The literary hero Biggles is brought to life with a sci-fi twist.
The story of Biggles: Adventures in Time has always held a particular place in my memories. As a child, I used to listen to a lot of storybook and tape sets, in particular, the ones which adapted the latest blockbuster films.
As I described in a previous article, these adaptations used soundalike actors, sound effects and non-copyright infringing music to reproduce the story in just twenty-four short pages along with a smattering of publicity stills to help fill out the book.
One of the sets I owned was an adaptation of Biggles and it was several years before I finally saw the full film.
For those of you who are unaware, Biggles is the nickname for the fictional character of James Bigglesworth, an English World War One fighter pilot created by the author W. E. Johns. Almost a hundred Biggles adventure stories were created by Johns before his passing in 1968.
However, this live-action adaptation of Biggles has been giving a sci-fi twist to try and draw in a bigger demographic of the audience.
James “Biggles” Bigglesworth, Air Commodore William Raymond and Jim Ferguson
Set in the present day, our film’s hero is Jim Ferguson (Alex Hyde-White), a catering salesman from New York. One night, after a visit from an elderly English gentleman who asked strange questions, Jim finds himself transported back to Germany, 1917.
A biplane crashes nearby and Jim rescues the pilot just before it explodes into a ball of flames. The pilot reveals himself to be James “Biggles” Bigglesworth, an English fighter pilot who was on a reconnaissance mission to photograph a new German secret weapon. Without warning, Jim is transported back to his present-day New York apartment.
The next day at work, Jim is visited again by the elderly English gentleman who introduces himself as Air Commodore William Raymond (Peter Cushing). William explains that he knows what happened, that it will occur again and that Jim must come to London. He leaves his business card and makes his exit.
Jim is too caught up in his next big product but halfway through the launch party, the time jump happens again. Jim finds himself sitting in the back seat of Biggles’ biplane, a surprise for the both of them! Biggles is on another reconnaissance mission for the German secret weapon.
After the mission’s success, Jim time jumps back to the present day and decides to head to London to try and get some answers from Commodore Raymond.
Well, Biggles: Adventures In Time didn’t hold up to well and my memories were certainly tainted after all these years. The film has its moments but unfortunately, there are more cons than pros.
In my opinion, the plot of the film only serves as a device to allow Biggles to jump forward to the present day. This is the start of the climactic sequence which will see a helicopter get taken back to 1914.
Speaking of helicopters, despite the films age and low budget, the flying sequences, albeit helicopters or world war one dogfights, are the highlights of this film. The helicopter flying is certainly very impressive with one stunt involving a train topping the bill.
Several aerial dogfights make up the films action quota
It’s a shame the same can’t be said for the rest of the action. You’d think that a film featuring gun-toting heroes fighting the Nazis would be enjoyable but on the whole, it all feels very pedestrian.
I’m not expecting Tarantino levels of blood and violence but the enemy soldiers die with no blood at all. It’s a bit like watching an episode of the A-Team and this is not helped by John Hough’s direction.
Hough’s background is in television and unfortunately, the film looks like it was made for that medium. There’s nothing here that gives it a grander scale or even looks like it was meant for theatrical release. Biggles was a film that received a royal charity premiere, and I’m not sure why.
The soundtrack also further compounds the Biggles problems. Parts of the soundtrack has what you would consider a classical style musical score, and as expected, it works. However, this was the 1980s, a synthesiser score was composed by Stanislas Syrewicz.
During several action set pieces, songs composed for the film, “Do you want to be a hero?” and “Chocks Away” are played. Unfortunately, both songs are terrible in their own right and sound even worse when paired up with the Biggles big action moments.
You can even tell that the whole film was shot in England as I don’t think New York has double yellow lines on their roads, but that’s just being picky!
Biggles captures his arch nemesis, Eric Von Stalhein. Unfortunately, a severely underused and underdeveloped character.
Despite not really knowing much about the character of Biggles from the original stories, Neil Dickson made a good on-screen hero. Maybe the film would have worked better as a straight-up action adventure in the vein of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
It’s also worth mentioning that Peter Cushing is great to watch whenever he’s on screen. It’s just a shame this was his final film performance before retiring.
I think in the future, I’ll be fondly remembering the children’s abridged version rather than the film its based upon.
A time travelling plot device coupled with pedestrian paced action make this film rather dull. A straight-up World War 1 Biggles adventure would have been a safer bet!