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The Time Traveller
(a.k.a. The Next One)
(1984)

Director: Nico Mastorakis
Cast:
Adrienne Barbeau, Keir Dullea, Peter Hobbs


Every few days, I like to go to my neighborhood comic book store and browse around. Though I am not really a reader of comics from Marvel, DC, or the other big comic publishers currently in full force, the comic book store does get "niche" market comics for people with eccentric tastes like I have. I especially like to read reprints of the EC Comics series Weird Science, Weird Fantasy, Weird Science-Fantasy, and Incredible Science Fiction. There is one particular story from one of those comics that has stuck with me for years after first reading it. The story started off in the near future, where a human astronaut - I think his name was "Kraft" - was traveling through space when all of a sudden his spaceship got caught into some bizarre space/time warp, and was transported to a very distant corner of the galaxy with absolutely no way of getting back home. Kraft landed on a planet that was inhabited with human-looking lifeforms, though their level of technology was that about what it was on Earth about two thousand years ago. Kraft soon saw that the planet's inhabitants were for the most part suffering, so he started to help him. The help that he gave them amazed the inhabitants, since what he did (like turn powdered milk from his spaceship into liquid milk) was beyond their grasp. Eventually, the local government got wind of Kraft's helping of the citizens, and he was seized by the government's troops and taken to the heads of the government. Kraft was told to stop what he was doing, but being a good hearted person, he told the government he would not do so. So the government placed Kraft on their version of what we would call "the rack", and he was tortured to death.

After that point, the story jumped ahead several thousand years, when humans on Earth had perfected long distance space travel, and explorers managed to reach the planet Kraft had landed on. When they got there and talked with the inhabitants, they discovered they followed a religion called "Kraftism", and wore necklaces that had torture racks pendants on them to remind them what their savior went through, prompting one human astronaut to comment that this story sounded very familiar. (In case you are wondering, EC comic publisher William Gaines later revealed EC didn't get as much protest about this story as they feared - my guess being because Kraft clearly wasn't being the actual Jesus on Earth.) Anyway, as I indicated earlier, this story has made me think a lot over the years about the idea of some kind of savior coming to Earth. Certainly there is the whole business about Jesus. There is historical proof that a figure named Jesus did exist thousands of years ago... though there is certainly a lot of dispute as to whether he had special powers or was the savior of mankind. But I can certainly understand why there are a lot of people who would like to believe that Jesus was the savior of mankind. Most people would like to think that there is some kind of higher power who has the interest of lowly mankind in mind. Such a higher power would possibly be able to give mankind a lot of help, from healing illness to bringing some kind of social order. Most of all, such a savior would give hope, not only for life in this world, but beyond after we pass on.

Of course, while we are thinking of the subject, there comes the question of what could be legitimately be called a savior of mankind. Getting back to comic books, I once saw the cover of a Superman comic where a confused Superman was treated to the sight of regular humans bowing The Time Travellerbefore him while the cover caption stated, "Superman... a God?" Well, I can see why some people could think Superman as some kind of savior, just like how those aliens thought that Kraft was some kind of supernatural figure. The idea of someone with special powers and abilities beyond us is a fascinating one, one that could lead to some interesting situations - especially in this day and age, where many of us consider us smarter and more sophisticated. The Time Traveller promised to do just that, though another interesting thing that attracted me to it was that it was written and directed by cult filmmaker Nico Mastorakis. The setting of the movie is on a small Greek island, where recent widow Andrea (Barbeau, The Convent) and her young son Tim (Jeremy Licht, Valerie) live. One night, the island is struck by a strange storm. The next day, when Andrea and Tim are walking on the beach, they discover an unconscious man (Dullea, Brainwaves). They revive the man, who has no memory of his name or where he came from. Andrea invites the man (who she eventually names Glenn) into her home while he recovers. But as Glenn recovers and slowly starts to remember his past, he starts to become very strange to Andrea, Timmy, and the other villagers on the island. He seems to have strange powers, suggesting he might be from another dimension, or possibly even the next Jesus Christ. But an answer might not come in time for Andrea or Glenn, since the other community members are getting very uneasy with this stranger, and might do Glenn some harm.

