Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Time Travel Time #7: The Time Travelers

Famed science-fiction writer Ib Melchior's "The Time Travelers" is a low-budget, 1964 reply to George Pal's highly acclaimed adaptation of H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine". (The knock-off was produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff and Bill Redin for AIP, as part of its long line of imagi-movies.) Like the Wells classic, "Time Travelers" has proven most influential on the pop-cultural scene, due to its use of a portal as a means of trekking through time. In truth, "Time Travelers" is the basis for Irwin Allen's popular "Time Tunnel" series, as well as the feature-length "Journey To the Center of Time". Its portal concept has also found its way into "Austin Powers: Goldmember" and has clearly influenced the teleportation premise in "Stargate".

Melchior's plot centers on a group of scientists who trigger an actual jaunt into the future (the year 2071, to be precise) and find that the window of their laboratory has amazingly "melted" away, allowing them to enter a strange, new world. 

The crew consists of Steve Connors (Philip Carey); Erik von Steiner (Preston Foster); Carol White (Merry Anders) and giving the adventure a touch of comic relief, technician/electrician Danny McKee (Steve "Dobie Gillis" Franken). They are an affable and credible group, respectful of their work and concerned for the consequences it's spawned. They're also understandable apprehensive of the harsh predicament in which they find themselves. 

Initially, the landscape of the futuristic world appears desolate, but soon the travelers are tracked by angry mutants: quasi-Morlock types, who unlike the famed creatures that inspired them, maraud in the daylight. Also, as the scientists' luck would have it, their portal (which is otherwise conveniently visible after they depart their lab) vanishes. To avert the mutants, they seek refuge in a cave and are granted access to an underground city, where non-mutant humans and androids reside.

The underground realm is presided by Dr. Varno (John Hoyt of "Man with the X-Ray Eyes" and "Star Trek'"s "Cage"/"Menagerie"). Varno reveals that his people are completing a spacecraft that will deliver them to Alpha Centauri via suspended animation: safe and secure from Earth's dire aftermath of nuclear war. 

Though Varno's intent is admirable, the belligerent mutants are dead set on thwarting it (and perhaps, we eventually learn, with some justifiable cause). To complicate matters, our intrepid travelers are rejected by Varno's council to accompany them on their interstellar flight, (influenced mostly by a cantankerous overseer portrayed by "Dark Shadow'"s Dennis Patrick). This leads the group no other choice but to devise a new portal, in hopes of returning to their original place in time. Alas, their efforts result in confounding consequences and a most unique (if not harrowing) ending. 

Melchior's direction is competently paced, and though the film has tell-tale signs of its confined budget, Vilmos ("Close Encounters of the Third Kind") Zsigmond's cinematography thwarts any potential, visual restrictions. On another positive note, the film offers a beloved cameo by Forrest J Ackerman, legendary editor of "Famous Monsters of Filmland": a big treat to fans at the time of the film's release (and still enchanting to those who remain in the know). 

Beyond a few moments of insinuated titillation, "Time Travelers" is essentially G-rated material and will more than suffice for a carefree weekend view, which is how many of us experienced it as youngsters during the '60s and '70s. 

Unquestionably, this quaint exercise is a fine way to occupy one's time: a humble yet stellar excursion, which in addition to espousing a grim "Planet of the Apes" type warning on nuclear destruction, predominately spins a speedy spree of colorful fun!

1 comment:

  1. Learned of Ib Melchior's passing last night. Not only did he give us "Time Travelers" (the inspiration for "Time Tunnel"), but "Reptilicus", "Journey to the Seventh Planet" and "Robinson Crusoe on Mars" (the latter being my favorite of his contributions). He also inspired "Death Race 2000" and "Lost in Space". He deserves far more credit than he generally receives, even among die-hard science-fiction fans. His work certainly has had a strong influence on me and the way I dare to imagine. For that, I am forever grateful.