The Time Travelers

Director: Ib Melchior
Preston Foster, Philip Carey, Merry Anders

I've said it before, and I think I am justified in saying it again - I need a vacation. Not only do I do a lot of work on this web site, I also have a regular job that tires me out considerably. Where would I like to go on a vacation? Well, I mentioned in an earlier review that I would like to witness the glitz and glamor of Las Vegas, even if there are no more cheap buffets as a reader subsequently informed me. Disneyland or Disneyworld also hold some interest for me. Come to think of it, there are plenty of places in this present day world that I would like to visit. But what if there were possibilities to travel to places that right now are impossible to visit? What if there was the technology for humans to travel to other planets - would I jump at the chance? Well, if it could be done safely and quickly, then maybe. But what about something possibly more fantastic, that being the possibility to travel through time? What if, for example, I could travel back in time to a period of the past? Thinking about it for a few moments, I could see there would be possible benefits for someone in the present day being in the past. Many things could be a lot cheaper - for example, if you could transport your car with you, you could get cheap gasoline. You could also take advantage of gambling - if you knew ahead of time what horse would come in first place at the race track, you could place a bet on that horse and get some serious cash. You could travel back to 1927 to get a print of the lost Lon Chaney movie London After Midnight and bring it back to the present day. You could also do what a person did in Hot Tub Time Machine - take popular hit songs from the present day and introduce them to an audience who hasn't heard anything like them before.

As you can see, there are many things you could do with the ability to travel to the past. But there are also potential problems. To spend money in the past, you would need to get currency that fit what was being used back then - and the expense of getting that currency in the present day might exceed the worth of what you would buy in the past. You would need things like the clothing and knowledge of the language of what past society you would visit. There would also be problems like more rampant racism and disease the further back you would travel in time. With these and other potential problems with traveling into the past, you might understand why I would be reluctant to travel back in time. But what about the other direction - traveling into the future? Thinking about it intiially, there are some way you could potentially exploit that ability. You could gather your comic books and take them with you hundreds of years into the future, and sell them to a future comic book dealer for a great profit. You could learn what sport teams will win in the future, and take that knowledge back with you so that you could bet on these teams when their winning games come around. You could also steal popular songs from the future and take them back and sell them to present day musicians - or perform them yourself to an audience that has never heard them before. Yes, you could serious exploit the ability to travel to the future. But there are also potential problems. Not knowing what will happen in the future, what if you traveled to the future and find yourself in a radioactive environment after a nuclear war? How would you know beforehand the clothing and lingo of a future society? And what if currency has changed so much that the money you've brought to the future is worthless?

So as you can see, there are also a lot of potential problems with traveling to the future. There are also a number of other problems with the idea of time traveling, from potentially being transported into a tree that's standing in the same spot where you transported from in the present day, to The Time Travelersgetting an object stuck in an endless time loop, like what happened to that watch in the movie Somewhere In Time. Anyway, from what I have written, I think you can understand why I would be greatly reluctant to travel in time if the opportunity and the technology presented themselves. When it comes to the subject of time travel, I will stick with movies that are about the subject. Which of course brings me to the movie I am reviewing here, The Time Travelers. Though made for the 1960s drive-in circuit, I had heard it had some smarts about the whole subject of time travel. Curious, I tracked down a copy and I watched it. The plot: At the beginning of the movie, we are introduced to three scientists, Dr. Steiner (Foster, I, The Jury), Dr. Connors (Carey, Fighting Mad) and Dr. White (Anders, Women Of The Prehistoric Planet) who are pulling off a secret and complex scientific experiment. During the experiment, a fourth individual, a man called McKee (Steve Franken, I Wonder Who's Killing Her Now), comes in with orders to stop what's going on. At this time, the viewing screen in the laboratory becomes a time portal, and in short order the four individuals are transported more than a hundred years into the future. Not only do the four find they have no way back, they soon discover the future they are is in ruins after a nuclear holocaust. Eventually they stumble across the last bit of civilization in this world, an underground city lead by a man named Varno (John Hoyt, Duel At Diablo). The four time travelers agree to help Varno and his people help finish a rocket ship that will take them to a new world. Later, when the leaders of the city tell the four that it's impossible for them to be passengers on the rocket ship, the four decide to try and rebuild the time portal so that they can return to the twentieth century.

