Gibbons are masters of camouflage and unless you’re up close they’re difficult to spot. This is hardly surprising since they take great care to disguise themselves and, indeed, in many cases may not even realise their own true nature. One thing they cannot disguise are the odoriferous nuggets they leave behind and by this spoor we shall track them, the better to hunt them down like the vermin they are(1). Sometimes the spoor is subtle but sometimes it is such a steaming pile of celluloid that even the most generous must break down and say – ‘Truly this was a piece of shit.’
Biggles: Adventures in Time
is just such a turd.
A summery of the source material can be found at Wikipedia and a casual glance reveals that it offers the putative adaptor a wide range of options. You can have straight up war films (in both World Wars no less) or Indiana Jones style adventures between the wars or post war detective dramas.
Rumour has it that the original writing team were aiming for Indiana Jones — a film series that was proving staggeringly successful at the time.
There was just one last question before the film could be made, the same question faced by all films with a British hero — how to shoehorn an American character into the plot.
Not really a problem in this case: Americans are plausibly all over the place in this historical period and especially prominent in the later stages of both world wars; they can be old friends or the other half a mismatched buddy team thrown together by fate or the War Office, they could be the love interest or they could be a combination of all of these things. They chose none of these options instead they plumped for a time travel story instead.
I’ve tried to summarising the plot several times now but the pain is too much if you want to know the details then check the wiki page. You can see the appeal it allows them to drop an American ‘ordinary Joe’ (from the modern day no less) into the Biggles story. There we can contrast his lovable modern American irreverence and ‘can do’ attitude with the stiffest of stiff upper lips of the Great War. And to be honest with a bit of effort you could make that work, unfortunately Biggles: Adventures with Gibbons doesn’t.
But Ben, I here you cry, what does this have to do with gibbon spotting. It’s very simple: the single most distinctive characteristic of the gibbon is their inability to understand story or to differentiate good story material from bad story material. They have a ‘tin ear'(2) for story.
What makes the bloody awful ‘time twins’ plot so bloody, bloody awful is that it shows no understanding of how stories work. Unlike it’s direct inspiration ‘Back to the Future’ the time travel aspect of Biggles has no bearing on the plot whatsoever it’s merely a macguffin to get our Ordinary Joe back to the Western Front, the time jumps are arbitrary and unrelated to the dastardly German’s secret weapon plot which has the result of sucking all the tension out of both plots.
Now I know, from watching the film, that the actual screen writers were not total incompetents and therefore the problem lies with a gibbon — probably a producer. When you consider the amount of money, effort and talent that goes into even a modestly budgeted film it becomes clear why gibbons are a menace and must be driven out of the industry before it is too late.
Gibbons: just say no.
(1) Can I make it clear that I’m not talking about real gibbons here.
(2) You can learn how to read stories but it takes a lot of practice that’s why most writers have alot of embarrassing crap hidden away in their lower drawers. It’s like playing a piano — you have to practice.