Bugger! 1:6 Scale WWII War Comedy, “Jackboots on Whitehall,” Bombs at the Box Office———Costing $6,000,000 & Netting Only—(Wait for It)—£20,776*

* (Sources quoted for these figures: Wikipedia and boxofficemojo.com)

Designers of the lobby poster for the 2010 UK film, “Jackboots on Whitehall,” made the regrettable decision to prominently feature the film’s poorly sculpted action “puppet” of Winston Churchill (heavily retouched) as its main focus. As fond as we are of “Ol’ Winnie,” this choice was a clear marketing blunder—one of a MANY misguided creative decisions by the filmmakers. (Graphic: Matador Pictures)

The goblinesque, open-mouthed and oddly colored headsculpt of the film’s 1:6 scale Joseph Goebbels “puppet” was not particularly well-done OR funny-looking. And during most of its scenes, it simply stared blankly ahead, rarely moving and never closing(?) its mouth. It’s inconceivable that the filmmakers couldn’t mine comedic GOLD out of a character who was Germany’s Minister of Propaganda. The jokes practically write themselves! (Photo: Matador Pictures)

The Story of the Most Expensive 1:6 Scale Film Ever Made—and Why it Failed So Miserably.

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“You can have a million dollar, 20 million dollar, or 60 million dollar budget, and if you don’t have a good script, it doesn’t mean a thing.” —Tippi Hedren

Imagine if you will, the following 1:6 scale dream scenario: You’re a pair of young brothers living in the UK who are both GIjOE/Action Man fans, as well as aspiring (though largely inexperienced) filmmakers. Your joint dream is to blow away all the do-it-yourself, stop-action GIjOE videos found on YouTube and produce a big-budget, shown-in-the-theater feature film using your favorite 12-inch heroes in lieu of real actors; sort of a 1:6 scale WWII fantasy brought to life up on the big screen. A lofty and admirable goal? YES!

The only problem(s)? Well, as we said, you’re both still young. That’s not necessarily an insurmountable botheration, but with it comes a certain lack of experience, an immaturity of talent and untested creative judgement. And, like most young people, you likely have little (or no) money and very little history of business (or filmmaking) success. To top it all off, this will be the FIRST real film you’ve ever made. The search for funding is bound to be an uphill struggle, and with so many self-created obstacles, it seems you and your brother would be lucky to find someone who’d offer to give you cab fare, much less fund your idea for a 1:6 scale “puppet” movie. But never fear, my friends…

Regardless of those “roadblocks of reality,” someone with really deep pockets finally comes along and decides—for whatever reason—to give you $6 MILLION DOLLARS to make your dream movie. Here’s the money, fellas. Go ahead. Wow! The sun is certainly shining on you, now. Sounds like a dream come true for any pair of ambitious young Brits, right? Well, maybe not. Be careful what you wish for. After a year or so of hard work, you might just find your investor’s wallet $6,000,000 lighter and your IMDb filmography listing one of the biggest (and dullest) box-office BOMBS of all time.

Achtung! Despite this clever opening title gag (promising "Glorious Panzervision"), the 1:6 scale action-comedy, "Jackboots on Whitehall" falls flat from the very first scene. (Screenshot: Flatiron Film Co.)

Achtung! Despite this clever opening title gag (promising “Glorious Panzervision”), the 1:6 scale action-comedy, “Jackboots on Whitehall” falls flat from its very first scene. We would have loved to have seen this concept explored further. Imagine what “Panzervision” might’ve been! (Screenshot: Flatiron Film Co.)

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“Well, there’s no question that a good script is absolutely essential, maybe THE essential thing for a movie.”
Sydney Pollack

The faces behind the puppets—

The faces behind “Jackboots”— The McHenry Brothers of the UK (above) showed Action Man fans in the UK how to spend $6,000,000 to make a bad movie featuring 1:6 scale action figures. (Photo: ReviewFix)

If you’re not already aware, the fantasy scenario we’ve laid out above is all too real. Jackboots was indeed the co-creation of two (real) young British filmmakers, better known today by their collective appellation—the McHenry Brothers. We won’t recount their full backstory here, that’s already been done numerous times around the internet (see HERE and HERE, for just two examples), but it’s clear that the two never fully grasped how poorly they had written their screenplay. In one telling interview exchange with ReviewFix, Rory McHenry’s answer (sadly) reveals their cineaste naiveté:

malecomment“Review Fix: If you could change ONE thing about the film, what would it be
—and why?

Rory McHenry: More explosions. There were a lot more sets and London monuments we could
have blown up!”

<shaking our heads now> Anyone who’s seen Jackboots knows that “more explosions” would have done NOTHING to improve the film. The reasons for its failure are mainly script-oriented—not in its pyrotechnics. It also suffers from poorly sculpted heads—but we’ll get into that a bit later.