If you have seen your share of time travel movies as I have, no doubt you know that the subject can often be a tricky thing for filmmakers to handle successfully for an audience. I have found that time travel movies tend to work when the time travelling is kept to a minimum; for example, the cult 1979 movie Time After Time is one time travel movie that works well thanks to keeping time travelling to a small level, and because of that ends up being not only intelligent about the subject of time travel, but also always makes sense. Time travel movies where there is a lot of time travel tend to become very confusing, as I illustrated years ago when I reviewed Retroactive. But there's no need to fear about being confused about the time traveling in The Time Travelers. As it turns out, there are only three real time leaps by the characters in the entire movie - the bulk of the movie concentrates on the four protagonists finding themselves in the future and making an effort to survive and get home. And the few times that the movie devotes to actual time travel are pretty well accomplished. In these moments, there is no confusion about what is going on at all. But that is not to say that the portrayal of time travel in this movie has been severely dumbed down. The ending of the movie does bring up one of the potential problems of time travel that I discussed earlier, and to the credit of director/screenwriter Ib Melchior (Journey To The Seventh Planet), the problem is presented in a way that for once seems both plausible and logical. It's a pretty neat way to end the movie while not provoking the audience to think of some nagging unanswered questions.

If only the same amount of intelligence that was given to the subject of time travel had been applied to the characters. In fairness, some intelligence does occasionally show, like in one scene where one scientist says they will work to prevent the nuclear holocaust when they get back, which prompts one of the underground city's inhabitants to point out the holocaust has happened for them - you can't change the past. On the other hand, the four do come off as pretty stupid at times, like in the opening scene when they enter the time travel portal without thinking of the possible dangers that could be ahead. But it isn't just that the characters are stupid at times. While the lead actors give it their best shot, the three scientist characters end up being pretty interchangeable for the most part, and their buddy McKee is goofy enough to be annoying. Further flaws with the writing of the movie's characters include that the four protagonists take their dire predicament surprisingly well, and that there are several other characters who are poorly introduced (like city leader Varno) and/or simply forgotten about and are never brought up again, like when Dr. White comes across an individual who is neither human nor mutant and has been rejected by both sides. As for the mutants, the villains of the movie, they are a pretty big disappointment. Except for some grunts and groans, they are mute, so you never get an explanation for their hostile perspective from them. And they are written to be very inconsistent, such as the fact that at the beginning of the movie they are deterred by rocks being thrown at them, but later when they break into the underground city, bullets being shot at them don't seem to scare them in the least.

Actually, while the poorly written characters in The Time Travelers certainly hurt the movie considerably, there is a bigger problem to be found in the script that makes sure that this ship sinks. While the movie is only eighty-two or so minutes in length, the story is considerably padded. In the middle section of the movie alone, there is a long segment where nothing of real significance happens, and there are other scenes here and there (like the aforementioned discovery of that human/mutant cross) that are for apparently nothing but to extend the running time. All this useless material might have been tolerable if it had been presented with energy and style, but Melchior seems hopeless with his direction as with much of his script. While Melchior occasionally does get into the groove and grabs the audience's attention (mainly with a couple of okay action sequences), for the most part, the events of the movie play out in a very slow and extremely casual style. There's pretty much no awe, mystery, urgency, or any other compelling emotion to raise the audience's interest. It doesn't help that he was apparently unable to overcome the low budget. While he was assisted by some expert photography by Vilmos Zsigmond (The Sadist), which makes the colors of everything looks bright and vibrant, the sets are obviously... well, sets. And many of the special effects are obvious, though admittedly there are a few (stolen from magicians' acts, of all sources) that do grab your attention for a brief, ahem, spell. It's quite possible that back in 1964 the look of the movie was acceptable enough. But seen today - and also taking in account the other aforementioned problems this present day reviewer saw - it's clear that time has not been kind to this movie.

(Posted January 29, 2021)

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See also: Idaho Transfer, Retroactive, Time Trackers