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Tuesday, 10 May 2011

REVIEW: THE TRUE ADVENTURES OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST STUNTMAN

If adventure has a name, it has to be Vic Armstrong! Images: Vic Armstrong/TITAN BOOKS

THE TRUE ADVENTURES OF THE WORLD’S GREATEST STUNTMAN

(My life as Indiana Jones, James Bond, Superman and many other movie heroes)

By Vic Armstrong 

(with Robert Sellers)


Published by TITAN BOOKS



Reviewed by Scott Weller



I think adventure was implanted into Vic Armstrong’s unique DNA cell structure from birth; a man who would quickly prove himself as a one of a kind master of his particular craft, and widely regarded as perhaps the finest Stunt Coordinator and Second Unit Director in the world by his peers within the elite British and Hollywood film industries in general, of whose projects have all greatly benefited from his talents.

He's also one of the very elite few to have jumped from a horse onto a tank, led a huge cavalry charge, dropped from a collapsing rope bridge, thrown himself off of a helicopter onto a mountain peak, gone up, up and away as the ultimate purveyor of Truth, Justice and the American Way, and slid downwards into a volcanic rocket base hideaway! Its all been a regular days work for this particular action hero gentleman over the years, working with the best of the business in the stunt field. You may not know his name straight off the bat, but anyone who’s seen a great movie or DVD will quickly be in awe of him and his back and present catalogue of definitive work on some of the greatest and most exciting action films and movies of the last forty plus years, where it's also become a family inheritance/tradition, too, not just with his brother (Andy, who’s also a director) and wife, Wendy Leech-an acclaimed Stunt woman in her own right, often working with him, but also with his grown-up children.

A voracious horse rider at an early age within his family, whose instinctive skills in that area would lead to a fine entrance within the mysterious, globe trotting world of the Stuntman, his diverse love of the film and TV industry-of which his CV is a packed load of classic credits too many to mention- holds supremely to this day, all the while still retaining a youthful and positive outlook on his life and career, and having always sought out the best opportunities to advance himself, in the most positive light, within his career, additionally learning/creating new skills to make the best better. It would be this adaptability and entrenched faith in himself, his professionalism and abilities, that would soon hold him in good stead as he perfected his eminent position, giving back to the industry with his talents and soon travelling the world-one of his greatest passions alongside his industry work (I bet the hallway of his house is permanently packed with a giant travel bag ready to go at a moments notice!) - and keenly spotting new talent in the action world whom he would enjoy bringing to the commercial fore.

Judging from this enjoyable book, there’s no airs and graces to the author. Clearly a professional with attention to detail and research who likes working on big and small films, and working with raw and iconic visualists, he's one of the lads, too, and someone who clearly works well as a team player, bringing a good sense of camaraderie, humour, practicality and pragmatism to his life and career, whilst also working hard in a highly dangerous business's that’s also both elitist and competitive, where you have to make a mark to survive and prosper. It’s not always been a perfect ride, though, and there's also been the odd blunder or two along the way, where Vic’s got the injuries to prove how risky his chosen career can be. And don’t try and beat him in a battle scars contest (a la Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss in JAWS)-you’ll lose every time!

Assisted by Robert Sellers, this incredible film history of adrenaline is presented by Vic in a fun, easy to read and very personable style, and is a fascinating and informative look at the wild, crazy, adrenaline rush universe of the Stuntman and director of mega-budget action, and, to its credit, also charts the success and failures you can have in the job, and how luck- of being in the right time and the right place- would play a great part within his career, especially in his early years within the always struggling British film industry of the early seventies.

The Jones boys: Vic and Harrison Ford.

