Blackadder Back and Forth  [DVD]
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It is Millennium Eve, 1999, and Lord Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) has gathered his closest friends - Lady Elizabeth (Miranda Richardson), Archdeacon Darling (Tim McInnerny), Viscount George Bufton-Tufton (Hugh Laurie) and Bishop Flavius Melchett (Stephen Fry) - to demonstrate his time machine, built by Blackadder's odious manservant Baldrick (Tony Robinson) to the original specifications of Leonardo Da Vinci. When his guests scoff, Blackadder wagers them each £10,000 that he can travel to any period in Earth's past, offering to bring back a selection of historical objects in order to convince them. It is, of course, a cunning plan on Blackadder's part; the artefacts are ready and waiting to be produced from within the machine. So imagine Edmund's surprise when Baldrick's construction actually turns out to be a working model, transporting the duo back to - amongst other periods in history - the court of Elizabeth II, Sherwood Forest, and the Battle of Waterloo... Watch out for guest appearances by Rik Mayall as Robin Hood and Colin Firth as William Shakespeare. Originally conceived as the highlight of the Millennium Dome, the one-off film is featured here alongside 'The Cavalier Years', a Comic Relief special and 'Baldrick's Video Diary - A Blackadder in the Making'. The DVD extras make this a 15 certificate, the original VHS version is a PG.
It seemed a good idea at the time: to celebrate the end of the millennium by resurrecting Edmund Blackadder for a one-off special Blackadder: Back and Fourth. Unfortunately, those responsible for Back and Forth got the cart before the horse. The Blackadder television series worked by recasting the same characters in different times, thereby reinforcing the dynamic between Blackadder and the buffoons who ran his life (World War One generals, various idiot royalty) and the troglodytes whose lives he ran (Baldrick). Given that most of us feel most of the time like the people we work for are useless and the people that work for us are even more useless, Blackadder's concept had a huge appeal.
A special feature looking at Blackadders through the ages might, therefore, have been a worthwhile enterprise. In Back and Forth, however, the character--a modern-day descendant of the Blackadder line--is merely briefly imposed on a variety of historical circumstances; he is no longer the victim of circumstances but the creator of them, and far less appealing for it. The script is lame and formulaic, and the conclusion unbelievably lazy. Okay, so it's a comedy, but if he really had returned to an England which had been conquered by France at the battle of Waterloo, shouldn't everyone there have been speaking French?
On the DVD: There are three sound options Dolby 2.0 and 5.1, and DTS 5.1. The main feature has an easily negotiable scene selector, and there are two extra features; including a behind-the-scenes footage of the making of Back and Forth featuring interviews with co-writer Richard Curtis and the biggest gem on the whole DVD, a lost episode set in the time of Cromwell, far funnier than the dismal Back and Forth, especially for Stephen Fry's delightful blurring of the doomed Charles I and the future Charles III. --Andrew Mueller
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The premise is pretty straightforward and perfect for both Blackadder and the celebration of the millennium. On New Year's Eve 1999, the present-day Lord Edmund Blackadder decides to pull "the best New Year's Eve prank ever" on his "friends" - Bishop Flavius Melchett (Stephen Fry), Admiral George Bufton-Tufton (Hugh Laurie), Archdeacon Kevin Darling (Tim McInnerny) and Lady Elizabeth (Miranda Richardson). Having had Baldrick construct a fake time machine from the blueprints of Leonardo da Vinci (which might as well have been the Doctor's TARDIS from Doctor Who, which was and is still popular), both protagonists are astonished to find that the machine actually works, sending them quite literally back and forth through time, encountering dinosaurs, Queenie, spaceships, Robin Hood, Wellington and Romans in that order. The trouble is, they can't get home easily as the controls have not had the dates drawn on in felt tip pen...
Considering that this came ten years after the emotional finale of Blackadder Goes Forth's "Goodbyeeeee" in 1989 with that famous "over the top" sequence, it's surprising to note that practically all the regular cast are present and have barely aged. The late Rik Mayall has boundless energy as the pre-Flasheart-alike Robin Hood (this was around the time of his quad bike accident, remember) and it's always nice to see the also late Patsy Byrne as Nursie. A shame they never got Helen Atkinson-Wood back as Mrs Miggins, or indeed perhaps Gabrielle Glaister as Kate/Bob, the latter replaced in the Maid Marian role by Kate Moss. Even the presence of recurring guests like Robbie Coltrane, Brian Blessed, Bill Wallis, Denis Lill, Miriam Margolyes and Jim Broadbent may have enhanced it. And considering the original writers (Richard Curtis and Ben Elton) both returned, it's a massive shame that producer John Lloyd wasn't there to tighten the comic timing.
To be fair to director Paul Weiland and original composer Howard Goodall, they do a fantastic job with the enlarged budget and a full orchestra. The whole episode looks and sounds stunning, even when viewed a nearly two decades later. And yet. And yet...it's always going to be remembered as a missed opportunity. It has shameless plugs of Tesco and Polos. It has artwork and photgraphs in the opening credits depicting Blackadders past more like Mr Bean. And the dialogue isn't as sharp as it was in the 1980s. The viewers and the cast and crew knew that it was essentially a vanity product for Sky and the Dome, and effectively ended up the best bit for the latter in its short, one-year life. This is all detailed in The True History of The Black Adder, a recommended read for any fan. But just imagine if the writers' and actors' schedules had been given greater space to breathe. We could've had a truly wonderful British film, a 90-minute plus Blackadder movie with a host of alternative and mainstream comedy stars all uniting to produce something magical. Sadly not, but we can dream, eh?
The DVD itself also contains "Blackadder: The Cavalier Years", which was a short 15-minute sketch originally shown on Red Nose Day 1988 as part of Comic Relief. This contains more of the original series' humour and as a special is bettered only by "Blackadder's Christmas Carol", also shown that year. And then there's "Baldrick's Video Diary", which is a semi-fourth wall breaking documentary about the making of "Blackadder: Back and Forth" and is occasionally funny too.
All in all, worth a purchase if you're as big a Blackadder fan as me, but I wouldn't start with it. Go from "Blackadder II" and "go forth" from there. It's still pretty funny though. And cunning.
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