Saturday, February 11, 2012

As Much As I Love Blackadder, Blackadder Back And Forth Is A Tough Sell To Non-fans!

The Good: Moments of humor, Some decent acting, Good-enough DVD bonus features.
The Bad: Repetitive humor from the series, Requires a lot of information not in episode, SHORT!
The Basics: A curtain call made for the fans, Blackadder Back And Forth is a Blackadder time travel adventure that puts the series to rest well!

For those who might not follow my reviews regularly, with this review, I have now finished my review of all things Blackadder, but do not despair! Coming this month and until I am done with them will be reviews of the episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus! Yes, I cater to geek culture! The truth is, the two collections of British comedies are truly great and worthwhile ones and while I ultimately "recommend" Blackadder Back And Forth, my real recommendation is always going to be that people go out and buy The Complete Blackadder (reviewed here!) instead, as the complete collection is a far better overall value.

But on its own, Blackadder Back And Forth reunites the principle players in the Blackadder saga for one last go-around. It is more an homage to the series Blackadder than it is a standalone episode, but at a little over the thirty minute mark, Blackadder Back And Forth caps off the franchise in a way that has the distinction of not being as depressing as the episode "Goodbyeee" (reviewed here!) did. Fans of the franchise are likely to enjoy that as there was such melancholy in the last moments of that other episode. And while several of the performers are showing their age and while many of the jokes are so similar to those from the television series, Blackadder Back And Forth makes for a decent addition to the franchise and sends it out on a high note.

Edmund Blackadder is throwing a party for his friends on the eve of the Millennium changeover, December 31, 1999. As his witless friend friend George goes on about an optimistic future and his religious comrades Melchard and Darling back him up, Edmund finds himself disagreeing. Instead, he takes the much more bleak view that humanity is filled with wars, pestilence and horror that shall not simply be overturned with the changing of the date. The point becomes moot when the party begins to break up because of the cooking of Edmund's septic tank cleaner, Baldrick. To scam his friends - which seems pretty easy in the case of the lushy Elizabeth - Edmund introduces his friends to his newly-built time machine with which he wagers he can retrieve objects from the past in order to win bets with each.

Much to the surprise of Blackadder and Baldrick, the time machine Baldrick has built from one of DaVinci's notebook's plans actually works! Instead of having to scam his friends, Edmund and Baldrick kill off the dinosaurs using Baldrick's trousers before acquiring the authentic items Edmund promised his friends, plus a Shakespeare autograph! Upon returning to the present, though - after discovering themselves lost in time for a period - Blackadder and Baldrick discover their meddling with time has irrevocably changed history and they must attempt to undo some of their temporal infractions!

Because this is a comedy, things are hardly ever as dire as they might seem. So, for example, upon returning to the present, Blackadder discovers no one is impressed that he has William Shakespeare's autograph. Shakespeare, having taken a berating and a beating from Edmund on behalf of four hundred years of students, apparently took the ball-point pen Edmund had him sign the title page to The Tragedy Of MacBeth with and became known instead as the inventor of the ball-point pen! Shakespeare is played brilliantly in a cameo by Collin Firth and Firth is given surprisingly little to do, save be kicked by Atkinson's Blackadder. Firth pulls off the humor well, though, as he takes on a nervous affect and takes the beating.

Fans of the Blackadder franchise will enjoy the return to one of the most popular settings: the court of Queen Elizabeth the first. Edmund finds himself there and bribes her with a Lifesaver mint, which saves his life from the mood swings of the queen. Of course Melchard is there as well, but fans are likely to enjoy the five frames on screen Nursie has in the scene! There is a feeling of returning home with wonderful, beloved characters and it works perfectly in Blackadder Back And Forth.

Not content to simply recycle and revisit the already established Blackadder time periods, Blackadder Back And Forth presents at least two periods unique to this presentation. Viewers are treated to the Roman version of Blackadder - who complains wickedly about Hadran's wall - and to an encounter with Robin Hood and Maid Marion. Hood is an extension of the jokes with Flashheart from the series as he is an oversexed, somewhat crazed man whom Edmund escapes using his cunning. And Robin Hood is played by the same actor who played Flashheart and it is a welcome reprisal.

As well, the battle of Waterloo is featured, which allows viewers to see the past Darlings! In fact, Tim McInnerny's scenes are largely independent of Atkinson's and those who love the franchise might similarly be disappointed by the lack of screentime Hugh Laurie has as George. The actors successfully step back into the shoes of their established characters and in that way, Blackadder Back And Forth works.

But it is Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson who rule the Blackadder saga and this is still the case in Blackadder Back And Forth. Atkinson is sarcastic and debonair as Edmund and Robinson is appropriately clueless as Baldrick. Still, too many of their lines are delivered for the audience, as opposed to in character. So, when Robinson delivers his catchphrase about having a cunning plan, he draws it out, almost like he is saying good-bye to the line. Again, this is wonderful for the fans, but it holds up poorly for random viewers.

On DVD, Blackadder Back And Forth has a video diary of the Blackadder saga and a function that explains the historical allusions some might not otherwise get. There is no commentary track and fans might well be left feeling like it is ultimately a draw. Those who have not been into Blackadder will likely find things like the mechanic Tyrannosaurus Rex and the space battle effects utterly campy, but those who love British comedies will appreciate the camp quality.

In other words, Blackadder Back And Forth is best appreciated by the fans as the humor in it tends to be so self-referential as to be stifling to those not already invested in the series. And for those who are, there might be no greater good-bye than this one.

For other works featuring Colin Firth, please check out my reviews of:
The King's Speech
A Christmas Carol
Love Actually
Bridget Jones's Diary
Shakespeare In Love
The English Patient


For other television reviews, please be sure to check out my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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