I am the host of Cinema Limbo, a podcast that reappraises unloved or forgotten movies, and The Avengers was one of the first we covered on the show. I saw it in the theater when it was released, bought an ex-rental VHS, a widescreen VHS, the DVD twice – first in a snapper case, then in a regular one – the novelization, the published script and both editions of the soundtrack, so yes, I really love the movie, despite its flaws, and I think I might be able to point out a few corrections and omissions.
The reason it’s called The Avengers dates back to the start of the TV series. The original lead was police pathologist called David Keel, whose wife is murdered by gangsters, so he teams up with secret agent John Steed to avenge her death on the criminal world. Actor Ian Hendry left after the first season, so Patrick MacNee was promoted to lead and paired with a series of female partners for the rest of the series’ run, during which time the tone became both more light-hearted and fantastical, Steed being an expert in spycraft and aristocracy and his partner an expert in everything else – an equal division of labor in the series. It also began airing on CBS in 1967, but skipped to the Emma Peel episodes. Since only two episodes from the first season survive, it has never aired in the US. I could also ask, by the way, what is it the Marvel characters are avenging?
Paul and company seemed to have trouble with the tone of the movie. It is set, like much of the series, in a fantasy version of England, where tea is drunk constantly, the 60s never ended and the world appears depopulated. I think this is a hangover from the original series, which could never afford many extras, so the movie is following its stylistic lead. Sir August does have a butler, who shows Emma in earlier in the film. Why would Sir August want to control the weather? Because the series was always full of monomaniacal masterminds obsessed with a single subject. He already sells customized weather delivered through a telephone line, but his plan is to control the world monopoly on weather – his smashing of the globe into the camera at the World Council of Ministers is surely a reference to Connery’s own love of golf.
This ‘Avengersland’ extends to an assault course for agents being a country village – the falling plant pot is surely over the entry to the course – and the setting of 1999, which you can tell from the tax disc in the windshield of Steed’s car. The producer’s comments about wanting to live in a London that’s clean and free of billboards seems pretty fair to me, and I’ve lived here for nearly 20 years.
The ‘if we still have an enemy’ line after the assault course was intended as a reference to the Cold War. Joel McNeely, who now composes the music for American Dad! and has produced two albums with Seth MacFarlane, was hired so late in production that the trailer still credits Michael Kamen as providing the score.
The bear scene – yeah. It would make more sense for them to have been dressed as different types of cloud to conceal their identities, fitting in with the weather theme, but different colored teddy bears obviously makes for a more striking and memorable images, as the podcast audience seemed to agree. Eddie Izzard, incidentally, took his role solely to have the opportunity to work with Sean Connery, and decided to play his character mute as his dialogue was either unnecessary or just vague threats. His one word of dialogue was added in post to lift the rating above PG. The gesticulations made by the extra in the bear costume are I think just an aid to the audience to indicate who’s speaking and compensate for a lack of facial expressions.
Father’s skills at doing things she can’t see derive from the single episode of the series in which she appears, where she’s shown to have powerful hearing. The decision to pair Emma with Steed appears to be simply because she’s so obviously the culprit that it couldn’t be her, so putting her on the case under supervision should connect to who the real villain is. Fortunately, it’s the only other suspect. Sir August’s obsession with Emma derives from both of them working on the weather project, and is an element left over from an earlier version of the script in which he was the brother of her dead husband. This also suggests a connection to Daphne du Maurier’s book Rebecca, which is also about a man called de Winter living in a huge mansion, dominated by a lost love and with a malevolent woman dressed in black in his household who already reminds him of her. Also the film is filled with references to Alice in Wonderland and Shakespeare that no-one mentioned.
Did you have to call her ‘tumor’? In the script she’s called ‘Bad Emma’, and the reason Steed kisses the real Emma is connected to an earlier version of the scene where the fake Emma knocks him out in the maze – not with a punch, but with a kiss from poison lipstick. The chess game played by Steed and Emma in her home is the same as the one in Blade Runner, which connects to Sir August telling Steed, ‘Time to die’ at the end.
The wasps don’t really fit with the weather motif, unless you decide they are an integral part of the English summer (they are), and the constant tea references derive from trying to make something that’s uber-English. I admit that the performances of Fiennes and Thurman are a problem, as they should have been a lot looser and more comfortable, instead of pushing English unflappability too far as they do. It’s a really fun movie, I think, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again, although I doubt I’ll be able to get through the boot scene without remembering Jason’s gross noises.
A link to the podcast: