Journey to the Center of Time (1967)
You know, I've never been too big a fan of time travel movies. It probably stems from all those terrible episodes of Star Trek where they would travel back in time to the present day, so they could save some bucks on wardrobe and makeup, and do something silly and dumb before zipping back into the future. Time travel is just so hard to make believable, and most movies either screw it up bad or try and oversimplify it too much. They invariably ignore the laws of physics, or try and befuddle you with endless streams of techno babble, which only serves to remove us from the movie to the point where we disconnect. Witness the train wrecks that were 2003's Timeline, 2002's The Time Machine, and all those aforementioned Star Trek episodes and movies. Oddly, the best time travel movie I've seen in a long while was 1973's ultra low-budget Idaho Transfer, which had the least amount of believability problems. Well, 12 Monkeys was pretty freakin' cool, I'll give them that. Anyway, I sat down yesterday to watch 1967's Journey to the Center of Time (who came up with that title?) expecting to be disappointed and more than a little annoyed. And, indeed, I got exactly what I was expecting, and then some.
Journey to the Center of Time is a pathetically cheap b-movie from writer-turned-director David Hewitt, who basically just took the shooting script for The Time Travelers from 1964 (which he wrote) and reshot it. The biggest difference was money, or the total lack of it to be spent on Journey to the Center of Time, and the shoddy production values, over-reliance on stock footage, and low-rent special effects that resulted. Still, it was watchable, which is more than I can say about Herbie: Fully Loaded Starring Lindsay Lohan's Breasts.
And now on to our show...
We open at the California-based "Institute for Temporal Research", a division of megacorporation Stanton Industries. The year is 1968, and time travel is being perfected by this lab. Our film's heroes are three of the Institute's lab coat-wearing smartyhead scientist types, Doctors Gordon, Manning and White.
Gordon (no first name given) is our requisite faintly Germanic uberscientist, inspired by Werner Von Braun, Werner Osenberg and all his fellow former Nazi scientists who headlined America's race to space and nuclear oblivion in the 1950s and 60s. You should fear for his life, as he has Noble Sacrifice To Save The Project written all over him. Gordon is played by 71-year old Abraham Sofaer, who had appeared in many much better movies than this one in his long career (including strong roles in The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Merchant of Venice, Che! and Chisom). Just an old guy with thick glasses, really.
Mark Manning is our Stud Hero, a tall, strong, Bryll Cream-slicking, Aqua Velva-splashing, unfiltered-Camel-smoking, got-my-degree-from-Harvard-back-when-that-actually-meant-something nuclear physicist who can woo the ladies as well as fathom the depths of quantum mechanics. Manning is played by 42-year old Anthony Eisley, a promising actor who sold his soul to Satan at some point, which is the only explanation for his appearing in such steaming piles as Dracula versus Frankenstein, The Toxic Horror and The Mighty Gorga. With his 1950's square-jawed scientist look, and perpetually dressed as he is in a white lab coat, white shirt and black tie, I can't help it if every time I see him I think of Professor Utonium from the Power Puff Girls (yes, yes, I know, and fuck off, you know you watch it too).
Karen White is the Token Hot Female Scientist, a requirement in all b-movies, a niche made famous by Raquel Welch in Fantastic Voyage and Julie Adams in The Creature From the Black Lagoon. Karen is played by 26-year old Gigi Perreau, one of those former cute child actors who struggled unsuccessfully to adjust to more adult roles and expectations. I hear she's currently teaching at an all-girls catholic high school, though, which is a whole other movie (preferably one by Jess Franco...). Throughout this entire film Karen wears the same outfit, white lab coat, calf-length gray skirt and these uncomfortable-looking pumps with five-inch high stiletto heals (sexy!). What do you suppose the chances are that Professor Utonium and Karen will fall in love by the third act? For the most part, her role in this movie is to gasp and pant as things go wrong, and clutch onto Professor Utonium whenever something scary comes past. She also tends to stand in a "model pose" a lot, with her feet placed one far ahead of the other and the forward shoe pointed outward. Gigi Perreau had a modeling background, so this came naturally I guess, but it gets noticeable at times here.