It's common practice for filmmakers and distributors of a failed project to try and recoup their investment by renaming a film, revising its promotional graphics or remarketing it to unsuspecting audiences overseas. Unfortunately, it's doubtful such efforts will ever help put Jackboots on Whitehall "back in the black." (Photo: Amazon)

It’s common practice for filmmakers and distributors of a failed project to try to recoup their investment by renaming a film, revising its promotional graphics and/or remarketing it to unsuspecting audiences overseas. Unfortunately, it’s doubtful such efforts will help put Jackboots on Whitehall “back in the black.” (Photo: Amazon)

As Fans of all things 1:6 scale, our hopes and expectations for 2010’s Jackboots on Whitehall (JOW) were actually quite high. After all, with so much money being thrown at it, it would HAVE to be great. Right? Wrong. As it unspooled on the screen before us, our high hopes were quickly dashed and we found ourselves sinking lower and lower into our seats. What a disappointment!

Unlike standard moviegoers, we were willing to look beyond JOW’s obviously boring script and lackluster characters, preferring to focus instead on its specific use (and choice) of 1:6 scale vehicles, props and action figures. Even with our lowered expectations, we have to admit this film is B—A—D. The only enjoyment we got out of it was playing “Name That 1:6 Scale Prop.” Whenever something new came on the screen, we’d blurt out things like, “That’s a Dragon ammo box!” or “I’ve got one of those (fill in the blank)!”

It quickly became apparent that any GIjOE, Action Man or Dragon action figure fan with a practiced eye would actually enjoy viewing this film more—with the sound turned OFF. That may seem like an odd thing to say, but believe us when tell you, you won’t be missing anything important. JOW’s story, dialogue and voice-work are all complete throwaways (but hey, the music’s pretty good).

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A Bad Day for Richard Dawson? No, it’s just another subpar headsculpt that’s actually more distracting than it is funny. Mon dieu! (Photo; Flatiron Film Co.)

What WILL appeal to 1:6 fans, is studying what’s been put up on there on the screen. After all, that’s where all the money went, and for 91 minutes, you’ll enjoy seeing how much 1:6 scale wackiness someone can set up and film for $6.000,000. If you can overlook the poorly sculpted characters, we suggest you focus more on the superbly crafted backgrounds, RC tanks, trucks and other vehicles, and just enjoy watching a 1:6 scale world being brought to life. Yes, most of the scenes fall completely flat, but then one suddenly comes along that really grabs your attention. For example, the number of Dragon SS German action figures used in the final Scotland battle sequence alone, is staggering. The studio’s prop department P.O. must’ve kept the folks at Dragon Models busy (and financially in the black) for a VERY long time. Gott im Himmel!

The difference is striking

In the film’s opening scene, an alternative Battle of Britain finale is underway, focusing on England’s two remaining fighter pilots as they attempt to fend off another bombing blitz by Goering’s Luftwaffe. Played seriously, the sequence feels as if it was made for another movie entirely. Much of the rest of the film is played for slapstick and silly laughs, making this scene seem completely out-of-place. Ultimately, the film’s failure boils down to its poorly written script. Its characters NEVER connect with the audience in any appreciable way, thereby dooming Jackboots on Whitehall to failure. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

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“It’s possible for me to make a bad movie out of a good script, but I can’t make a good movie from a bad script.”
George Clooney

A review in the Guardian UK, summed up the problems with this 2010 film, declaring it as:

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“Amiably intentioned but desperately weak in terms of script. Writer-directors Edward and Rory McHenry have poured an enormous amount of effort into the animatronic creations and models, but long, long minutes go by without anything resembling a good joke or a funny idea, and things frankly get very dull. It’s a shame, because this labour of love shows obvious creative potential, but the screenplay needed serious work.”

At times, the film does LOOK very impressive, especially when you consider that, for the most part, what you’re viewing has all been handcrafted at tiny 1:6 scale. So, rather than dwell anymore on what’s WRONG with Jackboots, let’s discuss some things its two creators got RIGHT…

Turn Her Into the Wind! The bridge set of the Hindenburg’s Command Gondola was one of the film’s best 1:6 scale creations. The figures chosen to crew the zeppelin were also well-detailed and featured above-average headsculpts. Unfortunately, this sort of excellence was diminished almost as soon as it was established, by other, more poorly crafted characters. D’oh! (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

Tell us when to laugh— Clearly patterned after goggle-eyed character actor, Marty Feldman, "Igor" is played 100% for laughs and receives absolutely NONE. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

Tell us when to laugh— Clearly patterned after goggle-eyed character actor, Marty Feldman, “Igor” is played 100% for laughs and receives absolutely NONE. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

The Hindenburg Command Gondola

Whenever JOW’s prop or set departments did something particularly well, it was immediately noticeable to the viewer (especially to us “1:6 scalers”). After all, in this sort of production, the camera is only a few feet or inches away from its subject, and at that close range, there’s no way to hide poor design or workmanship. One of the film’s standout sets is its Command Gondola for the Hindenburg. Replete with girders, rivets, finely detailed control panels and stylish slanted observation windows, this stellar creation is clearly the film’s best and most memorable.

