The Time Travelers (1964)

Rating: **
Review Date: 9/8/20
Cast: Preston Foster, Philip Carey, Merry Anders, Steve Franken, John Hoyt, Peter Strudwick

"Our entire solar system, and nowhere can Man exist. Nowhere, including Earth."

Once again, a group of meddling scientists fiddle with building a time machine and open a portal to the future. All four of them foolishly go through it before it collapses, trapping them in a world ruined by nuclear war and overrun by savage mutants. A common theme in the 1950s and 1960s, it seems. They are rescued by another group of humans who live underground, consisting mostly of scientists and intellectuals. Earth is a dead world, and with the food supply rapidly disappearing, the only hope for humankind is to travel to an Earth-like planet in the Alpha Centauri system. They've constructed androids to help build a ship and tend to their every need, but it's only a matter of time before the mutants break through their defenses in order to kill and plunder their supplies. Will the human race be able to leave Earth, and will the time travelers be able to return to their own time?

While the premise is intriguing, the execution is exceedingly tedious and the humor is unbearably awful. The goofy and dimwitted electrician (Steve Franken) is totally played for laughs and almost single-handedly ruins the show. The most interesting and unusual aspect of the film is that most of the visual effects involve practical gimmicks and magician's illusions. Much of the film plays out like a magic show, which creates an odd disconnect with the story. Some of these tricks are quite impressive, but the pacing suffers greatly because they're performed in real time with long, uninterrupted takes. This hurts the narrative because it creates the impression that you're watching a live sleight-of-hand performance. More often than not, the story serves the effects rather than the other way around.

The acting is decent enough, although the characters aren't particularly likable. Preston Foster as the elder scientist and John Hoyt as the ruler of the council are probably the best of the bunch, and Hoyt's warm performance rises above the trappings of the genre. Naturally, the time travelers bring their abrasive 20th century attitude and know-how to the future and Merry Anders even pleads for the ethical treatment of the mutants. One of these mutants is played by Peter Strudwick, who in real life was born with deformed arms and no feet. It's a bit shocking, but much like the other physical effects in the film, his character doesn't serve the narrative or propel the plot forward. Reportedly, two versions of the ending were filmed: a happy ending and a sad ending. I'm pretty sure the one I saw was the happy ending, even though the characters who survive are trapped in a perpetual time loop. It's not a great film and certainly not great science fiction, but it has its charms. Unfortunately, the cringe-worthy dialog and laborious pacing outweigh any good will that it generates.