The Day Time Ended (1979)
Hello all. Well, the holidays are over, the empty carton of eggnog is in the trash and I've grown weary of I want a hippopotamus for Christmas, and so it's time to get back to reviews. For 2009 I plan to keep a better schedule of writing, so hopefully I'll get at least a couple of reviews a month in (unless something lousy happens to me, which is a distinct possibility as I've somehow offended the Olympian gods).
My first post of the new year will be a crappy time-travel film called The Day Time Ended. This, I believe was a made for TV movie that was supposed to be the pilot for a series that never got picked up and so exists as a stand-alone movie (there are literally hundreds of these sorts of films floating around there in the public domain). Most reference notes on this film say it was released in 1980, but it was filmed in 1979 so that's the date I'm going with.
The film takes place in contemporary (late '70s) Southern California, though towards the third act we drift across time and the cosmos (I think), and everything about it, from the lame Brady Bunch dialogue to the groovy disco fashions reflects that shameful era in our nation's past. Let's meet our six cast members (only a lonely gas station grease monkey gets any dialogue other than these six).
Gramps: A doddering old man who most strangely ends up being the film's Lead Male Action Hero. Gramps is played by Jim Davis, who was Jock Ewing in the first few seasons of Dallas (which really needs to be in my netflix queue).
Grandma: His wife, an easily-spooked old woman who desperately wants to look like Cheryl Tiegs, though no amount of makeup, hairspray and polyester is enough to make that happen. She might as well be Tammy Faye Bakker.
Tammy Faye Bakker.
Son: Some dorky teenage boy who is said to be Gramps' son, which means it looks like Tammy Faye Bakker had him when she was 47. The boy's a bell-bottom jean and wide-lapel shirt kinda kid, and he looks like one of those annoying oh-so-hip Jonas Brothers that all the tween girls are wailing over (they can't hold a candle to Color Me Bad, in my humble opinion).
The Jonas Brother.
Daughter: Gramps' other grown kid is a thirtysomething Mega-Babe with Farrah Fawcett flippy hair, whispy thin ankles, and boobies that refuse be held down by any woman-hating misogynist bra. At the time this movie was filmed, the actress playing her (Marcy Lafferty), was married to Captain James T. Kirk!
Richard: Mega-Babe's husband, the film's resident stud muffin, calling out from the grave of 1970s fashions (feathered ABBA hair, polyester flare pants, western shirt). Richard is an architect in Los Angeles, and earns enough that his wife doesn't have to work, but not enough to buy a better car.
Jenny: Mega-Babe and Richard have an offspring, an adorable five-year old girl named Jenny. She's a perpetually chipper, doe-eyed, Kenny-from-Godzilla-like child who ratchets up the cuteness factor while actually moving the plot along more than you might expect. She's not the best child-actress, however, and it's no real surprise that her acting career stalled after this.
Ok, enough intro, let's get it on. We open as Gramps drives to pick the rest of them up at LAX, they returning from some unnamed vacation spot (where Jenny rode a camel...). They drive off into the Mojave Desert east of Los Angeles in a big Chevy Caprice station wagon loaded down with their luggage. As a father of two young children, I can't help but notice that no one wears seat belts and Jenny even rides on dad's lap in the front seat! It's amazing how times have changed, as a kid growing up in the 1970s myself, I can't ever remember wearing seat belts in my dad's Dodge Coronet wagon, but now, I wouldn't dream of even going a half mile down the road without securing my four-year old into his carseat like he's Hannibal Lecter.
That's bad parenting.
They drive out to Gramps' fancy solar-powered house way out on a plot of land in the Mojave Desert. Designed by Richard, the architect, and a pretty cool house, but why the hell so far out in the middle of freaking nowhere? It's not said, but I assume by the fact that all their stuff has been unpacked in separate rooms that Gramps' kids, the Jonas Brother and Mega-Babe (and Jenny), are going to be living here as well, with Richard, too. Good lord, that's a lot of comma-splices, no wonder my college professors always hated grading my papers.
The house, adobe and concrete mix with a Southwestern style.
I'd like to point out again how isolated this place is, seemingly hundreds of miles from anything. What is the Jonas Brother going to do here? No internet, no girls, no Guitar Hero. He's either going to put a shotgun in his mouth or he's going to start growing some glaucoma remedy in the woodshed. To help smooth the transition, however, Gramps has gone out and bought the Jonas Brother and Jenny matching ponies! (Editor Pam: Forget entertainment, how are they going to get water? I don't see any sign of a windmill or any other sort of pumping system, even assuming there's water close enough to the surface to make pumping it feasible.)
