Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Jackboots on Whitehall; there's a game in this

I seriously doubt that anything I write about Jackboots on Whitehall can really do it justice. It's quite epically insane, but at the same time it's not really any good. It's like they blew their entire creative budget having the idea and then didn't really know what to do with it. It's a movie which probably only wargamers could really love. Partly because it's entirely populated by models, partly because its approach to history is so anarchic that only wargamers could deal with it.

Honestly, I wanted to love it; how could any lead-pusher, even a retired one, resist a movie which in its very first frame is "PRESENTED IN PANZERVISION!"? Sadly, there's a startling fall-off in quality after that.

It reminds me a bit of two movies, the genuinely hilarious, if appalling, Team American World Police, and the not remotely as funny as it thought it was Churchill the Hollywood Years. From Team America it gets the puppets, and from Churchill it gets the idea of a high concept re-imagining of World War II. Sadly, it didn't even get the jokes that Churchill the Hollywood Years got, let alone the take-no-prisoners lunacy of Team America.

Creative formation seems to have gone something like this; wouldn't it be cool to do a war movie with Action Men and Barbies? Yes, it probably would, particularly if you're about ten and no-one's invented the Play Station 3 in your universe. What's kind of amazing is that the McHenry Brothers managed to get hold of (apparently) £6 million in someone else's money, together with Ewan McGregor, Timothy Spall, Richard E Grant and Dominic West to voice over the "action" without apparently going through the intermediate step of having a script. I'm not even sure if they had an outline. I think they had an elevator pitch and the biggest balls in the whole world. It's astonishing that they got away with it.

Anyhow, it's all very like what happens when kids re-enact wars with whatever's to hand; there are setpieces that use all the toys they had handy, and then the - super-talented - voice cast say things over the action while the camera hovers on the almost motionless faces of the puppets. This could have totally worked if they'd found something to say which was worth the time of the voice cast. Actually, Jackboots cries out for a Rifftrak, a new young Woody Allen doing a What's Up Tiger Lily, or well, any damn thing at all other than the script it's actually got.

Anyhow, the plot, such as it is, is that the British Army gets stranded at Dunkirk, leaving Britain defenceless except for the RAF (which is promptly shot down) and a single platoon of Punjab rifles guarding 10 Downing Street. Naturally, the next logical move for the Germans is to tunnel their way to London. They subjugate London briskly while Churchill flees to Scotland to mount a last stand at Hadrian's wall, only to be saved by the last minute intervention of Braveheart's wild Scots who join in when they see that Ewan McGregor's puppet has such huge hands that he must be Scottish. The movie ends with the Germans fleeing in disarray, and the Scots occupying London while Churchill realises that hairy-arsed barbarian allies aren't always dependable. Whether that's a biting satirical comment on the Northern Alliance, I have no idea.

Running it all together like that, I'm making it sound far better than it actually is. So, if that sounds terrible, it's actually worse. Just dial your expectation filter way the hell down.

A lot of the fun for wargamers is in the nitpicking, but then that's a lot of the fun in wargaming (anyone can win a game of soldiers, given enough luck and a dumb enough opponent, but it doesn't really count as a proper win unless you've expressed doubts about the historical accuracy of your opponent's paint job and had one entirely pointless argument about how the rules don't properly simulate real world tactics - or more properly speaking, privilege your chosen method of engagement). So I found myself saying "No wonder the RAF's been shot down in droves; the Luftwaffe's using planes from the future! No Fw 190s in 1940!" and "The Hindenburg bombing England? Where do I start?" "Sten guns in Kent in 1940?" "Tiger tanks in London in 1940?" "PIATs in London in 1940?" I was particularly vexed with that last one, not because the PIAT didn't get introduced until 1943, but because 1940 was a banner year for completely ridiculous British anti-tank weapons that looked as though they'd been made by five year olds out of plumbing supplies, and the real life equipment would have been so much funnier than PIATs. By the time they'd got to the Scottish border and changed in Napoleonic red coats I'd actually run out of nitpick, and had nothing left to quibble over whether those were period correct uniforms for the 43rd infantry under Wellington.

Anyhow, that's Jackboots on Whitehall. It doesn't really work at all, but if you've got a certain kind of mind, it provides endless bragging rights. You can be one of the select few who've actually marvelled their way through the whole thing.

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