In addition, the movie’s costumers took the time and effort to detail some of the film’s better looking figures—the zeppelin’s crewmen—by using excellent 1:6 scale (Dragon) figures and uniforms (see photo above). It’s a shame they receive such a short amount of screen time and the unfunny “Igor” (right) is featured instead.

The attention to detail of the Hindenburg's Command Gondola extended to the outside as well. OUTstanding! (Photo: Click to enlarge.

The careful attention to detail of the Hindenburg’s Command Gondola set extends to its exterior as well, as this screenshot reveals. Superb craftsmanship! (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

1:6 Scale Fans would have to give this scene, where the Hindenburg's tail gunner sprays hot lead down on the crowd below with his twin machine-guns, an A+. Even his expression is perfect, sort of a business-like, squint. (Photo: Flatiron) Click to enlarge.

Die, Britisher Pigs! 1:6 Scalers would have to give this scene—where the Hindenburg’s gondola gunner sprays hot lead down onto the crowd below (with twin machine-guns, nonetheless)—an undeniable A++. The sound effects, spitting flames, everything is perfect. Even his grim, determined expression is spot-on. This murderous, squinting Nazi is all-business and well portrayed. (Photo: Flatiron) Click to enlarge.

A smaller scale model of the Hindenburg was created and used for the faraway flying shots seen in the film. This excellent model is only about 5′ long. Wunderbar! (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

The Hindenburg was easily handled and retouched due to its small scale. Here, propmasters repair a small nick in the underside of the Command Gondola. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

Propmasters hang the Hindenburg from its wires in preparation for filming its scenes. Note how the delicate tail fin and nose sections are protected with styrofoam blocks during this delicate procedure to prevent any damage in case it is dropped. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

Careful, Boys! Propmasters gingerly hang the Hindenburg from wires in preparation for filming. Note also how they’ve chosen to protect its delicate tail fins and nose section with styrofoam blocks so as to prevent any further damage to the delicate model. Jah! (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

The Battle of Britain Opening Scene

Almost a separate movie, Jackboots’ opening Battle of Britain sequence, featuring two stalwart RAF pilots attempting to fight off the Luftwaffe, was very well filmed and executed. The filmmaker’s wise use of superbly sculpted Dragon action figures, outfitted in excellently detailed pilot uniforms, combined with in-flight shots of scale models of Spitfires and Heinkel bombers, helped to make the scenes largely believable and entertaining. Here are some “behind-the-scenes” pics of the action:

Similar to the Hindenburg, slightly smaller scale Spitfires were used for the flying scenes shown at the opening of the film. Closeups of the cockpit were done in a separate, full 1:6 scale model. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

Similar to the Hindenburg, slightly smaller-scale Spitfires were used for the flying scenes while closeups were taken of a separate 1:6 scale model of the cockpit. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

Getting up close to the Spitfire pilots required very tight shots on a 1:6 scale mock-up of the plane's cockpit. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

Filming closeups of the 1:6 scale Spitfire pilots required very close lens work  (and sharp focus) on a partial 1:6 scale mock-up of the plane’s cockpit. This also enabled puppeteers to move the figure’s hands and head from below, while staying carefully “out of shot.” (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

The Invasion of LondonWith 1:6 Scale RC

In another excellent sequence that will undoubtedly get “2 thumbs up” from all 1:6 scalers, the City of London is invaded from below by tanks and trucks full of German soldiers. After burrowing their way up through the street using a creatively conceived “drilling” tank, the Nazis begin to mercilessly mow down any and all Brits they can find, giving the McHenry boys plenty of opportunities to blow things up and fling bloody body parts all about the set. What fun!(?) Anyway, here some more pics:

Heavy Armor!

Holy, Heavy Armor! The construction and use of fully RC 1:6 scale tanks is a well-established hobby enjoyed by thousands of fans. We weren’t surprised then, that Jackboots contained numerous excellent RC tank scenes. We would’ve loved to have seen even MORE! (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

In a method similar to that used for the Spitfires, puppeteers utilized a separate tank turret to maneuver the tank commander puppets from below. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

In a method similar to that used for the Spitfires, puppeteers utilized a separate tank turret to maneuver the tank commander puppets from below. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

We absolutely LOVE this 1:6 RC truck. Just look at the size of this beauty. Sadly, it drives from right to left and...that's about it. What a waste of a fine machine! (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

We absolutely LOVED this superb RC troop truck. Just look at the SIZE of that beauty! Sadly, it drives from right to left and…well, that’s about it. What a wasted opportunity. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

This photo gives you an idea of just how large the London Invasion set really was. AMAZING! (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

This photo gives you an idea just how BIG this particular Jackboots set really was. The building facades in the background were not in full 1:6 scale, but that didn’t really matter to the viewer’s eye. What an AMAZING creation. Imagine “playing” with this! (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

Duck and Cover! As we now know, the filmmakers wouldn't build a set if they weren't going to blow it up, and blow it up they did—REAL good! BA-ROOOOMMM!!! (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

Duck and Cover! As we now know, the McHenry’s wouldn’t build a set if they weren’t going to blow it up, and they blew ’em up—REAL good! BA-ROOM!!! (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

Blimey—The Palace and Number 10 Never Looked Better, Guv’nah!