Now, in a soon to be totally forgotten plot point, while they were off at the airport, the house was broken into by "bikers". Just the downstairs living room was trashed, apparently, and they make the assumption that something or someone interrupted them before they could get to the rest of the house. This scene is pointless in the end, as they just put everything back on the tables and instantly forget about it.
Trashed house. Meh.
While that's going on, outside, Jenny's pony trots away from her behind the barn. She follows and runs into a Green Glowing Pyramid! We are presented here with the first of many reminders just how cheap and dirty the "special" effects are for this movie, as the green screen fuzzes and pulsates around her distractingly. With the wide-eyed innocence of a child, Jenny hugs the man-sized Green Glowing Pyramid and asks for her pony back. As soon as she asks, it appears!
The Green Glowing Pyramid.
Jenny then runs and gets her mom and grandfather and takes them to see the Green Glowing Pyramid, but it's gone, replaced by a tiny quarter-sized miniature version that apparently only she can see. They scruff her hair, mock her imagination, and leave, while she puts the tiny pyramid in her pocket and doesn't tell anyone.
No one ever believes the kid.
Richard has to go back to LA and do some work, so he leaves in his puke green Subaru hatchback. Much to my surprise, Richard, who is a big strapping dude with heroic hair, has a very small role in this film. All that is to soon happen, all the crazy and scary things that beset this isolated homestead, are handled not by the burly man, but by young kids, senior citizens, and one terrified housewife. This genre twisting change might be the best thing about this movie.
Richard kisses Mega-Babe in a clutching, desperate sort of way that suggests that something was going on off-set between these two. Shatner must have been fuming.
That night spooky things happen. Green lights glow ominously in empty rooms, water starts up without the taps being turned, a broken mirror is fixed magically, and it seems Jenny (due to her hug with the Green Glowing Pyramid) has the power to make things happen with her mind (though maybe she's just able to tell the...whatever...in her pocket what she wants done and it does it).
Jenny checks out the green light.
Out taking a moonlight walk, Gramps and Tammy Faye Bakker see a swarm of UFOs! They don't seem that concerned, however, just shrug and go back to being old. A lot of what happens to them in this movie, from aliens to monsters to UFOs, is met with surprisingly blase stares and ho-hum headshakes (which is so totally not how I would be reacting, I'd be running around screaming like a little girl while trying to take cellphone camera pictures of everything).
Later that night, Jenny meets a Dancing Fairy Alien who pops out of that micro-pyramid in a puff of green smoke. It's a humorous stop-motion humanoid creature that Jenny just giggles at (my kids would run away in terror at the very least, and more than likely try and hit it with a stick). Everyone wakes up and is scared, especially when Jenny wanders off outside to put a sawbuck on a filly in the third at Aqueduct.
Dancing Fairy Alien!
They've had about enough of this foolishness by now and they try to escape in the car. It seems to be alive, however, and won't do much more than honk its horn and blink its lights while they stand around and fret about it. Jenny tells it to stop and it does, but they never try and leave after this, which is just odd as you'd think they'd at least make an effort to drive off.
And now we have the arrival of the Killer Flying Camcorder, some sort of alien thingie that comes in through the open window and advances menacingly at them. The Killer Flying Camcorder is pretty weak, to be honest, slow, stupid and nearly incapable of getting through a half-inch plywood door, but it does give them quite a scare. It's scared off by the Green Glowing Pyramid aliens (represented by the Dancing Fairy Alien), who seem to be enemies of whatever alien race built the Killer Flying Camcorder (I'm guessing, nothing is ever explained). In a lot of ways this is the standard Alien-esque "people hunted by a bad thing in an isolated place" plotline that you see so often in b-movies (and that very few have done well since Alien). The twist here is that only some of the things chasing them mean to do them harm, while some of the others are clearly protecting them.
The Killer Flying Camcorder.
