Monday, January 16, 2012

Movie Monday: The Time Travelers

This week's movie is the 1964 sci-fi extravaganza The Time Travelers!

Okay, "extravaganza" might be a bit much, but how can you not be excited over a movie with a poster like that?!? It was the poster (by the great Reynold Brown) that made me want to track this movie down...let's see what it's all about, eh?
After a very Irwin Allen-y credits sequence, we meet our main characters: a bunch of white-coated scientists hard at work at time travel experiments. Once glance at the equipment shows us this is high-tech stuff:
The scientists (which consist of two men and a woman, plus a male technician played by ubiquitous TV character actor Steve Franken) are working on a "time screen", which allows them to see into the future. Suddenly, the whole room seems to be filled with shadows, and soon they see the screen is showing them some bleak future Earth, which is just a desolate landscape.

The mechanic (named Danny), leaps into the screen and is somehow transported out of the room and into the future! Amazed, the scientists follow:
Our heroes wander around a bit, and there seems to be no civilization. But there is life: a horde of mutants who chase after them!

Sadly, director Ib Melchoir--who was multi-talented--simply plants the camera and lets the mutants slowly make their way forward, kinda robbing the scene of any real drama:

The scientists end up in a cave, where they meet another group of mutants--the only survivors of some horrible future war and their robot assistants, who also look vaguely, disturbingly close to human:
Okay--as is clear from these shots, the budget for The Time Travelers was obviously very, very low (it was made by AIP, after all). The scientists' lab looks like a TV set, and all the monsters are clearly just wearing masks. But there's a stark simplicity to these designs that keeps you from getting too bogged down with these details. I find the above make-up kinda creepy, actually.

Anyway, the scientists learn that they have traveled (a-ha!) to the year 2071, and the human race has been reduced to a small band of humans, including their leader, played by the great John Hoyt:
John looks like he's in space jammies here, like this is some weird sci-fi version of Playboy After Dark. But I don't care! Hoyt was in my all-time favorite Twilight Zone, "Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up?" and I loved seeing him here, even though the proceedings are quite silly.

Turns out the remaining humans are frantically working on a spaceship that wiull take them to a more hospitable world, so the scientists agree to help. Its here that the movie really kinda bogs down, with lots of talky scenes and silly sit-com music played over lame jokes. At one point, Danny the mechanic looks directly into the screen and talks to the camera.

But there is some fun stuff to look at--the matte paintings are classics of the genre, making the film look more big budget than it really was:
Genre fans will enjoy the scene featuring a bunch of workers building various parts for the rocket, and one of them is played by none other than Forrest J. Ackerman, who even gets a a couple of lines:
There's some romantic sub-plots, all of it right out of other, non-genre films of the time. The women spend some time luxuriating in what was AIP's take on the future of the boudoir, complete with slightly smutty sax music:
But all this lounging around stops when the mutants break in to the cave, and try and kill the humans and their robot assistants before they can launch their rocket. For a film that was very cheap-looking and sit-com-y, the final battle scene is surprisingly bloody and violent:
The above scene, where the mutants rip apart one of the robots, is actually pretty well done. And while there's no blood, there's a brutality to it that reminded me of the better zombie movies where screaming humans get ripped apart before our very eyes. Don't get me wrong--this scene is no classic or anything, but for a movie with such a low budget, it was kind of impressive to see the robot flailing around even as its lower half is ripped to bits.

With the rocket destroyed, the scientists and some of the survivors return to the time lab to try and go back to the past. But due to some damage the lab suffers in the melee, they find themselves stuck in time, watching events go by at an accelerated rate, meaning they will all age nearly instantly. They immediately decide to go into the far, far future--100,000 years in the future!

And this is where the film gets really weird: we see everyone arrive at what looks like a leafy paradise. They all walk through the portal into the new world, and then the film loops back to the beginning, showing us clips of the movie we've just seen, but sped up, faster and faster and faster until the screen grows dark:
...The End!

I'm not sure what the ending means, exactly--it seems to be a happy ending, with our heroes safely in a more hospitable future. But you can't quite be sure.

As I said above, most of The Time Travelers is very silly, and it looks like an Irwin Allen sci-fi show of the time. There's nothing in it as captivating as the poster (nice job, Mr. Brown!), but there are little moments here and there that are unique enough that it made me glad I saw it.


Butch said...

Good review Rob, I remember seeing this on a local late night scifi/horror program back in the late 70s/early 80s. I guess the ending gives us the thought that it's something of a stable time loop. I tracked this little B semi-gem down a few years ago and picked it up. It's a fun little movie but nothing that will change your life. One of the images from the film that always stuck with me was the tray of eyes (for the robots). I think that is right around the scene where the character turns and talks to the camera. At least it doesn't take it's self too seriously.

Caffeinated Joe said...

Good review. I find myself having a harder time watching things like this as I get older. My attention drifts, sad to say.

rob! said...

Thx for the comments guys!

Butch--Yeah, TT is no gem, but its mildy diverting. Perfect to watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon when you're a kid. :)

Joe--I hear you. There's been the occasional movie I picked for MM and then got so bored I gave up and started with something new.

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