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  Biggles Chocks Away
Year: 1986
Director: John Hough
Stars: Neil Dickson, Alex Hyde-White, Fiona Hutchison, Peter Cushing, Marcus Gilbert, Francesca Gonshaw, William Hootkins, Alan Polonsky, Michael Siberry, James Saxon, Daniel Flynn, Roy Boyd, Samantha Bradshaw, Andrea Browne, David Butler, Pam St Clement
Genre: War, Science Fiction, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jim Ferguson (Alex Hyde-White) returns home one night after spending the evening with his girlfriend Debbie (Fiona Hutchison). He's the brains behind a new line of "Celebrity Dinners", a food product, and has to write a speech for the launch tomorrow. But there's somebody at the door, an elderly gent who announces himself as Colonel William Raymond (Peter Cushing), asking if anything strange has happened to Jim recently. Jim replies that he doesn't know what he's talking about, and after being asked the time, he shoos the Colonel away and returns to his speech. However, almost immediately there's a freak breeze, thunder and lightning and Jim is shocked to see he's not in his New York apartment but a field somewhere in Europe. A British fighter plane from World War One flies low over his head and crashes nearby, so he runs over to help out the pilot. And that pilot is none other than James Bigglesworth (Neil Dickson) - Biggles to his friends...

Now if you grew up reading the Biggles books of Captain W.E. Johns, you might be musing on why the film that bears the character's name starts off featuring a TV dinners executive as its lead, and in truth this mystery is never really explained. Johns wrote an abundance of tales of his hero, some set during wartime and others afterwards, so you would have thought with that lot a suitable story for the big screen would be easy to pick. Not so, apparently, as what writers John Groves and Kent Walwin came up with was a nonsense of time travelling science fiction, where Ferguson and Biggles are "time twins" and therefore are transported to each others' eras whenever the other is in mortal danger.

After saving Biggles, Ferguson ends up back in his apartment, baffled as to what has just happened to him. The next day, at his convenience food launch, all is going well, with cardboard cutouts of Joan Collins and Arnold Schwarzenegger in place and a possible client offering constructive criticism, when wouldn't you know it? Ferguson is transported back to 1917 again, this time in the passenger seat of Biggles' aircraft. This is an excuse for a dogfight with ruthless German flying ace Von Stalhein (Marcus Gilbert), and the stunt flying is especially well handled, only there's not enough of it, and too much of the plot is set in the eighties. Raymond (this was Cushing's final role, and he's a highlight) explains all when Ferguson goes to see him in his Tower Bridge (!) home: the Germans have developed a sound weapon that could help them win the war.

Now, the idea of Biggles fighting against a weapon of such magnitude isn't bad at all, but it's as if the filmmakers didn't have faith in him carrying the story by himself, hence the inclusion of a sidekick from the future to ameliorate any identification-with-the-protagonist difficulties. This is a shame, as Dickson is ideal as the hero, resourceful, square of jaw and suitably noble, and all with a roguish gleam in his eye. And yet he becomes almost a supporting character in his own film. So not one for the fans of the original, then, but there are strong implications that this was meant to be a spoof, mainly because it's so ridiculous that you can't imagine anyone taking it seriously, so if you're in the right frame of mind you can allow yourself to laugh at Biggles bounding into a 1980s helicopter and boasting, "If you can fly a Sopwith Camel, you can fly anything!" before taking to the skies. It's utterly silly, completely misjudged, but you have to admire its nerve. Possibly the worst music score of the decade by Stanislas.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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John Hough  (1941 - )

British director who began work as a director for 60s TV show The Avengers. Directed a wide variety of mostly genre movies over the last 30 years, the most notable being Hammer's Twins of Evil, The Legend of Hell House, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, Brass Target, Incubus and Biggles. Also turned in Disney pictures Escape to Witch Mountain and The Watcher in the Woods, plus straight-to-video turkey Howling IV.

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