Jenny (being a kid) left her mostest favoritest doll downstairs (where the carnage and death was happening) and she's fit to be tied that she can't have it back. Being the good uncle, the Jonas Brother shows some moxie and goes downstairs to get it (see, now this is where you'd want Richard the husband to step up and make that run, but he's chained to a draftsman's desk in Los Angeles while his family is in peril). The Killer Flying Camcorder ambushes the Jonas Brother downstairs and chases him outside (after first atomizing a hunk of wood tossed at it in yet another lame special effect).
The Jonas Brother throws a hunk of firewood, but the Killer Flying Camcorder lasers it away!
Gramps goes to the dresser and grabs his .357 revolver and runs outside to save his son. To his horror, however, in the yard he discovers two BigAss Claymation Monsters that appeared out of nowhere! These are clearly two completely different species, one lumpy and bipedal (looking like Harryhausen's cyclops from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad) and the other is more saurian and Cloverfield-ish. For some reason the two monsters start fighting each other! Soon, the thin one kills the fat one with a wicked bite to the throat, all while Gramps and Tammy Faye Bakker watch in amazement. The survivor then makes a slow ponderous advance on Gramps, howling in bloodlust as it shambles towards the old man. It's brutally hard to do the stop-motion technique well, requiring thousands of hours of meticulous planning and intricate execution to make it look real, and it's obvious that neither time nor effort was expended in any great quantities here.
Gramps and the Jonas Brother run to the barn for safety (maybe to nobly draw the beast away from the house). They are menaced by the surviving elephant-sized BigAss Claymation Monster, which bends down to poke its head through the door, growling at them. Gramps stabs the beast in the face with a pitchfork, causing it to pull back and roar in pain. They then let a horse loose to lure off the monster, which lumbers after the galloping horse (showing it to be, confusingly, little more than a mindless munching beast). To add to the perplexed look (on me), a Flashy Swarm of UFOs suddenly appears over the BigAss Claymation Monster and causes it to dematerialize into thin air. What the hell!?
"Ouch, my face! My beautiful face!"
No time to think, we now we have a sudden Electrical Storm of Death, accompanied by ground-rocking tremors and fantastic day-glo light shows. The wind picks up, everyone staggers around in the hurricane gale, girls scream and men grimace and it looks like something big/amazing/horrible is about to happen. The cast spends a good hunk of the rest of the movie stumbling around on camera as post-production special effects are splashed across the screen in explosions of sparkly electrical lights and kaleidoscope colors.
Purdy lights. The electricity stays on, however, despite an aside that power has been lost for hundreds of miles all around them.
The capper is that a Swirling Tornado of Awesomeness somehow transports the house and all in it (maybe?) across the void of space and time (maybe, maybe not, who knows?). Gramps stumbles out to find his house in a place that looks very much like the Mojave Desert he was in before, but different. Two moons rise Tatooine-like over the horizon, casting an otherworldly glow across the desert scrub, and a yellow dusty haze covers everything. As well, the yard in front of the house is full of scattered vehicles (best visual in the movie), seemingly collected by some alien intelligence like a child collects Pokemon cards. We see a couple of fighter jets, some moon buggy out of Space: 1999, a piece of construction equipment, a space shuttle, even a yellow Ryder rental truck, all half buried in the reddish sand.
Stuff in yard, check out that CVW-6 tailcoded Phantom.
Gramps walks shakily out into the yard, his eyes uncomprehending of what he is seeing. A rusty fuselage of an old C-47 creaks and groans in the wind and Gramps seems to have lost his mind for a second. More electrical storms and shakes drop him to his knees and Gramps can barely make it back to house before everything gets all swirly and sparky again.
Gramps' ass is in danger!
Jenny is outside now (why?) and is being slowly sucked away (an ultra-cheesy fade-out effect that looks more junior high media project than Hollywood movie). Her mom Mega-Babe runs to save her and is also sucked off. This might be a more powerfully emotional scene (as it should have been) if it weren't for the movie-long over-reliance on special effects. There are just way too many multi-colored flashing lights hurting your eyes and whirping electrical noises assaulting your eardrums to even notice the screaming child and her desperate mother. Like being at a Pink Floyd concert. Any semblance of plot or story is tossed in favor of these endless scenes of gee-whiz special effects. The problem is that this is a cheapass b-movie made on the fly, not Star Wars or Alien, so the effects come off as unbelievable and, worse yet, laughable. I've heard it said that the special effects budget for this movie was just $125,000, which in 2008 money would be like $330,000, which is barely what Lucas paid for thirty frames of Jar-Jar Binks' pubic hair waving in the wind on Naboo.