These three (and certainly a host of unseen, unnamed and unpaid graduate students who did 99% of the actual work) have developed and built a "time lab", a spherical machine about twenty feet in diameter. This time lab sits in a special room in the Institute, hooked up to power lines from a nuclear reactor and watched over by a big master control room.
Inside the time lab, the curving orange-painted walls are covered with sci-fi gadgets and widgets, including the requisite flashing red and green lights, reel-to-reel tape decks, humming multi-colored light panels, and endless consoles of identical and seemingly unmarked knobs and switches. On one side is a large rectangular video view screen about six feet wide and four high, which is apparently linked to external cameras. In the center of the lab sits a short pedestal, with a large red ruby (!) on the top inside an open wire cage. This ruby is what powers the time travel machinery, using lasers to somehow react and intensify the ruby. Don't ask me, I'm still trying to figure out how Karen keeps that beehive hairdo up.
We join our scientists as they're experimenting with time travel. It seems that so far the best they have been able to do is travel back in time 24 hours, which seems like a world-changing greatest-scientific-breakthrough-of-all-time sort of thing to me, but these guys consider it a failure. Think about it, not only have you solved the greatest scientific puzzle of all time, you've also violated one of the primary laws of physics by producing matter out of thin air (Law of Conservation of Matter be damned, you have introduced the time lab and three people into a universe where those already existed, thus creating mass and making Einstein and Lavoisier roll over in their graves). Every time they try and go into the future, however, they fail. The machinery is working fine, as are the computers and all that, but they just don't have enough raw power to make it work.
Today, they really try and get over the hump, pushing the cantankerous power grid a bit too far. "Laser beam pulse system, go!" "Stand by for time synchronization!" "Stand by to activate image stabilizer switch!" "Reconfigure the bucolic laxative logs!" (see, I can write technobabble, too! It's easy, just string together random words!) Lights start flashing, the screen goes hazy, and the dials start spinning. The three of them race to the consoles to try and contain the near-disaster.
In absolutely the best shot of the entire movie (and really one of the more cleverly done shots of darn near any b-movie you will see) the camera shows a wide shot, with the three actors on the right, bent over their consoles, flipping switches and spouting technobabble. On the left side is the main view screen, which none of them is watching at the moment. The view screen fuzzes and statics, and then suddenly a lumbering monster is shown on the screen for just a fleeting second before the fuzziness returns, a brief view of a future (or past?) time they have just zipped through. This is stock footage of the infamous Rat-Bat-Spider monster from 1960's Angry Red Planet, but the point is that none of the three scientists saw it, only the audience. Major league kudos to the director for not taking the opportunity for a cheap sight scare, with the female screaming her head off and the men folk setting their jaws grimly and squaring their shoulders and all that.
Look close, it's the Rat-Bat-Spider!
Now we get our Corporate Greed Is Bad message (this is 1967, so you knew it was coming). The founder of Stanton Industries has recently died, and his son has taken over. The younger Stanton is nothing like his father, we're told repeatedly, concerned only with profits and losses and growing his stock portfolio. Stanton has checked the books and determined that the time project might be a money pit, and that's not good for business. So he and his pandering asskissing Mister Smithers-type assistant come to see the scientists and tour the project.
Mister Stanton, Jr. is played by 43-year old Scott Brady, a tough-guy actor who had minor roles in such gems as The China Syndrome and Gremlins, but specialized in playing law enforcement types (fully 21 of his 78 credited roles are in the vein of policeman or sheriff). In his portrayal of our money-grubbing businessman, he seems to be channeling a cross between Paul Reiser in Aliens and Mister Burns from The Simpsons. He also looks a lot like Nathan Lane here, which is not a good thing.
You will learn to hate Stanton, as you should all Evil Industrialists in these types of movies (notwithstanding the fact that supposedly Evil Industrialists have made America the strong and prosperous nation it is today, assuring that your candy ass can sit in your parent's basement and read my movie reviews and not have to worry about Russia invading tomorrow and sending you off to the gulags), and he most assuredly will die in some ironic and painful way by movie's end.
They have a meeting in a small conference room (with a big painting of Teddy Roosevelt on the back wall for some reason), and it's clear from the get-go that Stanton doesn't care what potentially marvelous scientific advances are possible, just what the short-term financial cost is. It seems that last year (they've been working for the last two years on the project) Stanton Industries granted them $13,943,520.12 and the new boss wants to make sure that was money well-spent (14 mil doesn't sound like a lot of money to me, even for 1967, that wouldn't even buy half a B-52 bomber back then. And how much of that 14 went into Gordon's Caymans account and how much went for daily business lunches at Spagos?).