As we stated earlier, Jackboots’ propmasters and set builders truly shined during the film’s production, especially in their creation of outstanding room interiors and realistic building exteriors. Probably the best examples are the street exteriors at Winston Churchill’s residence, Number 10 Downing Street, and then later, an interior room at Kensington Palace. The scenes required both sets to be built at full 1:6 scale, and as such, they were MASSIVE as well as exquisitely detailed. Of course, much of it was destined to be blown up, but while they stood, the sets were two of the nicest 1:6 scale architectural dioramas ever created. Here are some pics taken during shooting:

Absolutely Breathtaking! The 1:6 scale build-up of #10 Downing Street was an absolute masterpiece. It's a shame the film's script wasn't half as good as its sets. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

Absolutely Breathtaking! The 1:6 scale build-up of #10 Downing Street was an absolute masterpiece. It’s a shame the film’s script wasn’t half as good as its sets. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

Inside Buckingham Palace, the Third Reich's goon squad celebrate their victory by playing with the "spoils of war" found inside yet another marvelous interior set created by the film's set builders.Out-STANDING! (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

Inside Buckingham Palace, the Third Reich’s goon squad celebrates their victory by playing around with the “spoils of war” they find inside. Be sure to enlarge this picture to get a better idea of just how MASSIVE this interior set was. Out-STANDING! (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

This closeup reveals how expertly the set builders matched textures and recreated other room details at perfect 1:6 scale. WOW! (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

This closeup reveals how expertly the set builders matched textures and recreated other room details at spot-on, near perfect 1:6 scale. Simply superb! (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

The propmasters and set builders probably BOTH had a fun time constructed Winston Churchill's hidden weapons storage, cleverly hidden behind a giant wall map in his study. Dedicated 1:6 scalers could probably recreate this scene, item for item. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

The propmasters and set builders probably BOTH enjoyed constructing and then detailing Winston Churchill’s hidden weapons armory, cleverly hidden behind a sliding wall map in his office. Dedicated 1:6 scalers could probably recreate this scene, item for item! (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

Another attempt at humor using an effeminate Hitler in an Elizabethan dress falls flat with nary a giggle. Monty Python-esque comedy this is NOT. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

Another attempt at humor using an effeminate Hitler in an Elizabethan dress falls flat with nary a giggle. Monty Python-esque comedy this is NOT. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

“Tricking the Eye” With Scale

Occasionally, the filmmakers had to fudge a shot through tricks of perspective or the use of even smaller scale models. For example, the Hindenburg miniature (as shown above) was clearly NOT a 1:6 scale model. But at only about 5′ long, its shorter length must’ve made it much easier to film. Although the McHenry Brothers could’ve probably built a bigger one, that would’ve been quite a costly undertaking. And in the end, only its command gondola was really needed for scenes and closeups utilizing the 12″ action figures.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

There’s certainly a lot to like about Jackboots, but (sadly) there’s also a lot to dislike. After seeing all of the excellent 1:6 scale aircraft, tanks, trucks, building exteriors, room interiors and intricately detailed miniatures created for the film, the expertise and professionalism of the studio’s art department is undeniable. But whoever signed off on the awful headsculpts used to depict its main characters truly did the film a disservice. Indeed, the filmmakers would have been well-advised to have sought out superior sculptors in what has become a VERY specialized art form. As any toy manufacturer will tell you, the facial sculpt of an action figure is THE crucial factor determining its success or failure. Kids and adults alike can look at the face of a toy and tell you in a second if they don’t like it. And if they don’t like it, they’re not going to buy it. That spells disaster for a toy company. The same truism can be applied to the “puppets” used in this film—and to the project that suffers because of them.

