TV on DVD: The Haunted Airman (2006)

Now Available to Own

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If there’s one thing the BBC loves more than a miniseries or a new crime and punishment television show, it’s adapting literature—the more obscure the better—for a new miniseries, crime and punishment television show, or a standalone work where period costuming is a plus.

In America, this type of programming would usually be found on PBS. Likewise, it would most likely be broadcast directly from the UK since it seems that lately our basic networks only invest in reality gimmick programs about spouse gain or weight loss or spin-offs of crime and punishment TV shows. Our preference for crime and punishment seems to be one of the main things British and American television networks have in common other than a shared language.

Essentially, the BBC routinely says “yes” to things our networks would say “no" to such as the idea that outside of Hallmark Hall of Fame Presentations, viewers want to see period pieces on the idiot box instead of another hour of Jay Leno or a show about “the real housewives” or just "desperate ones.” And while so many networks in the United States missed the boat in the case of Matthew Weiner’s brilliant period work Mad Men, we do understand that some classic literature is best left to HBO or skipped altogether. For, in the case of supernatural or “occult” author Dennis Wheatley’s yawn-inducing The Haunting of Toby Jugg, the BBC should’ve taken a cue from us and just said no to this pointless period piece as we no doubt would have done.

Well actually, had we realized back in 2006 that British actor Robert Pattinson, the man who would be Edward in the big screen adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight was the lead actor of this forgettable seventy minute work, we may have agreed. For, it would have been the investment of a lifetime, when we realized we could run it endlessly on a loop any time a new
Twilightwas going to hit the theatre since Team Edward would always watch and ad revenue would garner enough to take care of our national deficit.

However, despite the fact that Pattinson always had a “jawline… so finely chiseled it could split granite,” as UK’s The Stage critic Harry Venning described in the original 2006 TV review, the bottom line is it's just not worth it. Likewise, as we’ve discovered, Pattinson does quite well with fans when denying his lust and looking tortured in a pseudo-thriller yet even Team Edwardmay have eventually tuned out after all of the shirtless scenes were over. This is especially a problem when one understands that for a movie which is based on The Haunting… and called The Haunted Airman, very little haunting actually occurs.

Well, something is going on with Pattinson's Flight Lieutenant Jugg but we're not sure we care all that much. Still we should care a great deal from the start when we're introduced to the poor chap who was a heroic World War II pilot not merely because he's now in a wheelchair but because he's forced to reside in a creepy psychiatric asylum/hospital in the Welsh countryside located four miles away from the nearest phone.

Yet why he is there and what's going on, we're never quite certain. Is he simply tormented by those he’d killed as a pilot and in some state of psychological hell or purgatory despite his avowed atheism? Or is he merely suffering post traumatic stress disorder exacerbated by his shady shrink (Julian Sands) who intercepts Jugg’s love letters he writes to Julia (Rachael Stirling), his guardian/aunt (by marriage)? The only thing we do know is that he needs to get the heck out of Dodge, especially when large spiders, alarming visions and other unexplainable phenomena occurs.

And given the fact that he's a wounded soldier especially, in most cases we should empathize with our hero and moreover fear for not only his sanity but safety as well since he's in such a strange location. Yet most of the time, we feel as though we’re experiencing everything through a museum thick encased glass, completely removed from the main character and everyone else. As if visiting a stranger once a week for some sort of high school volunteer project, we’re never fully let into Jugg’s world and wonder if Wheatley’s novel was full of internal monologues, description, or psychology that couldn’t be successfully captured on film as, far more frustratingly, exceedingly dark blue gray filters are used so that we can barely make out the action even when we are indoors.

While you understand the importance of not filling the movie with inauthentic light sources or night sequences that are illuminated by fluorescent buzzing which would pull you out of the era and further acknowledge that the made-for-television work wasn’t shot with the same care as a feature film, the poorly lensed BBC movie ultimately looks like the camera was dragged through the mud.

With Robert Pattinson stuck in a coolly detached, off-putting storyline and predictably dispiriting ending, writer/director Chris Durlacher’s newly released DVD makes for a forgettable, ill-conceived BBC period piece that would’ve possibly benefited from a little more crime and punishment style definition, a handful of candles or a tiny amount of that Edward like sunlight vampire glitter from the first Twilightmovie. For die-hard Pattinson fans only and even then watch at your own risk and away from heavy machinery, this sleeping pill substitute is so weak that it may turn you over to Team Jacob.

Robert Pattinson

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