Gordon tries to explain time travel to Stanton (and to us) but all the thick and syrupy technobabble gets tiring after a bit. A lot of stuff about Einstein's curved space time continuum and the fourth dimension, much of it perfectly reasonable, but unnecessary here. Stanton seems just as annoyed as we are at all this pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo and starts to get testy. They banter back and forth, Professor Utonium and Stanton exchanging some heated barbs (never a good idea to insult the guy who writes the checks) and the meeting is clearly going against the scientists.
In the end, Stanton says they had better show him some tangible results soon or he's going to shut them down and turn the money over to "weapons research". [Editor Pam: I tend to agree with Stanton here. Why throw away money on time travel research when it could be used to mutate people back to Neanderthals, or transplant human brains into spiders, or all the other vital B-movie research that needs to be done? When you think about it, what good is time travel, anyway?] The scientists blanch at this, and moan that they're at Stanton's mercy. "He's a pompous fool!" All the near-catastrophes that we see the rest of the movie result from the premise that if Stanton doesn't give them the cash, then the whole project is over. Well, are you really at his mercy? Sure, Stanton Industries might shut you down, but what's to stop you from moving to Bell Labs, or Sandia, or even to France? Surely some other company or nation would love to fund such important research. Didn't hear this from me, but I bet Nikita Khrushchev would give them all the rubles they want and a nice dacha down on the Caspian.
That night, we get a totally superfluous scene of Professor Utonium and Karen talking together outside on the porch. As is necessary in these types of movies, Karen is smitten with Professor Utonium, and is forced by the script to gaze longingly up at him, tilt her head and flip her hair a lot to show how she's enamored by his rugged manliness and nicotine-stained teeth. Being the suave lady-killer that he is, Professor Utonium tells her that she's "actually quite pretty for a girl" before laying on one of those overly-dramatic, clutching, slobbering, face-twisting kisses that you only see in the movies. Ick. You know, Hollywood, it's actually possible that a man and a woman might work together without falling madly in love.
So, the next morning the scientists enter the time lab to run their test for Stanton. Stanton decides to watch the test from inside the lab, which he has every right to do, I suppose, but it does put undue pressure on the scientists to produce immediate results. "Setting minus five!" "Time synchronization one hundred!" "Stand by to activate time transport circuits!" "Remodulate the potatocake angelicans!".
The switches are thrown and...a big fat nothing. Not enough power to enter the future. Stanton starts casting disparaging looks, the scientists start to fidget, and Professor Utonium decides to push it to the limits. He wants to up the power feed to a level that they've never tried before, one that could have disastrous consequences if it backfires. Stanton correctly points out that Gordon needs to make that call, as he's the senior scientist. Gordon vacillates and Professor Utonium protests that if they overload the ruby and bust it, they're out of business, but if they can't give Stanton some results here and now, they they're out of business anyway.
You might want to rethink this...
Biting on this circular logic, and desperate as we are to get this lousy movie over with, Gordon gives the OK and Professor Utonium boosts the power to unheard-of levels. "Accelerate the laser beam cycling!" "Stay within the power overload indicator!" "Try moving the transport head!" "Open up the photon cycling all the way!" "Defribulate the coconut transistors!"
The view screen slowly fuzzes out and the lights start flashing, they're headed into the future! Yea, baby! When they travel through the continuum, they use the neat visual trick of putting the camera on a lazy susan in the center of the time lab set, spinning it around rapidly as the actors press themselves against the walls like they're being held there by some centrifugal force. Actually not a bad effect for the money.
As they watch with wide eyes, a series of images appear on the view screen. First they see a 48 second long sequence of cheap matte paintings of galaxies, star clusters and other celestial bodies, all drifting towards the screen. I'm not sure what they're trying to imply here, as later we learn that they never leave the Earth. I think they were just trying to be all spacey and cool with this sequence, even though it makes no sense in the context of the film.