Rory McHenry places the unsightly and decidedly unfunny “Igor” figure into position in the superb Hindenburg Command Gondola set in preparation for filming a scene. Not surprisingly, the differences and inconsistent quality of artistry between such key sets and figures proved to be a major distraction (and disappointment) for the audience. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

We're not sure exactly what we're supposed to make of the unusual headsculpt used for the town vicar. And the painting is decidedly crudely done as well. Was it supposed to be Jack Nicholson as the Joker? Or was he caught in a wind-tunnel? Is it an alien? Whatever the inspiration, his startled "eyebrows up, mouth full of teeth" expression never changes throughout the film and it's hard to comprehend WHY. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

We’re not sure what we’re supposed to make of the unusual headsculpt created for the town vicar. Was it supposed to be Jack Nicholson as the Joker? Or was he caught in a wind-tunnel? Whatever the inspiration, his startled “eyebrows up, mouth full of teeth” expression never changes throughout the film. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

In the Eye of the Beholder?

It’s hard to say why the filmmakers used so many bad headsculpts. Such decisions are clearly, very subjective creatively; one person’s impression of what “looks good” or “bad” can differ greatly from that of another. Perhaps the difference rests with experience. As life-long 1:6 scalers, it may be that our eyes for 1:6 sculpts are better trained or “sensitive” to quality, because we’re more used to working at that size.

Whatever the reason, in the end, the filmmaker’s inability to utilize top-notch figures throughout the film clearly hurt it visually, making it look—at times—quite amateurish; hardly what you’d expect from such a big-budget feature. Whenever one of the poorly crafted figures is up there (see at right), you almost want to WINCE. And again, without a good script to engage (or distract) us from such a “mixed bag” visually, the audience of Jackboots is left with very little to root for (or care about).

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“Give me a good script, and I’ll be a hundred times better as a director.”George Cukor

On the set of Jackboots on Whitehall, the two young writer-directors take a break while considering the next shot. Looking at this picture of the young, handsome brothers, it's interesting to consider—what were they thinking about at that moment? Were they overwhelmed by the enormity of responsibility involved with shooting such a big-budget film? (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

Under Pressure to Deliver— On the set of their first film production, 2010’s Jackboots on Whitehall, the writing-directing team of Ed (l) and Rory (r) McHenry take a break to consider their next move. Looking back at this photo of the handsome brothers (now), we have to wonder—How did they handle the pressure during the shoot? Were they overwhelmed by the responsibility of co-helming a big-budget feature? What toll did its failure take on them personally—and financially? (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

Roll 'em Out! Ed and Rory practice "marching" a rack full of SS stormtroopers, their feet nailed to a platform with oblong wheels to simulate the slight up-down motion made while walking (or marching). (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

Roll ’em Out! Ed and Rory practice “marching” a rack full of SS stormtroopers, their jackboots secured to a platform with oblong wheels to simulate the up-down motion made while walking (or marching). By the way, we counted 84 Germans on this rack ALONE! (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

In a nod to ancient Roman formations, multiple racks of German SS troops are set up to begin the assault on Hadrian's wall. The studio built the massive set all indoors. AMAZING! (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

 Looking like Roman Legions, multiple “racks” full of German troops stand ready to assault Hadrian’s wall during the film’s climatic battle sequence. This isn’t CGI, folks. Those were all Dragon action figures set up on an indoor soundstage. AMAZING! (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

Despite the availability of Pak 40s and other 1:6 scale artillery pieces made by 21st Century Toys and Dragon Models, (for some reason) the filmmakers decided to produce a series of under-scaled artillery pieces, instead. Don't look too closely, they're not very accurate. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

Despite the availability of Pak 40s and other 1:6 scale artillery pieces made by 21st Century Toys and Dragon Models, (for some reason) Jackboots’ filmmakers decided to utilize these under-sized pieces, instead. Perhaps to squeeze more into the frame? (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

"Marching" racks full of SS troopers was also used for scene where they parade through London. You have to admire the effort (and $) that went into producing this shot in 1:6 scale. What a colossal undertaking! (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

“Marching” racks full of SS troopers were also used in a scene where they parade triumphantly through London. It’s a SHAME that the filmmakers didn’t figure out a way to have them all GOOSE-STEPPING during this sequence (another missed opportunity). That would have been AMAZING! Still, you have to admire all the effort (and $) that went into producing this shot at 1:6 scale. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

Unfortunately,"Daisy," a character the filmmakers had hoped would connect with the audience failed to do so in any appreciable way. We admire the craftsmanship on this figure, although it's largely a fashion Barbie with slight alterations. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

I’m not Barbie! Oh wait… “Daisy,” was a character the filmmakers stated they had hoped would connect with the audience, and yet she fails to do so in any appreciable way. Could it be because they used a common, high fashion Barbie doll with little to no alterations? This smooth, featureless face looks more like a mannequin than any “living” character. This is a face we’ve seen MILLIONS of times. YAWN. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

Surprisingly, in a 2010 interview with Suchandrika Chakrabarti, the brothers took much the same position as their critics, stating their belief that the film’s story and characters were paramount, while all the rest (explosions, etc.) was “just background.” Nonetheless, once filming began, their combined inexperience (at that time) was clearly unable to produce the results of their original stated intentions. Here’s what they had said:

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“What we started to learn, as we got through principal photography, and a lot of the prep, up until 6 months ago, the nebulous concept of the film was going to be the characters and the love interest between Chris and Daisy, and everything around that, tanks, guns, explosions, is just background and to make it an exciting movie, but the main thing in this is that the puppets are becoming real people.”

