The Strange Case Of The Missing Chance
The Strange Case Of The Missing Chance
A dissection of the ill-fated remake, plus a look to the future, a bit of trivia and a sample about the quality level of the translations for Latin America
Written and translated by Pablo Alonso
About a year and a half after I got hooked to The Avengers, one Saturday morning I was able to see the film thanks to the fact that HBO was temporarily free of charge for all the cable subscripts. That proves my little interest, and my not many expectations for the movie. Didn't wait for any disappointment either, as even before I started watching the show, I was already aware of the bad reputation of this film. I'm not gonna join those who list it between the worst offers of the seventh art in these latest years, since there have been lots of movies even poorer, many of which we have never seen yet. On the other hand, due to its shortness, the movie can be watched without slipping into boredom (a thing some episodes of the original series had been plagued with). But, despite these exceptions, the movie is, undoubtedly, a unfortunate link in the history of The Avengers.
This Warner production carries a twin rejection: most of the fans didn't like it, and the audience not familiar with the cult didn't care about it. Twin rejection due to a twin failure: the movie does not come up to the followers' expectations, and fails when trying to catch their interest as an adventure film for mass entertainment. There's an important point here: this is not the case of a very good movie with wrong charactersit's a mediocre creation, whatever angle you look it from. The film lacks of memorable scenes, its characters are generally ill-handled and mutilations over the first final cut are pretty evident. In view of this, the reason for complain of the two kind of viewers will be different but they'll agree on their negative ranking.
Beginning with the story itself, one no longer can understand the parodies. Even though the introduction of Mother could be accepted just in case the casual viewer was unable to figure out whom our duo is working for, the premise with Emma Peel is unacceptable. What's the point of presenting her as a scientist accused of treason against the state, and having her work along with John Steed to prove her innocence? Not to mention how pathetically handled is the theme of her clone orchestrated by diabolic mastermind Sir August de Wynter. The Steed-Peel rapport isn't well developed either. Of course this latter, coupled to the general weakness of the story, is not attributable to the short length of the movie.
Ralph Fiennes' filmography is very likely more impressive than Patrick Macnee'showever Fiennes by no means fits the bill. From the beginning, he's not adequate for the pshyque du rol. Steed is a big man (and I'm not talking about when Macnee's extra pounds started noticing in The Forget-Me-Knot), not too thin and a generation older than Fiennes. In the 60s, Steed was a grown up person, the emblem of an era still fresh in one's mind, and even so, he fitted well into the Swinging London; however in the 90s, due to Fiennes' age, he comes close to ridiculous. The existence of someone like Steed at the present time, could be understood, apparently, for the fact that Jerry Weintraub or whoever had the idea of setting the history in the 90s, not in the character's attitude or motivation. To make matters worse, Fiennes is unable to give his Steed the grace Patrick displayed when speaking his lines (let alone to brandish the umbrella... and it's no joke, look at him!). Instead, he uses a tone of voice often closer to James Bond's. The first line Macnee delivers in his cameo as Invisible Jones is the way one expects Steed talks (a moment that brought a smile to my face), which puts prestigious Ralph to shame.
Uma Thurman definitely has M-Appeal and her performance, by and large, is more satisfactory than Fiennes', although she can't put on the boots of her predecessor Diana Rigg either (not even with the help of Ralph Steed). However the main problem both of them face, is that they're compelled to be witty all the time during their dialogue (which basically fails to catch the legendary spark of excitement) in order to come close to the original, and this insistence on the character's identities is annoying. So they are the clues pointing to show us that they're essentially British: tea, biscuits, among other things. Not to mention they're not even able to say the line "Mrs. Peel, we're needed!". Even if Fiennes says once "Mrs. Peel, you're needed!", it's not the same (although the original Steed said this in "The Joker").
Sean Connery, who blamed director Jeremiah Chechik for the screw-up (with good reason, since Chechik appears as the responsible for the incoherence in the development of the story, besides of having built a career based on failed remakescheck his filmography out), does his best with a villain like de Wynter, for all the faults this character has. Moreover, it could be said that the Great Sean has given himself the pleasure of playing a Bondesque enemy, a part for which he has shown public interest, although not on the right movie. Despite Steed-Fiennes' promises, Sir August doesn't get to be an eccentric in the illustrious tradition of The Avengers; instead, he stays on a megalomaniac nut in the vein of Goldfinger.
Mother looks like a scoundrel smoking compulsively. Jim Broadbent (apart from the director and scriptwriter Don MacPherson, of course) doesn't seem to have paid attention to Patrick Newell's (underrated?) work, as his grace, refinement and bad-temper strokes are nowhere to be seen. In this movie Mother's not only a bizarre version of Q, but also seems that the situation goes over his hands, as if he was an ordinary public employee instead of the boss we once saw. And regarding the physical resemblance with the original, I've seen in the streets many Patrick Newell lookalikes. Since they didn't hire any renowned actor (although I have to say that I've watched Broadabent a few months ago playing a good part on an Inspector Morse instalment) or someone capable to get into Mother's essence, it wouldn't have been so hard to find at least, a man physically similar to Newell.