Years ago, I stated that I liked the other Nico Mastorakis that I reviewed for this web site (Nightmare At Noon). However, the still fresh knowledge of that movie in my mind combined with the knowledge of other movies Mastorakis has directed over the years (including Ninja Academy, The Zero Boys, and Island Of Death) made me wonder before watching The Time Traveller if Mastorakis could pull off something more serious in nature. I might as well start by taking a look at the movie's biggest angle, the mysterious (and maybe mystical) figure of Glenn. As Glenn, actor Keir Dullea does make a great effort to not come across as if he is giving a great effort, which is to the movie's favor. In his initial scenes, he comes off as slightly robotic and not quite comprehending the new environment he finds himself in. As he adjusts through the remainder of the movie, Dullea still gives Glenn an air of being slightly off balance. It's a good and sympathetic performance. Unfortunately, Dullea can only do so much because the writing of his character proves to be more frustrating than insightful or believable. You would think that early on he'd get a scene where he's extensively questioned by someone, but that never happens. It gets even more frustrating later when Glenn does regain his memory and starts to explain to Andrea where he came from, but Andrea doesn't seem eager to listen to him, and the subject of Glenn's origins is then quickly dropped and forgotten about by everyone until the final few minutes of the movie. And before those final few minutes, there are a number of unanswered questions along the way like why Glenn decides to stay where he is... why he can swim well early on in the movie but apparently loses the ability later on... or why he does not use his powers one way or another to get out of the bad situation that arises when the villagers turn on him.

In short, the character of Glenn is a real disappointment. Had Mastorakis' screenplay had been written to have the character to act more believably, whether an actual Christ figure or not, we might have had something here. As it turns out, most of the other characters in the movie don't act in a plausible manner at all. The one exception is the island doctor Barnaby (Hobbs, The Nine Lives Of Fritz The Cat). There is some real character development with this figure. He starts by being spooked by Glenn after detecting he has two hearts, but as the story progresses and Barnaby has more encounters with Glenn, he slowly opens up and eventually supports the stranger. (The early scene where he nervously explains to Glenn who Jesus Christ was is very well done.) As for the other characters in the movie, though they are acted by an equally game cast, their actions are more often than not very unbelievable. One example of this is with the love interest in the movie, Andrea. It is quite unbelievable that Andrea would invite a complete stranger into her home to stay for an extended period without knowing practically anything about him, and why she seems to be so blasť about Glenn's various strange behaviors. She also loses a lot of sympathy by offering the still amnesiac Glenn some of her marijuana, and then soon after seducing him. Incidentally, you are probably thinking that later on in the movie, Andrea proves to be a key character for Glenn when trouble starts brewing. But believe it or not, the screenplay seems to eventually run out of use for this character, and she pretty much disappears in the last third of the movie. It wouldn't take much thinking to rewrite this screenplay to eliminate the character altogether.

The Greek villager characters are not given very much to do; it would have been very interesting had Mastorakis shown these somewhat backwards villagers' reaction to Glenn and his seemingly magical abilities, but this is never really done. Had it been done, it might have livened up the story considerably. As it is, the movie has a lot of long segments where little to nothing of importance is happening. During those slow spots, only the promise of eventually getting some sort of explanation as to what Glenn was and where he came up kept me watching. As I said earlier, the final few minutes do provide some answers, but it is in no way satisfying since the explanation brings up just as many questions (if not more) than what is answered. Clearly, Mastorakis' screenplay was lacking. His direction is a little more accomplished than his writing. Mastorakis does manage to brew some genuine atmosphere throughout the movie. Shooting on location in the Greek islands does generate some genuine foreign flavor, from the haunting countryside to the rural and slightly impoverished village most of the story takes place in and around. The movie is also fairly well photographed. And here and there, Mastorakis does manage to put in a few genuine jolts, such as when Glenn has his first flashback or when Andrea's child gets too close to a cliff. What is missing, however, are feelings of awe and wonder. I mean, we are talking about a character who might be the Second Coming, but The Time Traveller more often than not does not seem to find that as interesting as the frustrated audience watching it. Believe it or not, the movie E.T. not only had that missing awe and wonder, it dealt with the subject of a mystical figure on Earth in a more believable manner.

(Posted December 15, 2021)

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See also: The Convent, Nightmare At Noon, Years Of The Beast

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