Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Review: The Time Travelers

The Time Travelers (1964)

 Scientists Erik von Steiner, Steve Connors and Carol White along with technician and comic relief Danny McKee are catapulted into the year 2071 when the time viewer they're working on malfunctions and the screen turns into a portal into the future.  How?  No idea, but this is movie logic, so just go with it.  Owing to sheer bad luck, our heroes are on the wrong side of the portal when it closes and they're now trapped.  Unfortunately, 2071 is one of those stock post-atomic futures where civilisation has gone up the spout and all that are left are hordes of rampaging mutants who go around killing people for no adequately explained reason.  Matter of general policy, I suppose.

Anyway, the time travellers are rescued by a group made up of the last humans on Earth lead by Dr Varno, who are building a starship that will take them to Alpha Centauri–provided that they can get their ship launched before the mutants can break through their defences.  The time travellers, having literally nowhere else to go, throw in with the refugees, but Time isn't done with them yet.

Poor Ib Melchior.  He never could get a break.  If the plot about a group of scientists lost in time thanks to an unpredictable prototype sounds familiar, it's because co-writer David L Hewitt took the script he and Melchior wrote and remade it three years later as Journey to the Center of Time.  Then Irwin Allen stole the premise and turned it into The Time Tunnel.  Melchior, fearing that he'd never work in Hollywood again,  kept his mouth shut as the former version made the plot risible and the latter so overshadowed The Time Travelers that the film sank into rarely aired obscurity.  This is a pity because The Time Travelers is a neat little gem of a film. No, it isn't very good.  Our heroes are are stock characters with zero personal motivations that make the comic relief look like a complex creation and their situation is utterly predictable right down to the "shock" ending, but it's entertaining if you don't mind the over-laboured scenes.  Besides, since the main purpose of the characters is to act as our stand-ins as they tour the world of the future, depth is something of a liability.

Acting as director as well as writer, Melchior gets points for working overtime to get as many dollars on the screen as he could.  The sets and costumes are actually quite good, given that the total for all of them had to be under 3'6d.  Since this was made in the days before CGI, or much of anything else we associate with visual effects, Melchior hit on the wheeze of using stage conjuring effects tricked out as science fiction.  It makes sense, since disassembling a robot and sawing a lady in half aren't all that different.  He even went further by using a man with congenitally deformed hands and feet to portray a mutant and a real instrument called a Lumichord as the film's "love machine".

There's even a cameo by sci fi ├╝ber-fan Forrest J Ackerman that netted the film loads of free publicity in Ackerman's movie monster magazines.  And when 4SJ shows up in a film, you know it was never intended to be taken seriously.

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