Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sunday Movie Theater: Blackadder Back & Forth (1999)

Finally, he didn't die in the end

Talked about changing history in an earlier posting, this sixth installment of Sunday Movie Theater will feature a movie that is actually about changing history, in a funny yet cunning way - the Blackadder's way. ^^

Movie poster is from IMDB.

Unable to find a trailer clip for this movie, but the opening scene should give you a very good idea about the character and the mood of the movie. ^^
Video clip is from Youtube. Follow this link to the website if you can't see anything.

"Blackadder Back & Forth", a 1999 movie directed by Paul Weiland. Technical movie details can be seen on IMDB.

So who is this Blackadder? ^^ Played by the extremely talented Rowan Atkinson, Blackadder is the main character of a British sitcom series. Before "Blackadder Back & Forth", there were four TV series and a couple of short movies. I managed to watched all four TV series, but among the movies, this is the only one I managed to find. Its premise of being the last chapter of the Blackadder series made this movie a very interesting watch, and perhaps an important one as well for Blackadder fans as well. ^^

There is always a Blackadder in the British history since the 15th century. XD In the first TV series, "The Black Adder" (1983), the hopeless and useless son of Richard IV started the Blackadder "lineage". The second series, called "Black-Adder II" (1986) showed the character to be in the 16th century. The character was established to be both sarcastic and cunning when dealing with almost all situations, but the misfortunes that followed the character was inherited from the first series. XD In the third TV series, called "Black Adder the Third" (1987), Blackadder was the butler to a totally useless prince (played by the equally talented Hugh Laurie by the way). The last TV series, "Blackadder Goes Forth" (1989) showed Blackadder to be a captain in the English army during World War I. The story setting, costume and certain supporting actors' appearance may vary between the four series, but the title character was always Blackadder, a "sidekick" named Baldrick was always there for him to bully, and almost everybody had to die at the end of the series. ^^;

In this movie, Blackadder is still in it as the main character, Baldrick is still in it for him to bully, but he didn't die in the end. ^^ That's not exactly a spoiler I guess, since the movie came out more than a decade ago, and the omittance of death for Blackadder seemed almost like a parody of the entire Blackadder series. "He finally made it! He didn't die after all!" XD Anyway, the story is set on the turn of the new millennium, while having dinner at his place, Lord Blackadder made a bet with his four friends that he could bring back whatever artifact they are interested in, using a workable time machine he managed to build based on Leonardo Da Vinci's sketches. It was supposed to be a simple con work involving Baldrick finding all the items from Blackadder's underground storeroom, giving them to Blackadder so that he could emerge out from the time machine to show his friends the prizes, thus winning the bet. Unfortunately for Blackadder and Baldrick, the time machine did work. ^^ However, very typical of Blackadder's "penchant" for misadventures and Baldrick's stupidity, the journey home was not an easy one. The time machine send the duo through various historical periods where they encountered dinosaurs, Robin Hood, William Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth I, Roman legionnaires and British army before the Battle of Waterloo. Upon arriving home, Blackadder realized that his action to save himself and to win the bet during the time travel had changed the course of history, so he and Baldrick went back in time again to amend all the mistakes. When he returned to find out that everything had returned to normal, Blackadder came up with another scheme for his personal gain, and returned back in time to carry out his "dubious" plan. The movie title describes Blackadder's loop of traveling back and forth in time very accurately. ^^

It's made clear in the opening credit of the movie that it was going to be the last chapter of the Blackadder series, I think the ending, apart from the character not dying, is a great sendoff for the series overall, as well as the character of Blackadder himself. ^^ Despite being a treacherously cunning person, Blackadder of all incarnations is a pretty likable character due to his shrewd and wittiness. He's just a very fun character to watch. ^^ Of course, Rowan Atkinson deserves all the credits he should get in bringing that character to life with his great performance. Delivering the lines is one thing, his ability to "compliment" them with his facial expression (body language) is just brilliant. There are plenty of "you look like the biggest idiot I've seen in my life for saying that" stares to laugh at in this movie, which is performance trademark consistent that is consistent with all the other incarnations of Blackadder in previous TV series. To some extend, I think Rowan Atkinson even used his fake mustache in this movie to full effect in displaying his sarcasm, especially when speaking to Baldrick. ^^

Unlike other movies, "Blackadder Back & Forth" is just a little longer than half an hour. As compared to a normal episode from the TV series, not only is the duration similar, some of the esthetics feel just about the same as well. ^^ As a theatrical release, most of the camera work, lighting, usage of outdoor scenes, props and even special effects differ greatly from any of the four aforementioned TV series. Then again, since the last TV series, "Blackadder Goes Forth" was produced a decade before this movie, technological advancements and changes in formats and production styles for movies and TV series must be taken into consideration as well. All the conversation scenes certainly feel like those in the TV series. ^^

Regarding the similarities in esthetics between the TV series and movie, all the returning actors and actresses from the TV series certainly made this movie really fun to watch. "Upholding" the Blackadder tradition, Melchett (played by Stephen Fry), George (played by Hugh Laurie), Darlings (played by Tim McInnerny) and Queenie (played by Miranda Richardson) are all in. Even Patsy Byrne who played Nursie the old nanny of Queen Elizabeth I can be seen in this movie as well. ^^ I think while the statement of "there is always a Blackadder in the British history" is true, I think it's also accurate to say that he always has a bunch of friends around him to take advantage of as well. ^^ If they were still alive when the movie was made, I'm sure the production team would get Peter Cook and Ronald Lacey to reprise their respective roles as Richard III from the first TV series and the Bishop of Bath and Wells from the second. Peter Cook looked amazingly like Alan Rickman when he played the poor king in "The Black Adder". ^^ Most people would remember Ronald Lacey as the the cruel and sadistic Nazi officer in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981), but his performance as the ridiculously obese Bishop of Bath and Wells made that particular episode my favorite in the second TV series. Unfortunately, both of them died in the 90s, years before the idea for this movie was even conceived I think.

Another thing I miss from the TV series is the laugh track. XD

Overall, this movie showed the title character from this new age returning to the past to deal with various situations and people that his ancestors would be facing during their time, and come out on top through all manner of tricks and lies. XD The "bonus point card" and "minty thing" scenes with Queen Elizabeth I are examples of that. ^^ There are a few instances where certain lines from the previous four TV series are "reused" by Blackadder and Baldrick as well. ^^ Apart from parodying the "family connection", ^^ the circumstances in which they are used are quite funny and enjoyable to watch. The ending of the movie is most certainly a fitting conclusion to the Blackadder family. Not only did he not die, he managed to achieve the ultimate success his ancestors could ever dream of during their time. XD

For Blackadder fans, I'm pretty sure they have watched this movie, perhaps for many, many times in the past. ^^ For folks watching this movie for the first time, it's a treat of Rowan Atkinson's individual comedic talent and half an hour of British humor.

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