Thursday, 7 August 2014

The Avengers: The film reviewed with reference to the original series

I've been wanting to go through the Avengers film, looking at inspirations from the original series, for some time, although it's probably only been this year I've realised how derivative this was. This realisation was certainly from reading other people's blogs, but I'm afraid I didn't make a note of where I first saw this. So I intend to give my view of it, with approximate time references for places where I can identify inspirations from the original series. Perhaps I'd better state at the outset that I don't hate The Avengers film. I've written some of why not here: http://culttvblog.blogspot.nl/2014/07/the-avengers-my-take-on-springbok-radio.html?m=0
I simply don't take to the opening titles at all: they're bland, don't draw you in, don't announce that this is The Avengers. Failure.
02:57 The antecedents in the original Avengers for a cosy English village which turns out to be full of murderers & diabolical masterminds are legion: The Town of No Return, Murdersville, to name the most obvious ones. From the start the film is therefore actually on classic Avengers territory (the cosy British Empire at risk), with the twist that this village is revealed to be a training ground. At least the Ministry is training its agents in their true field of operation.
03:36 The murderous policemen could reference Murdersville, as could the milkman trying to bottle Steed.
03:54 Alice with the knives in the pram recalls the dead bodies carted round in prams in The Quick Quick Slow Death.
05:11 Macaroons for Mother. The only time I can think of Steed sending anything to Mother was a postcard (that was actually a plot) in Stay Tuned. Yet Steed's relationship with Mother in Series 6 was clearly not purely a boss-employee one, judging by the way Mother uses Steed's flat & drinks his way through the drinks cabinet.
05:30 The obsession with weather is clearly from A Surfeit of H20, blown up in scale somewhat. It is a pity, really, that that becomes the theme of the film, since it is so limited. It would have been better to have several Ministry cases running parallel to one another.
06:09 Mrs Peel as the personification of modernism, is of course classic Avengers, right from the appearance of her apartment in The Town of No Return onwards. And of course it is classic Avengers for Steed to represent tradition & the Establishment. Again the relationship is here given a twist by him setting her up break convention.
Watching the film through this time I'm more aware of what people don't like about it : the dialogue between them is too self-consciously 'clever', & the flirtation is too obvious.
08:34 In Series 6, the Ministry's headquarters was the ultimate in moveability. Here i feel the nature of the Ministry is changed by having a permanent headquarters. The underground entry is of course reminiscent of The Prisoner: I wonder whether other iconic sixties series were consciously drawn on for this?
08:55 Mother under water. Mother was under water in They Keep Killing Steed, of course.
10:08 Two Mrs Peels. A recurring theme in The Avengers, changes of mind or identity. Change of appearance features in They Keep Killing Steed, and Who's Who???
11:45 Gentlemen's outfitters play a key role in The Quick Quick Slow Death, & the whole thing of being a gentleman features in The Correct Way to Kill & The Charmers. Here it is the setting rather than the role of the setting that is used.
14:30 Drinking tea formally from bone china while travelling features in The Town of No Return.
17:00 Wealthy (& incidentally dangerous) eccentrics feature highly in The Avengers, so it's difficult to think of a specific model for Sir August de Winter.
17:30 The rampant foliage & particularly abnormalities of plant life are reminiscent of Man-Eater of Surrey Green.
20:50 A telephone box as access to somewhere else is used in Super Secret Cypher Snatch (in that case, to Mother's secret office).
22:00 The line about shooting trespassers is like a line in Silent Dust.
23:45 The complete lack of sympathy Mrs Peel gives an injured Steed is reminiscent of a similar scene in Death at Bargain Prices.
25:55 BROLLY - The Avengers is keen on acronymns, especially for organisations, such as PURRR.
26:12 The baddy in Mr Teddy Bear is known by that name but is only depicted by an actual teddy bear once, he never actually dresses up in a pastel-coloured teddy bear outfit! I do feel the outfits here give the correct atmosphere of dissonance given the deaths in this scene.
30:10 I like this fight scene a lot - it's classic Avengers.
32:25 It is also classic Avengers magic for the fake Mrs Peel to jump off a high building & just keep on reappearing in the programme with no explanation of how it didn't kill her!
32:40 The Ministry mobile headquarters is straight out of False Witness.
42:00 Visually, at least, abandoning the wrecked car & walking across the fields to their destination is reminiscent of The Hour That Never Was, even to the extent of Alice knowing a back way in.
48:07 The running round in circles, in fact the situation of being locked up in a great house by a diabolical mastermind, comes from The House that Jack Built. I prefer the classical environs here to the more obvious set there.
52:34 Steed comes under suspicion several times in the original series, such as in The Curious Case of the Countless Clues. Normally it is for his partner to prove his innocence, but here Rhonda sorts security clearance for him at the Ministry.
53:26 The idea of invisibility (which there proves to be a fake) is used in The See-Through Man, which also features examples of the sort of deranged or disastrous science that Colonel Jones talks about.
It is clear that the references to the original Avengers series come thick & fast at the beginning, thinning out as the film progresses. I'm frankly torn here. On the one hand I want to say the film is a failure because it is too derivative - in a superficial way - of the TV series. On the other I want to say it's a failure because it stops sticking to the Avengers 'recipe' at around an hour. Perhaps it is possible for it to fail in both ways.
How would I like an Avengers film to shape up? It should keep the proportions of the series, in terms of not having a prolonged denouement like this film has. It would be better incorporating several plots at once - one is definitely not enough. It could even be that the plots are interrelated or result from one mastermind. It is difficult to envisage The Avengers without Steed, & unfortunately at this stage Steed would have to be played by someone other than Macnee. I personally don't object to that but it will always be a stumbling black for many of the fans. Above all it should stick to the unreality principle of the original series. It would be difficult to see how it could be adapted for the more explicit depiction of sex & sexuality usual today, which only ever remained implicit in the original.
Having asked myself that question for the first time, I'm inclined to think The Avengers should be left firmly in the sixties. The New Avengers is a slightly different animal, although I was surprised how faithful it was to the original when I came to write about some. The New Avengers is really out of a different stable - it *feels* more like The Professionals to me. The Avengers is a one-off, it is difficult or impossible to repeat without making a parody of it. Springbok Radio didn't parody it - I think those radio adaptations are the most successful there can be. As a film, well I'm not sure anymore. That said, given the difficulty of tinkering with a national institution, I wouldn't really want to criticise this film for having a good go at it, even if it falls down in places.
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