Episode 3: Travelers of Time
Great Scott! It is here. The sequel nobody asked for, to follow the sequel nobody liked, Men in Black III. This time it looks like the Fresh Prince is getting jiggy in the sixties with Brandon Walsh, call me crazy, but it doesn’t make my ‘must watch’-list, or my ‘might watch (at some point in time)’-list for that matter. Instead let us see what the yonder has offered us of time travellers. Cinema? Where we’re going we don’t need cinemas.
The (Potential) Classic
TIME AFTER TIME
United States – (1979)
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Starring: Michael McDowell, David Warner, Mary Steenburgen, Charles Cioffi
There might have been better time travel movies than Nicholas Meyer’s Time After Time, but there has never been anything close in terms of meta. The movie is about author and all around pimp H.G. Welles who wrote some of the best known and most important science-fiction books of all time. Arguably his most famous book and certainly the one that makes him and this film the perfect candidate for this round is The Time Machine. The book that not only popularised the concept of the time travel, but coined the term ‘time machine’, so in a lot of ways Welles was the father of the modern time traveller, according to the movie maybe in more ways than imagined.
We are in London 1893; in one of the shadier parts of the city a prostitute has just been murdered, Jack the Ripper has claimed his first victim in five years. At the same time in a nicer part of town H.G. Welles has just held a dinner for his friends in the London social elite and told them that he intends to show them his latest work later, something extraordinary. Welles takes them to the basement where he shows them a machine he has designed for travelling in time. Before he can demonstrate the machine the police are knocking at Welles’ door asking to search his house after the Ripper’s latest slaying. A quick search reveals a bloody surgical tool matching the slaying in the bag of Doctor John Leslie Stevenson, could he be the Ripper? Yes, he is. However the good doctor seems to have disappeared and the police are none the wiser on how he could have managed to escape. Welles on the other hand has an idea of where Stevenson might have gone; the future. His suspicions are confirmed once he finds his machine is missing, but thanks to a built in safety the machine returns. Now Welles himself must travel to 1979’s San Francisco to prevent Stevenson from making a complete mayhem. Throw in a little love story and a child performance from Corey Feldman, and you got yourself one of the best movies about time travelling.
The movie is an interesting take on the material not only pitting one of the Victorian area’s brightest minds against what certainly must have been its evilest, but in how Welles’ work was so ahead of his time because Welles had in fact been ahead of his time. The movie first portrays a naïve Welles that believes the world will have become a utopia by 1979, as mankind as realised that war never leads to any good. It is only to his time travelling that Welles becomes the classic author we all know. And it also makes his book The Time Machine an autobiography of sorts.
While You’re At It: Check out the alleged biopic The Time Machine (1960), Keanu Reeves in the role he was born to play with Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures (1989), and an oddity from New Zealand with Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey (1988)
The Potential Cult Film
TIME RIDER – THE ADVENTURES OF LYLE SWANN
United States – (1982)
Director: William Dear
Starring: Fred Ward, Peter Coyote, Belinda Bauer, Ed Lauter
The year is 1982, Fred Ward is Lyle Swann, a cocky leather clad dirt bike rider. He is preparing for an up coming race when he gets lost in the dessert and comes across a strange metal device. This turns out to be the time machine intended to attempt and send chimp Ester G back to the 1800s. Before Lyle can say “holy time travelling monkey” he finds himself in 1877. Since the footage capture by the time machine shows a man on a modern motorcycle the scientist assume the project was a failure and recalls Ester G, stranding Lyle in 1877 with no idea that he has travelled trough time. His red lather clad appearance doesn’t make friend finding an easy experiences for Lyle as the first man he encounters dies from fear believing Swann to be the devil come to take his soul. It does not get any better when Swann comes across Porter Reese and his gang of criminals as they take an immediate interest in Swann’s riding machine and want to have it for themselves. Lyle escapes and eventually makes it to the town of San Marcos where the beautiful Claire gives him a refuge and a little round in the sack. While Lyle is busy telling Claire about his great-grandfather’s medallion which his great-grandmother took from him as a memory of their only night together, and that Lyle now wears around his neck for good luck Porter and his gang sneak into town and steal his motorcycle. Then while Lyle is shocked to find his bike missing they also kidnap Claire. Lyle teams up with a couple of bounty hunters and a shady priest to save Claire and re-claim the motorcycle.
