Poor Scorcher One. He is suffering a fairly profound crisis of identity as he tools about in his Eurofighter Typhoon whilst, apparently, ‘nothing comes close’. Or rather is it that Scorcher One won’t let others near? Apart from a VC10 of course but then, he’s only human. This perplexing film directed by Doug Fidler and produced by Impact Image first hit our screens in 2002 and Fidler asks some profound questions from the very start, not only of the nameless lonely hero, Scorcher One, but also of us, the audience, as well as EADS, the RAF, the Balkan region as a whole and cinema itself (as represented by the ever-popular promotional film for a major arms manufacturer genre).
Fidler’s film is laced with nods that should find favour with any cinematically savvy audience. The running length is, deliciously enough, 8 and a half minutes long and who but Fellini could have come up with such a psychologically and philosophically ambiguous visual treat as this? But one must remind oneself, this is Fidler, not Fellini, despite such intriguing temporal references.
The film opens on a nondescript concrete building, ‘guarded’ by three cold adolescents. ‘Danger’ announces a sign on the wall. Who is this warning for? Is it for us? Is it for them? It doesn’t look particularly dangerous. Even the Zil-131 truck outside appears to be in immaculate condition fresh from its MOT and sporting a new tax disc.
Inside are two anonymous men, played by Jonathan Hartman and James Harris. Insider rumours from the set suggest that nearly half the entire budget for this film was used to style Hartman’s eyebrows. If this is true it was money well spent.
Interestingly and not altogether plausibly, these two shady characters, have invested their hard-earned cash from a variety of baddie enterprises into the purchase of some kind of 2002 super-computer (were there even computers then?) and they have chosen to run the simulation of their chemical weapon strike mere minutes before the launch of said chemical weapon. These are spur of the moment kind of guys. Nonetheless the simulation reveals to us a massive projected death toll that warrants some kind of response.
To this end the mysterious Scorcher One must be interrupted from his busy schedule of staring into the middle distance. He is in no hurry.
The leisurely pace with which he boards his aircraft displays the confidence he has in his ability to deal with any conceivable threat. Which is lucky for, apparently, he and his Eurofighter are the only strike assets available to the entire ‘coalition’ (how prescient!). Why therefore is he ‘Scorcher One’? Why not plain old ‘Scorcher’? Perhaps there is a Scorcher Two but due to the incredible cost of the Eurofighter he is expected to achieve his objectives with a Ford Escort and a Webley revolver.
And at this point something odd becomes apparent. Despite clearly being from Guildford (or maybe Marlow) Scorcher One is flying the Italian single-seat prototype, another nod to Fellini perhaps, though one wonders why his call-sign is not therefore ‘Bruciatore Uno’ as ‘Scorcher’ must, one would think, be a fairly obscure word to most Italian air force personnel, as are the words ‘phew what a’.
As he pilots his continuity-troubled warplane through a selection of library footage and cack-handed special effects one wonders what must be going through lonely Scorcher’s mind. Luckily, we, the audience, are privileged enough to find out. Scorcher’s mind is filled with the dull orders and statements of a mysterious, god-like woman who sits in the sky in a darkened office space aboard a CGI Boeing E-3. Is this woman real or is she (as seems more likely) a product of Scorcher One’s overworked subconscious? A suggestion that all is not necessarily as it seems with Scorcher and his objectives. Anyway, the shady man and his evil eyebrows are dealt with in such an offhand fashion that Scorcher can’t even be bothered to be nearby when their bunker and clean lorry are blown to bits by his efficient weapon. It is worth remembering at this point that the ‘projected lethality’ of Eyebrows’ evil weapon was over a million. Should we not expect Scorcher One to be prepared to pilot his Eurofighter straight into any well-maintained truck and bunker complex at this point rather than swanning off to get some petrol from an obsolete airliner? Did the eyebrows and their plan ever really exist? The ease with which they are despatched, warranting not even the presence of their destroyer implies that they were a construct, a whim of Scorcher One in his little jet, to be wiped from existence as imperiously as his mind conjured them up.
But what’s this? There are other threats. Gadzooks. The angriest man IN THE WORLD has a whole nest of missiles to chuck at Scorcher. The unattainable woman in the sky is there in Scorcher’s ear to tell him of these new masculine threats with their ex-Soviet equipment. And for a moment Scorcher One appears to be in danger of being destroyed. Or has he allowed this to happen? His life is devoid of drama thus he must create it. At this point, as the façade he has created becomes more apparent we, the audience, may be feeling somewhat cheated. Where is Scorcher’s apotheosis? Aha! A mysterious unmarked Su-35 (ED: with canards?) is detected by the god-woman. An aircraft universally acknowledged as one of the world’s most formidable should prove a worthy adversary. A genuine challenger in Scorcher One’s sky ready to fight it out, Top Gun style, with skill and panache until only one remains. At last, the potential for genuine drama.
And thus the unbelievable reality of Scorcher One’s crazed mind is laid bare. Like Brett Easton Ellis’s Patrick Bateman, Scorcher One must create fantastical homicidal situations to relieve the banality of his existence. That they are, at least in part, fantasies cannot be in doubt once he launches the LGB which has magically appeared on his aircraft where none was fitted before.
His latent homosexuality, with which he has neither the emotional means to deal with nor the sociological capacity to tolerate, means that the ideal woman as dictated by society remains unattainable and tortured Scorcher One is ordered, by her (ie himself), to destroy anything or anyone in which he shows an interest.
Meanwhile his paranoia requires he manufacture threats of inconceivable danger that he may destroy with a less-than-gratifying ease. That so many profound and convincing musings on the human condition be packed into this intriguingly brief film is testament to the as-yet overlooked genius of Doug Fidler.
Review by Edward Ward
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