Is THIS the face of a Hero?

Is THIS the face of a Hero? It is if you’re the star of Jackboots on Whitehall. The headsculpt for “Chris,” while not the worst of the bunch, was still only AVERAGE. We wonder how many the filmmakers went through before they selected this one? (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

Unfortunately, the McHenry’s stated goal of their characters “becoming real people” was never achieved. Far from it, in fact. Their character’s trite, unoriginal dialogue and the awful screenplay they portrayed was, well, as DULL as dishwater. Seeking out the assistance of a professional screenwriter (with a proven track record) would have been money well spent in those early stages. Instead, the brothers turned only to each other creatively and so the results must be laid squarely at their doorstep. In a separate interview (HERE), Ed McHenry confirmed their writing process when he revealed:

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“The fantastic thing about making a film like this is that you can play around with the script – there’s no need to lip-synch, so Rory and I just sat in our living room with the lines on a laptop and rebuilt the dialogue. Everyone who joined the cast brought something new, so we were literally rewriting the script up until the last day of editing.”

Ouch. While such improvisation and endless rewriting is not unheard-of or uncommon, even the most ultra-talented film auteurs would consider making a big-budget movie that way akin to walking on hot coals or performing a dangerous high-wire act. One misstep—and it’s OVER.

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“I only sound intelligent when there’s a good script writer around.” —Christian Bale

You can see what the filmmakers were going for in a scene like this, where the three main "baddies" gather 'round a war-planning table to plot strategy. Unfortunately, their unfunny dialogue coupled with an erratic mixture of visual miscues (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

You can see what the filmmakers were going for in a scene like this, where the three main bad guys (Goering, Himmler and Goebbels) gather ’round a war-gaming table to discuss strategy. It’s a shame they had nothing original to say or do (where are the 3 Stooges when you need them?). The dialogue they did “speak” wasn’t witty OR funny, and their stiff, barely movable bodies end up producing something akin to a bad puppet show. And remember—we’re FANS! (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

Barbie looks very S&M in her skin-tight Nazi uniform and high-heel Jackboots as she sprays the defenders perched on Hadrian's Wall with her submachine gun. And yet...these scenes could have been SO much better. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.) Click to enlarge.

Barbie looks very S&M in her all-black leather-n-mesh Nazi ensemble (with high-heel jackboots) as she casually massacres defenders atop Hadrian’s Wall. Actually, two Barbies were strapped onto an RC Kettenkrad and then driven around the set for about 30 seconds of mayhem. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

goering

Bite Me! As this closeup of Goering’s rather roughly hewn (and poorly painted) headsculpt reveals, the directors chose to also (inexplicably) give him the metal teeth from 007’s arch-nemesis, “Jaws,” resulting in yet another uninspired sight-gag that fails to produce even a chuckle. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

From the store to the big screen— 1:6 scalers will recognize this RC Mercedes that appeared in stores a few years back. It works well in the movie and actually has many other effects not shown in the film (see THIS VIDEO for more details). (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

From the toy store to the big screen— 1:6 scalers will undoubtedly recognize Goering’s RC Mercedes that was sold worldwide back in 2009. It looked great in the movie and actually has many other interesting “effects” not revealed in the film (watch THIS VIDEO for complete details). (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

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The film’s opening credit sequence features some (passable) artwork that reminded us (a little bit) of the old “Andy and George” GIJOE comic book ads of the 1960s. Unfortunately, this artwork was not nearly as well drawn, and so the camera (wisely) pans quickly over each frame. Again, a few bucks spent on a professional (i.e. more talented) comic book artist would’ve been $ well spent. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

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In a glimpse of what could have been, the figure created for “Major Rupee” sported a carefully tailored uniform, properly fitting pistol belt, shoulder strap, rifle sling and turban, which all combined to create a sharp-looking figure that immediately grabs your attention. Unfortunately, his eyes were poorly painted. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

Considering Future Possibilities

As we wind up our coverage of this, the most expensive 1:6 scale movie ever made, we wanted to confirm that YES, we understand hindsight is 20-20, and NO, we’re not purporting to be experts on filmmaking. But since it’s been 5 years since Jackboots debuted (and disappeared) with barely a ticket sold at the box office, 2015 seems as good a time as any to discuss the reasons behind both its critical and financial failure.

It’s also important to remember how—and by whom—this film was made. The McHenry’s were self-admitted rookie filmmakers, yet they showed MASSIVE cojones in pitching (what was barely) an idea, securing (so much!) funding, and writing and directing their first-ever film project. Despite the fact that Jackboots went down in cinema history as a total box-office bomb, you have to credit the two young men for all their hard work, and for even attempting such a project.