The whole thing ends as Porter and his gang has cornered Lyle, Claire and the priest on the top of a plateau. Suddenly a helicopter appears as the scientists have realised their mistake and have come to rescue Lyle. As he gets in the helicopter Lyle tries to convince Claire to come with him (no pun intended) back to the future, but the scientist refuses him. Instead Claire snatches Lyle’s medallion from around his neck, revealing that Lyle is in fact his own great-grandfather, and leaving the script with so many paradoxes I’m surprised the writers head didn’t explode when he was working on it.
Although if you are interest in watching this I have to stress that you will have to find yourself a VHS copy as the DVD from Anchor Bay cuts out some scenes, including the demise of Porter Reese at the blades of a helicopter. Surely one of the films highlights. Along with a classic 80s rock soundtrack that is worth the watch by its own right Timerider is a fun if odd time travel movie that deserves a look.
While You’re At It: Check out Kirk Douglas bringing the 80s to WWII in The Final Countdown (1980), experiences a proper mindfuck with Primer (2004), and some clever Spanish twists in Timecrimes (2007)
Potential Cult Film no. 2
United States – (1985)
Director: Charles Band
Starring: Tim Thomerson, Helen Hunt, Michael Stefani, Art LaFleur
In the shadows of the better known Cannon lived another of the great low-budget production companies of the 80s, Empire Pictures. Responsible for “classics” like Re-Animator and Ghoulies Empire specified in genre specific low budget always offered something interesting to watch until they went bankrupt in 1989. Of their films what has to be hands down my personal favourite from their archives is the 1985 Tim Thomerson time travel movie Trancers. Thomerson is Jack Deth, a hard as a nail cop in the 23rd century’s Angel City, which has replaced Los Angeles after the Great Quake left it sunken into the ocean. After his wife was killed by a trancer Deth have been hunting them down with a vengeance. This is frowned upon by the department so Jack quits. Now you might be asking; what is a trancer? It isn’t made abundantly clear, but from what the movie gives me I understand it is humans that get turned into some kind of zombie like state by mind control. According to Deth only “squids” get turned into trancers, “squids” being people who aren’t mentally strong willed enough to resist. A master of turning “squids” into trancers is Jack’s old nemesis, criminal mastermind Whistler. Whistler has recently used a drug induced time travelling technique that allows you to take control over your ancestor’s body to escape to 1985’s Los Angeles. There he intends to kill the ancestors of the three members of the council, freeing him to wreck havoc as he pleases. He’s already killed one when the council sees no other option than bringing back their best man, Jack Deth, to hunt him down and, still no pun intended, bring him back to future. Before leaving for the past Deth makes sure to completely annihilate Whistler’s body by blowing it to bits, to make sure Whistler can’t return, and also because he is badass.
Jack soon finds himself in 1985 and the body of news paper reporter Phil Dethton. With little knowledge of the city Jack seeks the help of Dethton’s latest one night stand conquering; Leena, played by Helen Hunt, making this easily the best thing Hunt ever appeared in. Now Deth must race against Whistler to prevent him killing the remaining ancestors and save the future, but it is easier said than done as Whistler have taken over the body of a high regarded LA police detective. With its low budget the movie relies more on inventive ideas and a Tim Thomerson in top form, rather than special effects. While I must admit I am a bit biased here as low budget cyberpunk-esque movies from the 90s are my greatest guilty pleasure. Although I am convinced that Trancers is a movie that transcends my love, and deserves yours.
While You’re At It: Check out the rest of the series with Trancers II: The Return of Jack Deth (1991), Trancers III: Deth Lives (1992), Trancers 4: Jack of Swords (1994), and Trancers 5: Sudden Deth (1994), but feel free to skip the sixth one as it doesn’t have Thomerson.
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