Posted March 5, 2013 by Alex Moss Editor in Features
 
 

Films You Should See Part Five


 

By Alan Peters

 

So many
films, so little time. Fortunately here at FilmJuice we have a pool of talented
writers, prepared to spend the vast part of their days hunkered down in
darkened cinemas so that you don’t have to. Earlier this year, we decided to put all this generated
knowledge to the test and ask our regular writers to come up with a list of the
Films You Should See … But Probably Haven’t. This week, Alan Peters shares his
choices with two films that failed to put bums on seats back in the day but
which are now ripe for rediscovery …

 

Miracle Mile
(1988)

Miracle Mile is unlike any movie you have ever seen in
that the style and pace changes several times throughout. What starts out as a simple romantic
comedy rapidly changes into tense thriller. It’s one of those movies that sucks
you in, chews you over for a while then spits you hard against a wall as a
finale.

 

The basic premise is that Harry (Anthony Edwards) meets the girl of his dreams, Julie (Mare Winningham) while visiting the
museum at the La Brea Tar Pits.
After spending a romantic day together they agree to meet up after Julie
has finished her shift at the diner at midnight. Harry decides to have a nap and sets his alarm to wake him.
A power failure means his alarm doesn’t go off and Harry arrives too late. He tries to phone her to apologise but
only gets an answer machine.
Seconds later, his phone starts ringing but on the other end isn’t Julie
but a man named Chip who is in a missile silo preparing to launch a nuclear
strike. It’s never made clear who
the strike is against (although this was the 80’s so it was most likely Russia)
but Chip tells him that he has 70 minutes until the missiles are launched.

 

Harry heads for the diner and explains to the
assembled staff and customers what had just happened. One well-connected customer calls a colleague to find if
what Harry has learnt is the truth. If it is, then Harry needs to find Julie
before the world gets wind of its fate and goes insane. Cue a tense, tight
thriller the likes of which you’ve never seen before. Is the nuclear strike going
to happen or, as Harry puts it, is he just playing Chicken Little?

 

The script for Miracle Mile sat on a shelf at Warner Brothers for nearly three years
as the company wanted to make it as a huge, end of the world production. Warner also didn’t want it directed by
its writer, Mike De Jarnatt, who was
viewed as an amateur. Eventually Hemdale Film bought the rights and gave
De Jarnett around $3,000,000 to make the movie his way.

 

The trouble came when the movie was released and the
PR guys were faced with the problem of marketing a sci-fi, romantic
thriller. They simply didn’t know
how to handle it – and that spelt disaster for the movie. It flopped – badly – and while it was
released on VHS in 1990 by RCA Columbia,
it has never had a British DVD release. Twenty-five years on, Miracle Mile
finally has the cult following it deserves. If you’ve never seen it you really should. It truly is one of
the greatest films you have never seen.

 

 

Biggles:
Adventures In Time (1986)
(Main Picture)
The 1980s were a bleak time in the history of British
cinema. Video rental shops meant
that movies were cheaper to rent and watch in the comfort of your own living
room. Production companies were
filing for bankruptcy and, up and down the country, bingo halls were moving
into the gutted remains of our beloved cinemas. ‘Experts’ predicted the end of our homegrown movie industry
by the early nineties.

 

It was into this arena that United International
Pictures launched the movie that they hoped would be Bond for a new generation. A movie based on the adventures of Capt
W.E. Johns
’ hero of the
skies, Biggles, had been mooted since 1968 but it took prolific Brit film and
TV director John Hough (The Watcher In
The Woods, The Legend Of Hell House)
to bring those plans to fruition.

 

Biggles is an oddity of a movie. A time-travel jaunt that desperately
tries to capitalize on the, time travel fashion set by Back To The Future. The trouble is the time-travel element in
Biggles makes no sense whatsoever.
It turns out that Jim (Alex Hyde-White)
is a time twin with Biggles and every time one of them is in mortal danger the
other is transported through time to help them. Don’t let that get in the way of your enjoyment, though,
there is much, much more to be seen here. In fact Biggles: Adventures In Time
is just that – a look at how movies were made back in the day.

 

Take the use of the old Beckton Gas Works, for
example, which doubles for a burnt out French town. Doubtless, today, the
location would be generated inside a computer, but Biggles does extremely well
within the limitations of what was then available. In fact, they couldn’t have
chosen a better location, given the events of the movie. Plot point – the Germans have
manufactured a weapon that can destroy people/objects and still leave buildings
standing. The buildings are burnt out and scorched. The ground is desolate and
bare. The cost of building a set this perfect would have been astronomical but
there it was in 1986, all ready for use as a war zone. This wasn’t lost on Stanley Kubrick who, months after
shooting wrapped on Biggles, used the site as war torn Vietnam in the movie Full Metal Jacket.

 

One of London’s most famous landmarks, Tower Bridge, makes an appearance too.
The interior of one of the towers is used as the setting for Officer Raymond’s
home and later, the heroes make a daring escape by abseiling down it. The then
new Tower Hotel also features quite
prominently and, at the time, its design was considered state of the art. These days it looks pretty much the
same, although the same features which were thought of as cutting edge in 1986
now seem slightly quaint. Even incidental details are enough to raise a smile.
Spot the punks standing on a street corner listening to a tape recorder, the
warehouses that Jim and Biggles run across (now long gone) and those
dishevelled and decaying buildings which were bulldozed years ago to make way
for the shimmering City Hall building.

 

The film also features an incredible dogfight between
two bi-planes. Today, Hollywood
would chuck in two CGI planes, but these were the real deal, flown by real
pilots. Indeed, the film oozes period detail, especially costume design.

 

Biggles was the last movie that Peter Cushing made before his death in 1994 and he provides a
master class in acting as his big screen swansong. During the scene, set in 1986, when Officer Raymond
(Cushing) meets Biggles for the first time in over 60 years the emotion
conveyed just through Cushing’s eyes is much more than a lot of actors could
emote from their entire bodies.

 

Despite all this, Biggles: Adventures In Time failed
to set the box office alight. It
hardly even made its production costs back. A half-hearted video release in the late eighties also
flopped, as did the badly thrown together DVD release by Prism Leisure in 2003.
Which is a shame because, regardless of its faults Biggles could be the
template for great reboot/remake/reimagining if handled correctly. We need a new British hero. Isn’t it
time for Biggles?

 


Alex Moss Editor

 
Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com