Time Travel Story Time: The Time Travelers

Mama Fisi
Mama Fisi's picture

This 1964 film from Ib Melchoir barely rises to B-movie status.  While the premise is similar to "Beyond The Time Barrier," the acting is stiff, the effects are cheap, and the story gets tiresome long before the film is over.  It's astonishing to note that this was remade twice, as "Journey to the Center of Time" and as the TV series "The Time Tunnel."

The film opens with a small group of scientists working on an experimental time viewing device, which is drawing so much power to operate that a technician from the university's powerplant comes to find out what's going on.  As they run one more test, a series of strange shadows dart across the room, and suddenly the screen clears to display a harsh and empty landscape.  The researchers are astonished to discover that their chronometers indicate this scene is only a hundred years hence; and as they try to figure out what whent wrong with the controls, the electrician realizes that the screen has actually become a portal, and steps into the stony landscape. 

Unfortunately, sound desn't carry through the portal, and when the portal becomes unstable, the others enter one by one to go bring the electrician back.  Even more unfortunately, the portal then collapses, stranding them in the desolate future, where they are attacked by hideous mutant savages and chased into a cave, where the mutants are stopped by a strange force field barrier.

There they are rescued by a woman commanding a squad of repulsively ugly androids (I mean it, these things have heads like those little Obie stress toys with the eyes and ears that pop out when you squeeze them) and are led to an underground city, where the last vestiges of the human race have survived a nuclear holocaust, and are frantically building a space ark to take them to a new planet orbiting Alpha Centauri, as the Earth is rapidly becoming sterile and unfit for life.

As the spaceship is scheduled to depart in a month, it is decided that there isn't enough time to try to build another time portal device to get the scientists and the comic relief--er, the electrician--back to their proper time, so they are invited to come along for the ride.  The electrician is pounced on by a very forward young lady named Reena (is it a law that girls in time travel films have to have a name ending in "Eena?") who hasn't found any of the colony's single men interesting, but she immediately wants to get pregnant with the electrician.

The scientists are given a tour of the colony's android assembly plant, which is a pretty creepy place, and which takes up what feels like half the film.  They also tour the greenhouses, where thanks to a special chemical food, orange trees grow from seed to fruit in a matter of minutes.

As is usually the case in a movie like this, there is one grouchy guy on the ruling council who points out that their ship was precisely built for an exact number of people, and four more will overtax their supplies and systems, and that there isn't any time to refit the ship; so the colony rescinds its offer, instead encouraging the scientists to build another time portal.

Now, why they didn't think "Hey, if we help them, maybe we could bag this arduous trip to Alpha Centauri and just step into the past and save ourselves!" I can only speculate, but shortly before the ship is due to leave, the mutants break into the catacombs in an attempt to steal the survivors' food stores.  The space ship is demolished on the launch pad, leaving only the four scientists and a handful of colonists and androids alive; they get the portal working just in time to escape through it before the machinery is destroyed.

They have successfully gotten back to the university, but something is amiss; it seems strangely deserted.  As they make their way to the lab, they come upon their past selves standing motionless, and slowly realize that time is out of synch, and that they are now passing through it at a tremendously accelerated rate while their past selves seem to be moving only imperceptibly.  They determine that it will not be possible for them to remain in this world, and, when the portal briefly opens 100,000 years in the future, they cross the lab and step through into the darkened opening, which clarifies to show a world that is once again fit for human habitation. 

The film concludes with a looping montage of the events of the story, cycling faster and faster until it just stops dead.

Now, the only interesting aspect of this dog, is that it used theatrical illusions instead of special effects.  I won't go so far as to say that it's worth checking out just to see the sleight of hand, but I still can't figure out how they did the sequence where they change out an android's head--an actor is led in, laid down on a table, his head is removed and a new one put on, and he gets up and walks away--all in one take.

There is also a cameo from superfan and SF fanzine publisher Forrest J Ackerman, who gets the best line in the film when, as a technician turning circular seals into square seals, he says, "Don't worry. I'm keeping our spacemen happy. Getting things squared away"--just as he pops a circle into a square.

But all the magic tricks in the world cannot compensate for a leaden plot padded out with overly long instrumental sequences and predictable plot twists.