From that they fade into a 41 second long mishmash of stock footage showing a city being blasted by atomic weapons and an aftermath panorama of that city burning and smoldering (actually taken from 1952's Invasion USA, a terribly bad movie with a stunning top-shelf miniature sequence of New York being nuked). The view screen then fuzzes out again as they travel further into the future. This was supposed to represent a global WWIII sometime in the future that they had a glimpse of thanks to the miracles of the space time continuum and inept screenwriting.
I need to review that movie.
Finally, the view screen clears to show...a futuristic spaceship landed in what looks like a barren wilderness of rock and dirt. The ship is your standard 1950s style rocket, looking like an ICBM with tapering fins and a shiny silver finish. This is such an elaborate miniature set that I'm positive it's from a much better movie (maybe one of the many kiddie Space Ranger type of serials from the early 1950s).
They check the dials and determine that they are 5,000 years in the future (the year 6968)! Whoa, that's a long time. And they're actually here, not just third-party observing from within the continuum, "A time rift, a warp in the space time continuum, that matter can pass through!". They act like this is a very big deal, so I assume that the plan was to just view the future and not actually go to the future. As they watch the view screen, however, there are sudden explosions and scratchy electric marks blossoming around the spaceship. Clearly, it's under attack by someone or something.
Just then, the time lab's outer hatch opens and in walk three aliens! These aliens look like paunchy white dudes with fancy padded vests and jumpsuits, so don't get frightened, kids. They also seem to be unsure just where to put their hands and how to stand, as the two on either side of the leader just keep fidgeting and shifting. I'm for some odd reason reminded of the two dumbass soldiers guarding the swamp castle's high tower door in Monty Python and The Holy Grail.
The third alien, clearly the leader, is none other than b-movie legend Lyle Waggoner! After losing the cash-cow role of Batman to Adam West earlier that year, Lyle had to choose between sticking a shotgun in his mouth and taking a bit part role in Journey to the Center of Time. In retrospect, perhaps he chose unwisely.
Lyle Waggoner (sorry).
Lyle tells the scientists that they saw the time lab suddenly appear nearby and came to investigate. With the battle raging outside, he says it's not safe and they all have to come with him to meet Doctor Vina, the leader of the spaceship crew.
Doctor Vina turns out to be a green-skinned woman! And yes, I know what you're thinking...Vina, green-skinned, woman, alien, sounds like the Orion slave girl from The Cage episode of Star Trek. Indeed, the similarities are striking enough to accuse them of blatantly ripping off Star Trek (though everyone else was doing it at the time, so why shouldn't they?). This Vina is an authoritarian scientist/leader type who's in charge of the colonization effort. She's also pretty hot, with a low-cut outfit showing off an impressive double D rack. Vina is played by Poupee Gamin, a Frenchwoman (Poupee means "doll" in French, you sickos) with a pitifully small acting resume.
Doctor Vina (is everyone here a doctor?).
Vina tells them that they're an alien colonization ship from a distant world, one that is dying. They came here looking for a new world to settle on, but found the Earth in the midst of a "devastating global war, a war which will leave the Earth dead and mankind annihilated". They landed, tried to make settlement efforts, but have been attacked repeatedly by humans looking to get at their advanced weapons technology to continue their war (kinda sounds like Turtledove's most excellent Worldwar series). They have no plans to stay any more, they're just trying to fix their damaged spaceship and leave before the humans destroy them.
In a stroke of plot timing, the humans are attacking the spaceship now, "massive troop movements" throwing themselves at the aliens' defensive screens and force fields. Very quickly they break through, "Barrier penetrated!", and chaos erupts inside the ship. A painted-line-on-the-film-negative laser beam lances into the room, catching Vina in the stomach! Down she goes as the other aliens in the room charge about with weapons drawn. A gaggle of plain fatigue-wearing men with K-Mart toy department ray guns do frantic close-quarter battle with a bunch of padded vest-wearing aliens with Dollar General toy department zap guns.
Our scientists help Vina to lie down, she's near death but still has much to tell them. Visually, this whole scene plays out remarkably like the death of the opera diva in The Fifth Element (don't think we didn't notice, Mister Besson). Vina says that they need to go back to their own time and warn the world about the coming war, "Taking with you the fate of mankind". She says that a "new laser weapon" will turn the tide, making the Earth a "sterile burned out slag in space". This new laser weapon has not yet been developed, but it will in the future. With that, she expires with a dramatic gasp, magnificent breasts heaving.
