel Raymond. It is always good to see a classic actor of his calibre even if it is as a sinister looking support character. Some recognisable faces from British television are evident throughout the film especially Francesca Gonshaw who we will no doubt remember from classic war comedy series Allo Allo. Cult fans will also no doubt recognise Marcus Gilbert as Biggles' nemesis Von Stalhein as he later went on to play King Arthur in Evil Dead 3: The Army of Darkness . Originally, when the Biggles film project was first discussed, British actor James Fox was signed on to play Captain Biggles but the project was shelved and despite some of the promotional material already being done it was criminally never made, as Fox would have made a superior Biggles.

Some parts of the film do work out quite well and for me the biplanes were well arranged, some good aeriel photography and a couple of dogfights, even though the one involving the helicopter was daft but fun. Admittedly some of the aeriel work has been done better since but in this context it is still a jolly good jape to see biplanes dogfighting over the British countryside (oops, sorry I meant war torn French countryside) and such impressive flying. The direction of John Hough does feature some good moments and is entertaining enough. His style varies little to some of his other works including the Hammer classic Twins of Evil or the British cult television series The Avengers. There are a couple of badly editted scenes but as long as you ignore the couple of shots where you can see power lines, which as far as my history recalls weren't on the Western Front in 1917, you will enjoy the show.

Quotes

Biggles: Just do what I do
Ferguson: Ok..... But what are you going to do?.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

DVD
Picture 1.85:1 Anamorphic Excellent crisp image
Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 Not a bad mix
Features Fun semi-animated menu
Saturday Superstore 19th April 1986 Extract on The Film
Blue Peter 21st April 1986 Feature On The Film
John Deacon music video
Making of featurette
TV Spots
Image Gallery
Filmographies
Computer game preview
Verdict An old movie, but they have gone to the trouble of digging up all sorts of extras, from a poor music video featuring John Deacon in a flying cap to some television features which will surely bring the memories flooding back. Not brilliant but a good presentation with some fun stuff even if some of it is childishly condescending.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Reviewed by Logan Back Top Home