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
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.
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
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?
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
(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?
- VINCENT: Sure.
- MIA: Who?
- VINCENT: Emma Peel on "The Avengers." That tough girl who
usta hang out
with Encyclopedia Brown. And Arlene Motika.
- MIA: Who's Arlene Motika?
- VINCENT: Girl from sixth grade, you don't know her.
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
Last and least, if Ralph Fiennes looks like Stan Laurel, the aforementioned
Izzard bears a resemblance to Malcolm "Clockwork Orange" McDowell.
(Translator, You're A Traitor!)
We're not alone in this world: HBO translation
of the movie.
Mrs Peel means Srta. Peel (Miss Peel)
Doesn't matter she's a widow who talks to Sir August de Wynter's
butler, in a dialogue like this:
Of course, the captions read:
Emma: Miss Peel