Some aliens manage to whisk our scientists back to their time lab as the spaceship is set on fire and falls over. Back now in the time lab, our scientists rush to get the heck out of there. They set the dials to the present, fiddle with this knob, punch that button, and off they go. "Time selector set at zero minus five thousand!" "Standing by for time synchronization!" "Activate time travel!" "Promulgate the chuthulu silverados!"
While the scientists work to get them back to the present, Stanton brings up an interesting point. That, since the war happened and the laser was built, then clearly they didn't make it back to the present to warn the world about the dangers. Professor Utonium scoffs at that, claiming that maybe they did try and warn them, but they ignored them. Stanton has a point there, really.
As they begin to time travel, they encounter "something" else in the space time continuum, seen on the view screen as a glowing fuzzy ball of light. A collision is unavoidable and Professor Utonium desperately tries to use the radio (radios work in a space time continuum?) to warn whatever it is off in time. Failing in this, they "discharge some laser energy" outside the hull of the time lab, which creates a force field of sorts (how, isn't the laser aimed at the ruby in the center of the time lab?). When a lower power setting doesn't do the trick, it's Stanton himself who pushes through Gordon to turn the laser discharge up to maximum. The onrushing "something" is destroyed in a sparky overexposed negative blast and our heroes are saved. But at what price? We shall see later...
Who made these labels? [Editor Pam: Not only that, but I'm pretty sure whoever put together this set just hacked apart various instruments and glued the fronts to the walls at random. It would be difficult for three people to evaluate all the readouts and operate the controls if this were a real working device. Somebody would go nuts trying to make sense of all those dials on the left wall. Hey, maybe that's why the label is so big, with all these controls in no logical order it's easy to get confused on which does what.]
What we won't see later is any discussion about just what or who the hell was traveling in the continuum with them. They just seem to take the amazing coincidence of another possible time traveler improbably along the same road in stride, and not give it a second thought. Perhaps a little more interest would have been nice to see.
So, they're now approaching the present time. But something goes wrong, too much power probably or that laser discharge threw them for a loop, and the time lab overshoots the present and travels far, far into the past. They pass through the present, briefly appearing in the Stanton Industries building before phasing out again.
To "simulate" traveling far back in time, the producers decided to raid the film library for stock footage from historical-themed movies. From this they cobbled together a montage of clips from these movies, running chronologically from 1968 deep into the past. This montage is played on the time lab's view screen as the scientists look on with curiously impassive faces. This is truly one of the lamest wastes of celluloid in history (a pun!) and I am ashamed of my species. The entire sequence lasts an interminable 4:18 minutes of screen time. Just because I want you feel my pain, here is the breakdown by era.
First we get 55 seconds of documentary stock footage from WWII showing a landing on some South Pacific island by the US Marines, a sub chaser in rough seas in one shot, a line of LCMs in another shot, and some LCIs in the foreground of yet another with a Northampton-class heavy cruiser lurking in the background. These invasions clips are intercut with some more stock footage of deuce-and-a-half cargo trucks and men moving around an obvious European beach (perhaps even Normandy with the distinctive late-war anti-aircraft blimp in the background).
From there we go to 54 seconds of stock footage from a Civil War movie (I think it might be from 1951's The Red Badge of Courage with Audie Murphy). The pan-and-scan format crops much of this away.
Next up is 49 seconds of stock footage from some movie about Indians attacking a wagon train out on some Midwestern plain (no telling, but probably from one of Columbia's zillions of western serials from the 1930s and 40s). I have to throw a flag here, as the Cavalrymen around the wagon train are carrying post-Civil War rifles (maybe 1870s or 80s Colts), which violates the premise that they're seeing scenes as they travel backwards through time.
From there we go to 27 seconds of stock footage stolen from an old pirate movie (my guess is 1942's The Black Swan with Tyrone Power) showing two model ships blasting away at each other on the high seas. This is a much better movie than ours, by the way.
Now we fade to 30 seconds of stock footage from some old swashbuckler film (I'm going out on a limb here, but it looks like 1948's The Three Musketeers with Gene Kelley).
