Saturday, August 25, 2012

El Professore Movie: The Time Travelers

The Time Travelers

Director: Ib Melchior
Starring: Preston Foster, Phillip Carey, Merry Anders, John Hoyt
* * * 1/2
It's really too bad that the name Ib Melchior isn't more familiar. One of the pioneering minds of sci fi film and T.V. the Danish author has penned the scripts for such films as the cult classic 'Robinson Crusoe on Mars', the notorious bad monster movie 'Reptilicus', the trippy 'Journey to the 7th Planet', the Mario Bava directed sci fi/horror film 'Planet of the Vampires' and the Roger Corman fave 'Death Race 2000'.. He also has two films under his belt as a director; 'The Angry Red Planet' (featuring the famed bat/rat/spider/crab monster) and this, the criminally underseen minor masterpiece, 'The Time Travelers'.

Full review after the jump.
The plot; a small group of scientists succeed in opening a time portal in their laboratory. Stepping through it, they find themselves in an apocalyptic Earth of 2071. The portal collapses and our hapless travelers quickly find themselves under siege from an army of mutants. Finding their way to an underground cave, they are rescued by a handful of surviving humans who have built a complex there. Inside the complex, the travelers are shown the wonders of the future human civilization. They are also building a rocket in the hopes of relocating on Centauri IV. That is, if they can complete it before they are overrun by the ever advancing swarm of mutants.

Melchior's concepts are brilliant and show how he as a director is able to overcome the budgetary restraints of such a picture. The time portal for instance, is just sitting there in the front of the lab, facing the viewer. The effect of it projecting a future barren terrain is so daring in it's minimalism, that it actually comes off more pleasing on the eye than if more time and money had been invested in it. The army of worker robots are likewise ingeniously basic in appearance and feel more realistic as a result (these 'bots also tended to remind me of those that appeared in Woody Allen's 'Sleeper'). The scenes featuring the post apocalyptic mutants are grippingly tense and surprisingly gory, especially during the violent climatic assault on the underground cave. Unfortunately, Melchior also reveals his uncertainty in the middle section as the film is allowed a level of silliness (eye rollingly bad comedy relief, pre hippie style free love) that reduces the quality of the film to the level of T.V. sitcom. Luckily, this middle section doesn't last long and the rest of it is just too clever and exciting to ruin.

But with all of the positives mentioned, it is the finale that is the real clincher and one that in it's own way is every bit as brilliant and just plain trippy as Dave's adventure at the climax of '2001: A Space Odyssey' (here's where I should probably write # Spoiler Alert! # for those who have yet to see it). Our heroes (along with several future humans) manage to escape through another time portal. Returning to present time, they discover that they now are moving 100 times faster. Realizing that they will die within minutes from this unnaturally sped up existence, they make the decision to re-enter the original time portal and get caught in a permanent time loop!

'The Time Travelers' represents Melchior's crowning achievement. Though some of it hasn't aged well, it is still one of the better, more creative and certaintly more underrated science fiction films of the '60s. The film's concept by the way, was later paired down and reused as the basis of T.V.'s 'Time Tunnel'.

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