Having Said All That…

We can’t help but consider what COULD have been created if perhaps a more experienced filmmaking team had been “green-lighted” with such a rare and momentous opportunity. Think about it. What would YOU do with a $6,000,000 budget? Let’s play a quick game of “Consider the Possibilities.” It may help us all to better grasp the enormity of this particular film’s oh-so-regrettable failure.

The FUTURE of Adventure Team animation? Animator Dana Rausch's "sample reel" has shown just how GREAT an Adventure Team serial could be. If only...(Photo: Dana Rausch)

Is this the face of the FUTURE of Adventure Team animation? Animator Dana Rausch’s sample AT video shows just how GREAT an Adventure Team series could be! (Photo: Dana Rausch)

How About an CGI-Animated “Adventure Team” TV Series?

If the stiff, “puppet-like” movements of the characters in Jackboots showed us anything, it’s that (perhaps) making a film with action figures isn’t the best idea, after all. Instead, maybe creating an animated series based on (but NOT utilizing) action figures is, in fact, a better way to go. And if that is indeed the case, then it’s easier to envision an Adventure Team-based series, loosely patterned after the old Jonny Quest cartoons by Hanna Barbara.

For a glimpse into this exciting possibility, look no further than the sample AT video (above) created by animator Dana Rausch. You could even end each episode with a “cliff-hanger” ending that would leave audiences eagerly waiting for the next episode (same bat-time, same bat-channel). Hasbro would be happy too, as the new show would undoubtedly spur all-new demand for AT-related products. Can you say, “revitalized brand merchandising?” (Psst! There’s no charge for this unsolicited advice, Hasbro. Feel free to “steal” whatever you like and run with it. We won’t complain!)

The '60s classic adventure series, Jonny Quest, created a template of science, action and adventure that would apply well to GIjOE and his Adventure Team. Would someone please convince Hasbro to attempt funding such a project? (Art: Steve Rude)

Mixing the Formula For Success— The ’60s classic adventure series, Jonny Quest, created a template for intrigue and adventure based on science, cultural differences and ACTION that would translate well to a new TV show based on GIjOE and the Adventure Team. Perhaps the (obviously) “gutsy” McHenry Brothers will try to convince Hasbro to green-light an AT idea for their next project? (Art: Steve Rude)

What Did UK Action Man Fans Think of “Jackboots?”

You’d think spending $6 million dollars to make a movie featuring 1:6 scale action figures in the UK would be well-known by Action Man collectors actually LIVING in the UK. But you’d be wrong. This film was such a dud that even today, very few UK AM fans can recall that it even existed. To investigate this conundrum further, we contacted the one man we knew would have the answers: famed action figure dealer, Gareth Pippen of Pippens Toys (UK). Gareth owns and operates his own action figure toy store in Glasgow, Scotland, and we were sure that he’d know all about UK’s Jackboots. Imagine our surprise when he admitted:

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“I have never heard of it, to be honest. But if I were to guess, does it have something to do with British comedian Jack Whitehall and WWII? Okay… I just googled it… I’m WAY off.”
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Figures Don’t Lie— When in doubt, go to the official record. In this case, it’s from the UK film industry’s website “boxofficemojo,” which keeps files on all of that country’s releases dating back many years. We searched through 2010 and there it was: Jackboots on Whitehall. After 2 weeks in release, it had grossed only £7,847, down 98% from the week before. Now, THAT’S a “nose dive!” After an equally short run in Spain, the film was removed from theaters altogether. (Photo: Mark Otnes) Click to enlarge.

Since so few fans actually paid to see Jackboots during its original theatrical release, it can be hard to track down individuals to provide reviews today. Fortunately, a handful of them had the foresight to post their thoughts (while they were still fresh in their minds) on the IMDb website, after seeing the film back in 2010. It’s quite revealing to read those reviews today. For example:

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“Went to see this at the weekend after watching the trailer online. I could have walked out after 15 minutes and I wouldn’t have cared less about how the film ended. The dolls themselves looked very silly, no real emotion and the comedy was very dull. The only time I laughed was right at the end of the film, a long time to wait for a laugh. I can appreciate the hard work which has gone in to creating the landscapes and models etc. However, it still doesn’t make up for the fact that there is no real plot to the film and some of the voice acting is embarrassing. PS: I really, really wanted to like this film. (Just watch the trailer.)” —Thommaryjane

The goof-ball American fighter pilot was another waste of time, predictable and completely unfunny. However, the back of his jacket revealed some nice detailing work, unlike the front, which was a hodgepodge of pilot's pins and other silliness. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

The American fighter pilot character lampooned in Jackboots was another complete misfire, wholly predictable and unfunny. However, the back of his jacket revealed some nice detailing work, unlike the front, which was a hodgepodge of pilot’s pins and other insignia. (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

