* (Sources quoted for these figures: Wikipedia and boxofficemojo.com)
The Story of the Most Expensive 1:6 Scale Film Ever Made—and Why it Failed So Miserably.
“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.
“Well, there’s no question that a good script is absolutely essential, maybe THE essential thing for a movie.”
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:
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.
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).
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!
“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.”
A review in the Guardian UK, summed up the problems with this 2010 film, declaring it as:
“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…
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 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:
The Invasion of London—With 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:
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:
“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.
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).
“Give me a good script, and I’ll be a hundred times better as a director.”—George Cukor
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:
“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.”
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:
“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.
“I only sound intelligent when there’s a good script writer around.” —Christian Bale
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.
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!)
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:
“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.”
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:
“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
“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
“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
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