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Friday, February 18, 2011

Journey to the Center of Time

David L.Hewitt produced and directed this low low budget remix of the usual time travel ideas. That this film, Journey to the Center of Time, (JCT) bears more than a passing resemblance to The Time Travelers ('64) is no coincidence. Hewitt co-wrote the latter and directed the former. There is more on the parallels in the Notes section. Production values are low, as JCT tells yet another tale of man traveling to the future and earth's prehistoric past.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Dr. Gordon and his team are trying to use laser technology to photograph the past. Thus far, they can only go back 24 hours. Mr. Stanton is the bombastic new owner/director of the lab facility. He scoffs at their project and demands results within 24 hours, or he'll shut them down. While demonstrating their time lab for Stanton, Mark is compelled to push the 'laser cycling' beyond safe limits to force results. The time lab hurtles 5,000 years into the future. They see a sleek rocket and a war going on. "Aliens" (plain men) escort our four time travelers to their alien leader, Dr. Vina. She monologues about leaving a dying world, looking for a new home and how earth seemed nice until this war broke out. Earth combatants breech the aliens' defenses. A melee breaks out. Vina is shot with laser. She gives a cautionary warning as she dies. The other aliens help the travelers back to the time lab and send them on their way. The time lab overshoots the present and travels back into the past. Our travelers watch extended clips from old movies. WWII. Civil War. Cowboys and Indians. Sailing ships firing at each other. (history = war, apparently). They encounter another time travel ship hurtling at them towards the future. Mark radios it, but no response. Stanton panics and fires their laser at it, blowing it up. The time lab finally 'lands' in the year one million B.C. Stanton goes out to look around. Mark and Doc go to retrieve him. Karen stays behind, but is scared by a "giant" lizard. She fires the laser to fend it off, but shatters the laser's ruby in the process. She then runs outside too. They all meet up in a cave. Lining the cave walls are large precious gems. They look for a ruby to fix the laser. Stanton, as the greedy capitalist, just pockets gems. In a lava chamber, he greedily pulls another gem from the wall, which somehow causes more lava to rise. They try to flee along a narrow ledge, but Doc falls into the lava. Stanton gets back to the time lab well before Mark and Karen. He puts his pile of rubies on the laser table and sets the controls for home. This strands Mark and Karen. En route to the present, Stanton sees another time lab hurtling toward him. He hears Mark's radio warning, himself panicking, and firing. Stanton and the time lab blow up. Mark and Karen emerge from the jungle to find an empty time lab with settings the same as when they first landed. Oh well. Mark and Karen travel back to the present, but their time synchronization is off. They arrive several minutes too soon. Everyone in Time Central is frozen in the present. Worrying that when the present catches up with them that they might explode, or implode, or something bad, Mark and Karen get back into the time lab and set off for some undefined time in earth's future. They might be a new Adam and Eve for a brave new world. Star field, fade to credits. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
JCT is undeniably low budget and full of inane techno-blather, but it has 60s . It tries hard to be deep and complex. Despite some laggy padding, the story does at least move along to its denouement.

Cold War Angle
Like many of its 50s brethren, JCT is a cautionary tale about unchecked militarism in the future, and mega-weapons getting out of control. They arrive in the year 6,968 in the middle of a "nuclear war."

Time Travelers Retread? -- There are lots of similarities between JCT and The Time Travelers, but there are many differences too. This should be no surprise, as Hewitt co-wrote TTT and directed JCT. Below are some commonalities and differences.
Same Stuff: A time viewer project. Funding about to be cut off. Push the lasers beyond safe limits. Three scientists, one a woman, and a non-scientist. Future earth is bleak. A big fight between factions in the future. Return to present with people frozen. Time loops.
Different Stuff: A spherical 'ship' travels to the future instead of stepping through a portal. Obnoxious capitalist in lieu of comic relief janitor. Aliens in the future instead of mutants. Some of the travelers die. Instead of ending in a perpetual loop, Mark and Karen avoid the loop and set off for a (linear) future.

Ruby: The New DiLithium -- Throughout JCT the scientists keep talking about lasers and coherent light, etc., which is all fine and scientific. But, at other times, they talk about their ruby as if it were a Star Trek di-lithium crystal -- their quasi-nuclear power source. Near the end, Stanton piles some rough rubies he's collected in the cave, on the "laser" stand and somehow this restores the time lab's power. An amusing mix of fancy and factoids.

Slick Cheap -- Cheap sci-fi "space ship" sets in the 50s were cobbled together out of military surplus, and resembled the insides of a submarine. Note how cheap in the mid 60s had gone through an upgrade. Smooth orange octagonal walls (no boiler rivets) for the interior of the time lab. There were lots of flush-set blinking lights and that really cool quarter-opening sliding door. And what about that utterly pointless scissor lift that lowered Stanton three feet from the 'mezzanine' to the sunken-livingroom center area? It was still cheap, but it was following a different vision.

Want Babes? Be A Computer -- Note the background of the Time Central facility. The back wall is filled with their "computer" (lots of lights and non-moving tape reels.) Yet, this beast requires a bevy of beauties to attend to it. Half a dozen or so pretty, and leggy young women in high heels (and white lab coats) stand there in glamor poses. Hewitt (also the film's producer) must have been quite the man around town with the ladies. "Hey, I can get you part in a movie..."

Pre-Carol -- Watch for Lyle Waggoner in his brief role as alien squad leader. He doesn't get much for a part. This is before he became famous on the Carol Burnett Show.

Poupee, We Hardly Knew Ye -- The credits announce: "Introducing: Poupee Gamin" in the usual style for launching a career. Her part in JCT was minimal as Dr. Vina. She stood, for awhile, in her tight "bald" cap and very ample cleavage. Perhaps that was Poupee's outstanding feature(s). Yet, Poupee did not go too far. She played small parts in two more movies in 1967, then disappeared from the screen.

Spider-Rat-Bat Cameo -- In a nod to Ib Melchior, Hewitt included a very brief glimpse of the Spider-Rat-Bat creature from Melchior's Angry Red Planet ('60). Hewitt and Melchior collaborated on TTT. This brief glimpse occurs when our band of four are viewing glimpses of the future before they get there. No explanation. It's just there.

Bottom line? JCT is a rehash of time travel tropes and stocked with utterly stereotypic two-dimensional characters. The overall quality is marginal, and enough pointless padding to frustrate the attention-span-challenged. It feels like it was a one-hour TV episode padded out to just barely make "feature film" runtime. Yet, for fans of 60s time travel stories, it has plenty of psuedo-science babble and LASERs. Lots of laser talk. The result, while not deep nor cerebral, has some entertainment value.


Anonymous said...

Journey to the Center of Time --

Anonymous said...

I like these B+ sci-fis where you find one actor either at the beginning of a career or 2 months before their death.
The sci-fi movies from 1930 to 1975 have a lot in common with changes in only camera technology and editing.
But as far as time travel is concerned... having companions from the 1960s would be the best of the 20th Century. Optimistic, smart & tolerant with pre-couch potato muscular strength that we seem to suffer from in 2013.