Meanwhile, the long-lost husband Richard has finally gotten worried over the news reports of electrical storms and the down phone lines and comes to save them. In a Finding Nemo-like odyssey, he drives through the teeth of the storm in his Subaru, runs out of gas, cons a guy into siphoning some from a gas station without power, gets run off the road by a low-flying UFO, breaks his only flashlight, and then has to walk in the pitch dark over broken desert terrain with little to protect him but his hip-hugger jeans and his Barry Gibb hair. He arrives too late to do anything to help his family, but does wrangle that lost horse along the way (the one Gramps let loose). He gets to the homestead just in time to also be whisked away by the Cosmic Sweeping Storm Thingie.
65 cents a gallon!!!
Zap! Everything is quiet now. The house still sits in the same place, but that place is now seemingly back on the alien world. Mega-Babe and Jenny are gone, so it's just Gramps and Tammy Faye Bakker and the Jonas Brother left to wander around and stare pointlessly at the twin suns rising over the desert. Gramps suddenly shows us an intimate left-field knowledge of quantum physics and string theory, telling his perplexed wife that they must have entered some sort of "space/time warp". He further calls that mess of a storm a "vortex" and is sure that they are now far off in time and space from where they were 24 hours ago.
Gramps channels Richard Feynman.
They load up some horses and set off in some random direction, while behind them their house phases out and vanishes (huh?). Mega-Babe appears from out of nowhere now, materializing out of a Triangle Teleporter (which looks like something out of Asteroids). She's all glassy-eyed and smiling like she's the face of the Unification Church and spouts some Feel Good New Agey crap about how everything is/was/will be as it should and they need to just smile and wave.
Mega-Babe arrives via a glowing triangle.
Jenny is also here, she's fine (they didn't kill kids in the 1970s). Richard arrives on his horse a minute later, he's fine, too. I don't care for him (even if his dad is Robert Mitchum). They all hug and kiss and Mega-Babe explains to them that the aliens of this world are peaceful and kind and mean them no harm.
Not pictured: the Jonas Brother, a casualty of the awful pan-and-scan digital transfer.
They then all head off across this alien landscape (which looks a lot like Southern California...) to a Magical Domed City! Now that all our cast is back together, we can begin the inevitable round of cheesy smiling and hair-touseling and wistful gazing that tells us that everything is going to just groovy and you should tune back in every Monday night at 9/8 Central for the continuing adventures of these bozos who were set off on a great adventure on...THE DAY TIME ENDED!!!!
Nice matte. Really.
Ok, that's over. Before I go, lets ask ourselves how would this would fare as a series had it got picked up by some brain-addled network executive. There are so many questions to answer, like...
1) What's the geopolitics here? Clearly the Dancing Fairy Alien and the Killer Flying Camcorder are enemies, but what about all those UFOs and the BigAss Claymation Monsters, where do they fit into the equation? And who is living in the big Magical Domed City? Who will ally with whom, which race will cast their lots with the Earthlings and which will seek to destroy them? Where do the Romulans fit into this?
2) How would our cast grow and change? Would Richard finally stand up and be the strong male lead or would his wife continue to take all the hits and swings in crisis situations? Would the Jonas Brother find a sexy green-skinned alien girlfriend? Would Jenny ever stop being annoyingly cute? Would Gramps and Tammy Faye Bakker be anything more than sage exposition suppliers, content to stand in the background like a Greek chorus and say wise things to the younger demographic-pulling couple? Jim Davis, who played Gramps, died in 1981, so they'd either have to write him out or find another actor to play his role.
3) And what sort of plotlines would you have each week? Would it be like Lost in Space or Star Trek where each episode would be self-contained, or more like Lost or the Stargate franchise where story arcs stretch multiple episodes and seasons? Would it be like Quantum Leap where each week they would jump in space and time to fix some problem/right some wrong and then jump back into the vortex continuum at the 42 minute mark? Would Mega-Babe eventually need to put on a bra?
Eh, who knows? Who cares? I'm going to go watch Timecop now.
(Editor Pam: It may be unfair to be too critical of the weirdness here, because maybe the writers planned to explain it all in subsequent episodes, but I have to say that right now nothing about this movie makes much sense. I can see why it wasn't picked up.)
Written in January 2009 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.
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