And finally we have 43 seconds of stock footage from a very early sword and sandal film (very hard to guess, but looks a bit like 1963's Gladiator of Rome with Gordon Scott, but it might also be from 1964's Fall of the Roman Empire with Sophia Loren) showing underpaid extras unconvincingly beating on each other with fake swords and spears.
At that, the screen fades to blue and the lab starts spinning. Eventually, they slow to a stop somewhere along the continuum. They check the readouts and see that they are now at...one million years BC! I loved that movie! Let's turn off this dreck and watch that one instead! Alright, fine, maybe later.
Outside on the view screen they see a typical representation of prehistoric times, a lush tropical jungle teeming with abnormally large reptiles. We see one of these as a back-projected stock footage clearly-annoyed monitor lizard menacing the time lab and the understandably afraid Karen (this is from some other movie, but I don't know which).
Stanton leaves the time lab now, going outside to look around, against the wishes of the rest of them. First Gordon, then Professor Utonium, go out to find him and bring him back, leaving Karen in the lab alone. When the stock footage lizard appears again, however, she comes running out to find the men folk. From there, the four of them wander through the jungle, which is clearly a sound stage with potted ferns and elephant ear plants and an ankle-deep layer of dry ice fog to mask the floor. Notice that Karen is still wearing her five-inch stiletto heals here, not exactly the best footwear for prehistoric jungle adventuring.
Hmm...hope they're careful where they step. Just watched the nearly-unwatchable A Sound of Thunder (butchered from a great story by Ray Bradbury, who must be calling his lawyers daily over this), in which dumbass time travelers in a similar situation step on a bug and thus irrevocably alter the entire timeline of the planet. This "butterfly effect" is never mentioned here, but it's probably just as well.
Anyway, back to this movie. Seeking refuge from the foleyed-in offscreen screeching of the lizard, they enter a spray-painted Styrofoam cave. Inside, they realize they're trapped in here now, so they better look for an alternate exit. The cave interior set is lit by several colored-lensed kleig lights, making it a surreal experience to watch them walk along the suspiciously clear and level trail through the cave (kind of like the Christmas show in Mammoth Caverns in Kentucky). No need for flashlights when you have a big glowing light just off camera!
Rah, I'm a lizard!
As time passes and tempers flare, Stanton and Professor Utonium begin to bicker, each blaming the other for their predicament. Looking back, I'd say that they both must share some culpability in this disaster.
Eventually they discover a stock footage boiling pit of lava (!), and Gordon speculates that they're inside a volcano (!). Clearly, he's no geologist. They also discover that in the area of the lava pit the walls are encrusted with painted Styrofoam precious stones! Emeralds, rubies, diamonds! Some of these are the size of softballs and they speculate they were formed by the "intense heat and pressure" of the cavern. Ah ha, do you suppose that they can use these natural rubies to replace the busted one in the time lab and get back home?
Stanton shows his true colors here, lured by the potential wealth of the chunks of uncut precious gems. He grabs up two handfuls and fills his shirt pockets, pulling the rubies off the cavern walls with surprising ease. Abandoning the scientists, he rushes back out of the cavern for the time lab. The big nasty lizard is gone, it seems, and he makes it back to the lab and goes inside.
He goes immediately to the caged platform in the middle of the lab where the big ruby once sat. That gem is suspiciously gone (where did it go?) and Stanton piles the pilfered gems up in a loose pile on the platform (this, despite the fact that earlier Gordon stated that they had to find a new ruby that was the "exact size and weight" as the one they had before).
It seems that Stanton was paying much closer attention than we saw onscreen when the scientists were hitting all the buttons and turning the knobs, because he is now able to turn on the time travel machinery and send himself hurtling up through time towards the present.
What's this? A glowing ball of light approaching on the view screen? The radio sparks to life, repeating Professor Utonium's warning against the collision course from before? I guess he kept the transmit button down the whole time, because we also hear Stanton squabbling with Gordon and then shooting off the laser. Stanton suddenly realizes that earlier he destroyed himself coming back through time! In a flash of light, he's gone. The irony.
Ok, that done, let's reconnect with our scientists. Left in the lava cave by the fleeing Stanton, they slowly work their way to safety. Along the way, Gordon slips and falls into the lava pit, whoosh! flame! Bye. Saw that coming. Professor Utonium and Karen barely blink an eye at the old man's anticlimactic death, and in fact later seem to forget about him completely. I hope they at least name the time lab the Gordon Memorial Time Laboratory or something.