And its all pretty much thanks to Bond…James Bond that Armstrong gets that memorable first foothold into the entertainment business, starting off on the classic Sean Connery vehicle YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, playing a Ninja, which would eventually lead to an even more successful road directing explosion strewn action and physical character drama in three further bonds, culminating (so far) in the equally big league DIE ANOTHER DAY in 2002, for Pierce Brosnan’s own popular interpretation of the British super-spy. Its with this type of large scale adventuring that Armstrong’s physical work will be forever remembered by the fans, and he is surely grateful to have launched his career in not just one of the most successful action franchises in the world, but later two more, firstly in the late seventies doubling up for his good friend, the late Christopher Reeve, as the Man of Steel in the revolutionary first two SUPERMAN movies, and then, followed in the early eighties, by the world beloved classic INDIANA JONES trilogy, where his talents shone through as the perfect stunt double for Harrison Ford (the pair having a brilliant off-screen relationship that has many fun moments in the book) and as an inventive action creator/spotter for Steven Spielberg (who provides the books affectionate foreword) on RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK onwards (intriguingly, with regards to the classic Indy shooting the swordsman scene in this breakthrough movie, Vic reveals a slightly different version of events as to how that sequence actually happened, in comparison to what has been historically said by Spielberg and Ford over the years). He’d also then save the day several years later when the gang were all-reunited on THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, rescuing the film from a possible shut-down, and the loss of time and money, when star Ford had a serious back operation that had to be quickly sorted out. All of these great memories are, for me personally, the best sections of the book as he covers his one-of-a-kind experiences working on the epic franchise movies, with Armstrong surely being a critical talent to their success with regards to the believable filmic reality of the action/adventure scenes. With Indy, it's truly a shame that Vic wasn't able to work on the eventually made fourth installment- I’m really curious about what the original plans he was involved in for the film with creator George Lucas, that were then subsequently changed or didn’t happen, resulting in his departure from the project in its early stages.

Vic in a costume test for his stunt work on the first two SUPERMAN movies starring Christopher Reeve.

Beyond the blockbusters, the rest of Vic’s career is equally packed with great incidents and memorable life and death challenges- I think he's lived about three or four lifetimes more than the average reader ever will! - which are well described (some of these incredible tales/anecdotes are so amazing you just couldn't make them up!). Alongside all that there’s also special reminisces on top league directors and actors too, including geniuses like Spielberg and Lucas, taskmasters/perfectionists like David Lean, and James Cameron, and total eccentrics like Stanley Kubrick.

There’s candour, good and bad, about the final realized movies and TV series he’s worked on, as well as its stars and behind the scenes talents, and, even more intriguingly, some fascinating mentions of the projects that either got or away from him or were never completed or abandoned, like the intriguing plans for the big budget Paul Verhoeven/ Arnold Schwarzenegger nineties epic CRUSADE and the original version of Tom Cruise’s MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III.

The aforementioned competitive nature of the stunt industry in general and all the usual eccentricities, superstitions (don’t give Vic anything that’s green, and be wary of helicopters!), quirks of serendipity and fate that go with it to make or break careers within the weird and wonderful behind the scenes digital and celluloid world are also charted, as is his warm salutes to many of the great past, present and future action technicians he has had the tremendous opportunities to work with, such as Roy Alon and Alf Joint.

Some 900 terrific rare photos from Vic’s private collection have been well assembled within the book, showing many of the classic stunts he has performed or been linked to, as well as with the stars and his family, accompanied by further mega league remembrances and tributes from the likes of Harrison Ford, Angelina Jolie, and Christopher Lee.

Still a force to be reckoned with, Armstrong’s GUINNESS BOOK OF RECORDS breaking career remains as strong as ever, with film companies fighting to have him work on their projects (taking us right up to the filming of the new SPIDER-MAN movie starring Andrew Garfield) and with this book you'll certainly find out why he's so highly regarded in the “smoke and mirrors” business, successfully managing to ride the crest of the highest wave and still remaining atop of it!

Film and TV fans will thoroughly enjoy immersing themselves into this exciting and often very dangerous world that belongs to Vic Armstrong. Its a life experience packed career of living on the edge so as to entertain millions of viewers worldwide on the big screen, and now he’s doing the same thing in recalling those amazing feats for readers of the printed page!

RATING: 4.5 out of 5



Vic Armstrong will also be doing a signing of the book at London’s FORBIDDEN PLANET Megastore (179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H) on Thursday 19th May between 6-7pm.




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