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Raiders of the Lost Franchise: Biggles (1986)

So, the idea was proposed to do a few posts about movie franchises that never started. Movies, mostly shot in the 1980s, that were all set up to be the Next Star Wars, the Next Conan or the Next Indiana Jones, but for some reason (usually a mix of ineptitude, lack of funds and madness) went nowhere, and sometimes entered the legend.

And I like very much the idea, and I think I’ll start with a movie that believed so much in its First in a Series status, that it proclaimed it in the title itself – well, at least in some countries. Today it is considered a cult movie by some, and one of the most ludicrous movies ever by others. The fact that it came with a very well established pulp cred, and it featured Peter Cushing in his last big screen role, only make the whole a lot more painful.

The movie is of course the 1986 Biggles, sometimes known as Biggles, The Adventure Begins (ah!), but also as Biggles: Adventures in Time.

Before the movie there was, of course, the series of novels, penned by W.E. Johns, a former British air force pilot that between 1932 and 1970 published 96 Biggles novels and collections of stories. Johns actually died in 1968, but he left three complete novels and an incomplete one, and adding collected and uncollected stories, the Biggles canon comprises today 98 books.

Biggles, whose real name was James Bigglesworth, was a multi-talented pilot that starts his career during the Great War and goes on to fly any kind of plane, usually facing incredible odds and an assortment of bad guys. I wrote about the series in the early days of the blog, and I am sure WordPress will link that post here at the bottom of this one.

So, action and derring-do, knights of the skies, the evil Hun and his Fokkers and Zeppelins… perfect for a movie, right?
Yeah, right.

I will copy and paste the plot as provided by Wikipedia – because otherwise you wouldn’t believe me.

Catering salesman Jim Ferguson (Alex Hyde-White), living in present-day New York City, falls through a time hole to 1917 where he saves the life of dashing Royal Flying Corps pilot James “Biggles” Bigglesworth (Neil Dickson) after his photo recon mission is shot down. Before he can work out what has happened, Jim is zapped back to the 1980s. With assistance from Biggles’ former commanding officer William Raymond (Peter Cushing) who lives in the Tower Bridge in London, Ferguson learns that he and Biggles are “time twins”, spontaneously travelling through time when one or the other is in mortal danger. Together, Ferguson and Biggles fight across time and against the odds to stop the Germans changing the course of history by destroying a “Sound Weapon” with a Metropolitan Police helicopter that was stolen by Biggles while escaping a SWAT Team in 1986 London.

Wikipedia

You still there?
One can’t make this sort of stuff up.

I have often wondered why they did not simply stick to the classic plots, without all this nonsense about time twins, time holes and what else. But of course these were the mid-80s, and fantasy movies were big, good old-fashioned adventure was not (cue to the sad fate of two good little movies like High Road to China in 1983 and Lassiter in 1984) – a straightforward Biggles caper would have looked too much like a war movie. And also, I am sure, the production felt the need to provide a connection with the present – because evil German scientists with sonic weapons in 1917 was fantasy, but a few scenes shot in 1986 and featuring a few punks made everything better, right? More accessible, more fun…

The cast was adequate, if not exactly stellar. Peter Cushing could elevate the ugliest drivel with his measured acting, but he’s wasted. Alex Hyde-White is severely lacking in charisma, and Neil Dickson would probably have liked to have something more to do. The same goes for Fiona Hutchinson, a soap opera actress that is just a damsel in distress.

There are good planes, though, and the fact that they happen to be 1930s biplanes and not 1917 biplanes is still OK, because watching them soar is beautiful.
And the premise, while bonkers, might have worked, had they… no, OK, it can’t work, not like this. The hypothetical franchise was killed before it was born.

As a curiosity, the soundtrack featured Jon Anderson of Yes, Queen, Motley Crue and Deep Purple. But that went nowhere again.

A reboot of the franchise might be fun – the original stories should be heavily rewritten to sanitize the harshest politically incorrect elements, but the end result might be a fun adventure/espionage romp featuring biplanes.
Yeah, you are right, they’ll never make it.
It’s a pity, though.

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