Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding’s surreal and ingenious comedy world The Mighty Boosh took on radio, live stage shows, and three wonderful seasons of TV. With Barratt writing and starring in the excellent and about-to-hit-cinemas Mindhorn, it’s time to again consider the question of whether The Mighty Boosh could have thrived as a full-length film, and how it might have been done. Though it pains me to say it, as an ardent fan of The Mighty Boosh (I’d definitely put it in my all-time top five comedies), it probably wouldn’t have worked as a cinematic experience for anyone other than die-hard followers – but that doesn’t stop it being fun to speculate on what might have been.
Transitioning from sitcom storytelling to feature-length comedy, two very different beasts, would be the first hurdle, but it’s not the most important one that a potential Mighty Boosh movie would fail to clear. In the Loop, the two Inbetweeners movies, The Simpsons Movie, and Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa have all proved that the move is more than possible, and The Mighty Boosh has already excelled at long-form stories, albeit very loose ones, in its rambling but highly entertaining theatre tours. Barratt and Fielding also have free rein to attempt any sort of story they like in their fantastical world, from sexual encounters with malevolent fish-men to a thwarted attempt to launch glam-folk as a musical genre via saving a mystical planet from an immortal green Cockney.
It would have been absolutely fascinating to see what the inherent spectacle of cinema brought to Boosh, given that the show was always so inundated with ambition and imagination despite its minuscule budget. But it is this same penniless creativity that means it is so much better suited to the small than the big screen. With additional finance comes additional pressure to conform to a mandate, the complete lack of which is one of Barratt and Fielding’s most iconic calling cards.
The Mighty Boosh is weird. Not just in its surreal characters and locations (though their strangeness should never be discounted), but in its more than trivial treatment of its own stories. The existence of the fourth wall in this universe is tenuous at best, problems are resolved by complete non-sequiturs, and no single plot point ever has lasting consequences. Nothing gets in the way of the jokes – Barratt even blacks up as recurring character Rudi van Disarzio – and while that makes for a singularly hilarious TV show, its utter lack of established rules and internal logic would not fit into a film, which as a relatively finite entity is inherently more rigid in its structure.
This lackadaisical approach to cinematic conventions stretches from The Mighty Boosh’s writing and charming make-do-and-mend set-dressing to its wildly inconsistent acting, which really would not fly outside of a late-night BBC 3 comedy. Fielding is charismatic if shallow as Vince Noir and the scores of other characters he plays, and Barratt’s genuine skill as a performer is evident as Howard Moon, and shines through his kookier creations like Dennis the Head Shaman or the Crack Fox.
On the other hand, every other performance varies from the cartoonishly broad caricatures of Rich Fulcher to the bizarre anti-acting of charisma-void Mike Fielding as wizard/kiosk vendor Naboo. In context, the entire cast works brilliantly (helped by the fact that everyone character gets a treasure trove of immortal one-liners) but again, film has stricter rules, ones that the unique genius of the Boosh couldn’t really abide by. Devotees might rejoice at seeing the show’s trademark pendulum swings between slick gags and stilted hilarity, but the obviously niche appeal of such an approach would narrow the hypothetical Boosh movie audience considerably.
Essentially, what holds this pipe-dream of a film back is nothing more than the boring old practicalities of the film business. A Mighty Boosh movie that stayed true to its roots would basically be experimental cinema, and borderline unmarketable, and if it strayed any closer to the mainstream, the whole endeavour would be pointless. In some alternate universe’s 2008, this film was released to rapturous acclaim from a handful of fans. In our own world, we’ll just have to make do with rewatching Vince, Howard, and Milky Joe the sentient coconut on the small screen. Could be worse.