There are films that are meant to be bad in an amusing way, films that are meant to be good but end up bad in a bad way, and bad films that aim to be bad but actually end up sort-of good. Biggles: Adventures in Time is a culmination of all of the above, and I still love it as much now as I did when I was seven, and our VHS player was going slightly wobbly from the number of times I had played the tape.
It's hard exactly to pin down why Biggles does end up as such a likeable film. It is certainly nothing like the source material, and should Captain W. E. Johns have lived long enough to see it in the cinema, it could possibly have killed him. The idea that the British could not have dealt with the threat by themselves, instead needing an American freezer meal entrepreneur to provide them with a helicopter and...well, no, just the helicopter, seems insulting on the surface - but it just doesn't hold any malice when even the characters themselves aren't taking it seriously. And in fact the concept of the time-travel itself is brushed off so lightly by the 1917 characters - and not exactly making a huge impression on the 1985 characters, except Debbie, but we'll come to her later - that it doesn't even seem silly. It just seems...well, sort-of normal.
So that's the plot dealt with. 1985 business man (sort-of) Jim Furgerson gets pulled into 1917 to help Biggles and his chums defeat a German superweapon. The origin of the superweapon is never explained, Biggles never seems to inform his companions that he has a time-travelling friend who sometimes shows up in a towel to stop them from accidentally shooting him, the Germans mistake a portable razor for a grenade, and the only thing Biggles found remarkable about the future was the hairstyles of 80's punks. Oh, and his girlfriend gets brought back to life by a statue. It sounds like a nightmare on paper, but in execution it was done just right.
Alright, so it must have some downsides, or I would have given it a 10. The first of those downsides is obnoxious side-kick-cum-girlfriend-thing Debbie Stevens. Now, early on in the film we are introduced to Marie, a brave young woman with plenty of spunk who is prepared to chuck in all her double-agent stuff to help Biggles in the name of love. They meet in a nunnery, whose nuns seem about as thick-skinned as an armoured Panzer tank, because when they are under fire they just get on with it as best they can. And then along comes Debbie, who screams and shrieks and complains and latches on to whichever male character just so happens to be standing nearest to her whenever anything remotely scary happens. Granted, she has just been sucked into the past into the middle of a battlefield wearing a mink coat and very impractical shoes, but come on. The only 'strong' moment she is given is when she sprays some Mace into a German officer's face, which makes you think she's dealing with the situation - only to revert back to weak and scared Debbie as soon as the men arrive. It sounds petty, but by the end of the film you're honestly wondering what the hell she's actually doing there and whose idea it was to put her there in the first place.
Also, whilst Jim (Alex Hyde-White), Biggles (Neil Dickson) and Air Commodore Raymond (Peter Cushing) are wonderfully acted, Biggles's chums are mere inter-changeable cardboard cut-outs, and Chuck (Jim's overweight, annoying business partner) is actually given more lines than all of them put together. Which is a shame, because they are actually given a tiny portion of the movie by themselves and as much as the actors attempt to inject some life into them, they just fall flat. (And all seem a bit stupid - Bertie suggests grenading the Germans, which would kill the nuns at the same time, whilst Ginger suggests that twenty German soldiers would see the way and surrender to three barely-armed British airmen. Um...maybe they did need that freezer meal guy after all.) That being said there is some hilarious fun with them when they see a helicopter (or: "flying windmill") for the first time, and it really would have been great if all of them had been zapped into the future and more time spent trying to explain modern culture to them. I would happily sit through a sequel (with different actors, obviously) just to see this happen, if the look on Biggles's face is anything to go by when he travels to 1985.
Sadly, the film was a flop and many of the actors were not seen again. Alex Hyde-White played a part in Pretty Woman, and Michael Siberry (Algy) went on to play Bingo Little in the Jeeves & Wooster television series. The film was also Peter Cushing's last role. But I do encourage that you sit down and watch the film at least once if it's ever played again on the telly, just to enjoy the mindless fun of a 1917 Sopwith Camel pilot learning to fly a helicopter in two minutes flat. (Did I mention that his girlfriend gets brought back to life by a statue?)