The massive heat coming from that nearby open pit of stock footage bubbling lava seems to be giving them little trouble here. Really they should have been combusted long ago, along with having their lungs scorched by the super-heated air, but the only adverse effect seems to be some extra sweating on Professor Utonium's part. He does remove his suit coat (finally) and Karen takes off her lab coat (don't get excited, she's wearing a pretty demure blouse underneath).
They stumble out to see that time lab is gone! Wait! Now it's back! Hey, what the hell, didn't it get destroyed a minute ago? Sure, it was in that weird ass space time continuum thingie, but still, explain that.
Anyway, they climb aboard and set the dials for the present. "Activate the time transport while everything is still working!" "Setting to thirty seconds plus departure time!" "Redistribute the photosensitive funyuns!" Zoop zoop, off they go. But, once again, they goof something up, or maybe the computers and circuits are so wiggly from all this time travel that they cannot calibrate them correctly. At any rate, they end up arriving back in the present time, but "missed their time lock" and drifted about 30 hours before they left the first time.
This means that they get out, wander around the seemingly empty halls of the Institute, before stumbling into that conference room where they met with Stanton that day. What's this? Sitting around the table, frozen in time and space, are Stanton, Mister Smithers, Gordon, Karen and Professor Utonium! It seems that they arrived too soon, and are now somehow trapped in a "hyperaccelerated state", able to be in the past but not quite able to interact with it normally. "We've disturbed the space time continuum, we're existing in a parallel world." Karen and Professor Utonium are moving at normal speed (for them), but their "past lives" are moving at such a slow rate as to appear frozen in time. Actually, high marks to the production crew here, the shots of Karen and Professor Utonium in live action behind the matte still of their past selves at the table is very well done.
Does this look familiar?
Hey, wait a minute! Isn't this a blatant rip-off of the Wink of an Eye episode from Star Trek? Let me check startrek.com...hey, that episode wasn't out until the year after our movie was made. Which means that Gene Roddenberry ripped-off Journey to the Center of Time! A million Trekkies just committed seppuku with their Klingon bat'leths.
Anyway, the danger is that once they catch up to their past selves in time, they might go boom like matter and anti-matter. So they run back to the time lab to try something or another. As they go, we get this weird highlight reel flashback of various points in the movie, with the voices now reverberating and the camera wiggling slightly to signify time racing ahead. This flashback sequence lasts an excruciating 45 seconds of my life.
Back in the time lab now, Karen and Professor Utonium clutch to each other as the lab disappears again (what happened to the foretold boom? Why no boom?). Now they're lost in the space time continuum, like a ship set adrift at sea, with landfall a mystery. "Another Earth, another time, who really knows?" Professor Utonium suggests that they might be the "new Adam and Eve of a brave new world". Damn good thing we have a fertile woman and a virile man here, imagine if it was just Professor Utonium and Doctor Gordon!
The film ends as a jiggling superimposed time lab is seen drifting across a stock footage star field, lost in space and time! Clearly, this ambiguous ending is an indication that this was supposed to be the pilot episode of some failed television series. This series would have Karen and Professor Utonium popping up in various points in Earth's past and future, righting some wrongs, saving some locals and kissing a lot. Sounds like a cool idea, I wonder why it was never picked up? [Editor Pam: This movie sounds suspiciously like Time Tunnel, a TV show that ran for one season in 1966-1967. The episodes are available on Hulu, for anybody who's interested, but I have to warn you, it was produced by Irwin Allen and is of the same level of merit as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost in Space. I'm guessing the powers-that-be reasoned that if one time-travel TV show couldn't make it, another almost-identical one wouldn't either, and that's why this movie never became a series.]
Nerds in space!
Bonus! Some handy statistics for you:
5: Number of times we hear a full "10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1" countdown.
2: Number of cigarettes smoked by our cast.
1: Number of big scary lizards.
45,862,154: Number of times the technobabble is so dense and incoherent that you want to throw a brick at the television screen.
Written in October 2005 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda and Darci Sharver.
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that's between you and the vengeful wrath of your personal god...