Bond, Goldfinger, Q... this is another of the flaws in the film: to make a 007 movie using the Avengers' franchise. Naturally, besides the basic plot taken from A Surfeit of H2O, there're many references to the show. Either for affection for the original series or aiming to be a focus for fans, the deserted streets (maybe the FXs costs did leave nothing to hire extras...), the sequence a la The House That Jack Built (which this Emma resolved less rationally), and the lack of policemen, amongst other details, work well. But the chaotic-situation-that-puts-the-world-in-danger-sorted-out-with-lots-of-action resembles more the Broccoli productions than the Clemens & Fennell schemes. A good number of spectacular scenes were expected in a 60s show translated into the 90s; however, despite some remarkable special effects, such scenes don't work satisfactorily. Another Bond touch is the apocalyptic end where the superiors don't know if their agents are still alive. As a final affront, during the final credits, we have Grace Jones, whose fifteen minutes have passed a long time ago, doing a Shirley Bassey impersonation, who sings a "Goldfinger" rip-off. That's a dual affront if one recalls that Jones' character killed Patrick Macnee's Sir Godfrey Tibbett in Roger Moore's last film on His Majesty secret service (A View To A Kill). The adventures of another (ex) agent are alluded when Steed and Mrs Peel reappear on the bubble emerging from the bottom of the Thames. Do you know Rover, from The Prisoner?
The music, very good on its own merits, doesn't fit with the Avengers concept either. It could do in several blockbuster American productions, but it lacks the personal touch of the classical scores from Laurie Johnson, failing to correspond with the feeling The Avengers inspires. A yet modern soundtrack with a more proper idiosyncrasy could have been written. A curiosity is that Mother and Father aren't the only elements from the Tara King era: the performance of Johnson's original theme, although based mainly on the Peel version, has some things of the Tara version, besides the reharmonizing of some measures.
To close this review with a few positive remarks, besides the already mentioned (did you notice them?), a handful of scenes (like all the villains in teddy bear costumes) and lines are good and in the traditional spirit. And at least this is a film to entertain along its whole length, yet superficially. It may even be inferred that without the butchering, the story might well have raised its quality and coherence. However this movie will be remembered for having contributed to revive the interest for the series (through the media coverage) yet paradoxically, it scared potential new fans away. A tragic irony of Hollywood.
Tomorrow (Dreams Place)
After so much condemnation, what else could be done, aside from the very needed stylish productions, to extend the legacy of The Avengers? Personally, I don't feel any need of a new movie (although the chances of a new film are lower than the chances of a remake of Man In A Suitcase); likewise, I'm not keen on a new series. I'm utterly satisfied with the original and its several incarnations. In a perfect world we could have had, say, ten seasons with Steed and Mrs Peel, but obviously this was impossible. This may sound a bit odd, even naive, but I'd like to see Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg together (she without catsuits or emmapeelers, obviously) playing their roles for a special where they chat around a table while having the afternoon tea, remembering the old times with a good script, and bringing in those scenes with excerpts from the original series. Kind of "Homicide And Old Lace" with quality values. Those new scenes could even be used as introductions to future editions on DVD or VHS. An animated show (which was a possibility in the mid 90s) reusing some scripts from the original series, narrated by Macnee and Rigg would be another nice idea.
If new stories are still to come, they should take place in the 60s (something that would also be appropriate to forthcoming 007 movies, in order to avoid the wearing down modern times usually bring). The scripts should fall in the hands of someone who knows the series well, has the greatest respect for it, being capable to add something new, keeping the madness of the original. Although I didn't have the pleasure to read the comic-book miniseries he made in the early 90s based on the adventures of Steed, Mrs Peel and Ms King, I'm pretty sure that Scotsman Grant Morrison would be a winner. And why not call Brian Clemens in? Ah, to dream is free of charge and so nice!
The relationship between Uma Thurman and Emma Peel in the big screen might well have begun earlier, at least indirectly, if this dialogue between Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Mia Wallace (Uma)from the original script of "Pulp Fiction"would have been heard in The Avengers movie:
(Mia is asking Vincent a set of quick questions in order to better know what kind of person will she dine with)
- MIA: Have you ever fantasized about being beaten up by a girl?
The thug appearing during the countryside car chasing scene along with Eddie "I was about to die, How I wasn't to say f***?" Izzard (Bailey), is Mancunian Shaun Ryder, former singer of The Happy Mondays and Black Grape. The trivial fact is that the name of his character (Donovan) is the name of his real father-in-law, the legendary folk singer Donovan Leitch.
Last and least, if Ralph Fiennes looks like Stan Laurel, the aforementioned Izzard bears a resemblance to Malcolm "Clockwork Orange" McDowell.
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