Friday, 4 November 2016

Beyond the Time Barrier (1960)

























This American cold-war era movie is probably one of the most stereotypical examples of an American cold-war era movie I've seen in a long while. Luckily its a stereotypical cold-war era movie with a stereotypical time travel element and stereotypical mutants to boot! Basically an American test pilot flies an experimental new jet fighter to sub-orbital spaceflight...successfully I might add. But when he returns home, yep you've guessed it, he's somehow been zapped into the future and, yep you've guessed it, the future is a dystopian one. Much of what he sees is scorched earth, ruins, accept for a single citadel. He is swiftly captured and hauled before the supreme leader where the revelations come thick and fast, well almost.

We soon discover that its the year 2024. Earth's atmosphere has been virtually destroyed by nuclear weapons testing that allowed cosmic rays to penetrate through back in 1971 (cautionary tale much!). This resulted in a cosmic plague that drove many underground whilst others chose to stay above ground for some reason. The ones that remained above ground became mutants, the ones that went underground remained generally OK accept they all became mute and sterile. The only persons seemingly able to speak are the supreme leader and his second in command, whilst the supreme's granddaughter Trirene is mute but also telepathic and possibly not sterile for some reason. Why this plague caused people to become mute and sterile but nothing else is a mystery, why Trirene is seemingly not sterile and telepathic is also a mystery, and why the supreme leader and his second in command can speak is yet another mystery. None of these mysteries are solved, deal with it.

Well one mystery is solved and its not really a mystery. The reason Trirene is not sterile is so this movie can have a sexual charge to it surrounding the extremely cute and beautiful young actress playing Trirene (Darlene Tompkins). Its like any old sci-fi adventure fantasy you remember, there was always a sexy lady for the hero to save and fall for, and here is no different. Trirene is not sterile and the only chance for this future race of humans to survive (there have been no births for twenty years). In other words cue the all male fantasy of being held captive in an alien world and being forced to have sex with a beautiful female, eventual death by sex.

The main crux of the movie has pilot Major William Allison getting to grips with this dystopian life, seemingly preparing to stay in the future, until he meets three other people who have also come from different time periods. Together they all establish a plan to try and escape the citadel, reach Allison's jet and go back to a point in time where they can stop the nuclear testing. Naturally this will incur many obligatory twists and turns with characters trying to stab in other in the back, which is admittedly all the more exciting and quite dark in places. I have no clue who all these actors are but they do play their roles well it must be said. Robert Clarke is believable as the confused pilot lost in time, whilst the three other time travellers successfully engage and confuse you with all their technical jargon. Yes its all cheesy as hell but in that enjoyable way.

The only people who don't really cut the mustard are the young Tompkins who obviously doesn't speak (mute remember) which doesn't really do her any favours as she comes across as a bad mime. Then you have the supreme leader played by Vladimir Sokoloff who was clearly pretty old at the time and kinda sounds like he's struggling to remember lines (plus his over accentuated body language!). Not wise to expect much from the array of extras that make up the mutants and citadel folk, yeah kinda cringeworthy background acting going on.

The movie was obviously made on a bit of a shoestring budget judging by the limited visuals. Apparently it was filmed in an old exhibition park or building and it tells! The sound is terrible as all actors footsteps can be heard loudly as they proceed through scenes, the echo issue is pretty bad. On one hand that does give the citadel notion a sense of real depth but obviously on the other hand it just sounds amateurish. The set dressings aren't too bad though, production designer Ernst Fegtè uses a triangular/pyramidal look for everything which is unique for sure. Again with many films like this the black and white hides a lot and makes everything seem more realistic in a sort of happy accident type of way. There is also a quick bit of matte painting utilised which looks OK. Shooting in an actual abandoned airbase for initial scenes of Allison landing in the future looks good, as does his flight suit, everything else from costumes to equipment is fine and does the job.

On the whole this movie is one of those types of films that is kinda frustrating to watch because of silly plot holes and cliches (although for its time not quite so). For example none of the citadel folk believe Allison is from the future, OK fine...so why not take them to your bloody jet fighter! Aarrgghh!! All the women seem to be rather tasty in this citadel, why is that I wonder, curious. All the mutants are simply bald middle aged blokes, no women or children it seems, because bald men are more scary. Many bits of footage are repeated during action sequences to pad out the runtime and make everything appear bigger, alas its obvious. Stock footage! not a lot of it but...obvious stock footage!!! The supreme leader is old and wise, his second in command is gruff, fat and...fat, whilst the other time travelling scientists are generally from eastern Europe because eastern European folk are more dubious and suspicious obviously. The jet fighter experiment which Allison completed was apparently also carried out by the other time travellers, hence why they're also stuck in 2024. But this begs the questions, how do they keep fudging this experiment up? don't they learn anything? Why do they keep doing it?? How come all these people all landed in the same place in the same year of 2024? And why would flying the jet back in the opposite direction mean you can travel back to where you came from perfectly? Seems kinda convenient no?

That being said this movie has a fantastic little plot going for it, and yes that is despite all the cliches and plot holes. Look beyond all that and you have a great little traditional, time travelling, science fiction yarn that wouldn't look outta place in The Twilight Zone TV series, or any other similar series. The self contained plot may be leaky in places but on the whole its tight and highly effective with a good little band of actors and a lot of heart. The other reason this is so good is because it gets your mind working, it gets you thinking about the possible time disruptions and effects of what happens, what Allison achieves and why he suffers as he does in the end. These types of sci-fi stories are always good for getting you well and truly confused about what, where, how and why? Sure it looks cheap in places and maybe it would have worked better as a TV episode or part of an anthology movie, but you can't deny its ambitious, thought provoking and fully engaging.

7/10