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“Post modern comic allusions here (Lethal Weapon, etc) are uneven and haphazard at best. What makes me wonder most is how this amateurish production got a hold of an array of such top-notch A-list talents to do voices. Ewan McGregor, etc. They must have promised them a Pixar-caliber animation. Terribly disappointed.” — smeg-4-brains

For some reason, some of the better head sculpts were used for background characters that had little or no lines of dialogue. We caught a screenshot of this impressive looking (though oddly long-haired) SS stormtrooper during a quick camera pan-by of the troops. Why couldn't the same high quality have been applied to all faces of the main characters? (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

You Lookin’ at Me? For some reason, some of the better head sculpts were wasted on background characters that had little or no lines of dialogue. We snapped this screenshot of an impressive looking (though oddly long-haired) SS stormtrooper during a quick camera pan-by of the troops. He’s probably grumpy that he hasn’t had a decent haircut in months. HA! (Photo: Flatiron Film Co.)

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“If you only care about the puppetry and what not, yeah, you might like it. If you expect it to be funny like either Team America or Robot Chicken, I think you’ll be hugely disappointed. I was. Most of the attempts at humor just fell flat on their face. There are a few funny things here and there that got a smile out of me, but overall it was boring as hell…” —astralace69

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Seriously don’t bother. It’s *beep* And I mean that in the nicest way possible. As a lover of all things WWI-WWII comedy / humor (related), it’s *beep.* Avoid at all costs.boobookitty

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9 thoughts on “Bugger! 1:6 Scale WWII War Comedy, “Jackboots on Whitehall,” Bombs at the Box Office———Costing $6,000,000 & Netting Only—(Wait for It)—£20,776*

  1. Buzz Mooney says:

    Good article, but I gotta say I cringed every time I saw the word “Propmaster.” There is only one Propmaster on any production, and his/her job doesn’t generally involve sets, models, wardrobe, or any of that stuff. He/she is responsible for acquiring, managing, maintaining, and distributing hand props: any objects that are handled or moved by actors, but not worn by actors. (The moment an actor wears something, it becomes the responsibility of the wardrobe department. The Propmaster may have an Assistant Propmaster or two, a number of Props Assistants, or Propmen, and possibly a Props Production Assistant (Gopher and chief coffee-fetcher) or two.

    The people shown in the photographs rigging models would more likely be Modelmakers or Riggers, MAYBE Set Dressers, but not likely. (I’ve had all of the above job titles, and there is considerable overlap at times; for example, a Set Dresser may put a hat on a hatrack, and it’s now a setpiece. If an actor, whether by direction or improvisationally takes the hat off the hatrack, to examine, comment on, trap a rogue fairy, whatever, that hat is now a hand prop. IF the Actor then puts the hat on his head, the hat is suddenly Wardrobe’s responsibility, and the three department heads then have to decide who is responsible for that item. It gets to be a pain in the @$$, sometimes!

    Anyway, I don’t mean to be pedantic, but for the reasons I’ve stated, it can be crucial to know who is who is what and why, on a production. Thanks! BTW, Love the Joe Report, please don’t take this as a huge general criticism!

  2. Rudy Panucci says:

    I’ll bet this thing could be re-edited and redubbed with all-new dialogue and be hilarious, if the right people got hold of it.

  3. nashvegasdawg says:

    Great SCTV reference!

  4. L33 says:

    Is there something wrong with me even though I mainly watched it for the 1:6 scale I enjoyed it.

  5. Brad Byers says:

    The female dolls are not Barbie dolls. They look like dolls made by Integrity. They have several lines of collector dolls they have released over the last decade.

  6. Lisa says:

    I think not enough credit is being given to these guys to even attempt doing an entire movie in 1/6 scale. I enjoyed the clip here and yeah, the script is kind of cornball, but it’s a little fun. And isn’t that what the action figure/fashion 1:6 scale doll hobby is all about? I can certainly see how that much was spent considering the cost of materials and supplies and the amount of space and special-effects needed to produce 1/6 isn’t cheap, especially building on the scale they did.

    Speaking as someone who has been in the business of customizing and on the end of manufacturing 1/6 furniture, I think it important to support those who attempt to blaze the trail in the industry, especially in this day and age, and applaud their efforts. I was impressed with their imagery, sets, scenes, and the fact that they pulled it off. Just my opinion.

  7. Alan Crowe says:

    Very good article. The memories and sense of disappointment have thankfully faded. Being a keen 1/6 enthusiast and dabbler in action figure animation I was so excited by the thought that somebody had gone forward from small soldiers to produce a quality film.

    How wrong could I be! My lasting memory was what a wasted opportunity too, not simply because of the lack of film quality, but the excrutiatingly lacklustre animation. They could have done so so much more and better than what was delivered.

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