Sometimes you see a LaserDisc in the wild and everything, literally everything, about it screams, "Put me down! What are you doing?! I'm not worth it! Nobody in their right mind would want this more than money!" Normal, sensible, ordinary human beings might be persuaded by arguments put forth by inanimate objects, but as you already know from my presence on Steemit, I am as far from normal, sensible, and ordinary as one can get while still possessing twenty-three pairs of chromosomes. I took one look at The Time Guardian, a film I knew absolutely nothing about and had never even heard of before, knew I had enough cash to cover the two dollars and tax I'd be paying out to add it to the collection, and decided I had found tonight's entertainment.
"Challenge accepted," I said, sliding it under my arm and walking toward the cash register. "Let's kill some time."
Before I go any further, allow me to quote the text from the back of the sleeve just so you understand why it was impossible for me to leave this thing buried among a bunch of LPs (the wacky capitalization isn't me being facetious either, this is how it appears on the jacket):
Dean Stockwell, Carrie Fisher, and Tom Burlinson Battle Killer Cyborgs Through Time And Space To Save The Last Remnants Of 24th Century Earth in This Fantastic Science-Fiction Thriller With Spectacular Special Effects!
Hang on a second, hang on a second...the film is set in the far, far future (the year 4039 to be exact), as well as what was present-day Australia at the time of its filming. That would make these people residents of 41st century Earth, not 24th century, so already whoever was in charge of marketing has been grotesquely overpaid. But I digress.
In the tradition of "Star Wars" comes this thrilling science fiction adventure pitting brave heroes and beautiful heroines against an army of power mad robots dedicated to destroying the human race.
Um...sir? Sorry to interrupt, sir, but Star Wars had nothing to do with armies of power-mad robots dedicated to destroying the human race. Star Wars was about a small band of rebels fighting to cast off the yoke of a galaxy-spanning Empire. The movie about power-mad robots dedicated to destroying humanity you're trying to rip off here is The Terminator.
OK, just so we're clear. Proceed:
Dean Stockwell and Carrie Fisher star as 24th century citizens of earth's last surviving city trying to evade the rampages of the Jen-Diki, a race of cyborgs bent on wiping them out. After a costly battle with the robot-like beings, the floating city attempts to escape back in time to present day earth to make a final stand against the cyborg menace.
Wait, wait, I already brought this up. See, your characters are all from the 41st century, not the 24th. I know Carrie Fisher was in Star Wars, but you shouldn't play the Star Wars card unless there are going to be space battles and laser swords. Also: are they "robots" or "robot-like beings"? I only ask because there are differences between 'robots' and 'cyborgs', and it's not wise to confuse the two.
Right. Carry on then:
But the evil Jen-Diki are in hot pursuit as the last Time Guardian (Tom Burlinson) races back to 20th century earth to make sure if it is suitable for landing his battered city and saving the last surviving humans!
Um...at no point in time is Tom Burlinson's character referred to as a "Time Guardian". He's Ballard, a testosterone-driven dudebro whose primary purpose is to kill Jen-Diki before they kill him. This 'going back in time' stuff is dumped on him by his boss, Dean Stockwell. We know Dean Stockwell is his boss because the character's name is "Boss".
Also, can you check your grammar, please? "[T]o make sure if it is suitable for landing his battered city[...]" doesn't need the 'if' in there. Continue:
So get set for heart pounding excitement and fantastic laser battles in this special effects filled spectacular of the ultimate conquest of earth.
Um, look, sorry to be a pain in the ass about this, but it actually has nothing to do with "the ultimate conquest of earth". It has to do with a small piece of Australia being the battleground for a fight between humans and Jen-Diki. The Jen-Diki aren't interested in taking over the planet, they just want to destroy the last city.
1989, Color, 89 minutes, Sci-Fi, Dolby Stereo
At least you got the technical specs right.
So, the real story of The Time Guardian is that, for five centuries, humanity has been at war with the Jen-Diki, who are sort of a cross between the Daleks and the Cybermen from Doctor Who: the survivors of the devastation wrought during the last Neutron War. Every technological leap made by humanity is matched by the Jen-Diki. When the humans of the city try jumping through time to escape, the Jen-Diki shrug their shoulders, invent time travel themselves, and go after them.
Ballard is a rough-and-tumble soldier in the city's defense force (they haven't had a real military for years), who saves the city from a Jen-Diki surprise attack by using a high-powered explosive in a confined area just as the city spins up to travel back through time. While the bomb takes out the Jen-Diki infiltrators, it also seriously damages one of the city's support struts, making it impossible for the city to land once it reaches its destination: Australia in the year 1988.
Knowing the Jen-Diki are in pursuit, Boss orders Ballard to travel back to the 20th century ahead of the city so that he can jury-rig a support strut where the city's going to land. To help him blend in better with the locals, Boss orders Petra (Carrie Fisher), an historian with a specific interest in the customs of the 20th century, to travel with him. The two don't get along, but agree to the plan.
Once they arrive in 1988, they meet Annie (Nikki Coghill), a geologist studying the Australian Outback. They also discover the Jen-Diki have sent a war party into Australia as well, and a short battle ensues which sees Petra wounded. The Jen-Diki have a severe aversion to light, so they only come out after dark. This gives Ballard the opportunity to work with Annie and get things prepared for the city's pending arrival. One of the things he needs is some heavy construction equipment, and the closest place to get that is Midas, a former mining town not far away.
Unfortunately the appearance of all these out-of-towners has McCarthy, Midas's sheriff, concerned, especially after one of the locals dies when his big rig collides with one of the Jen-Diki time travel devices. It's a fortuitous accident in that it keeps the Jen-Diki from beaming a shitload more of their companions into Australia, but it still results in his death, which is naturally blamed on Ballard and Annie. It doesn't help their case when one of McCarthy's deputies gets himself killed messing around with the remains of the Jen-Diki device.
With Ballard and Annie now prisoners in Midas's jail, an impending Jen-Diki attack, and the coming arrival of the city, Ballard has to break out of prison, keep Annie out of danger, and come up with a way to stop the Jen-Diki once and for all to end the war.
So, yeah, virtually everything written on the sleeve is a lie. If that was the only problem with the movie, we'd be fine. Unfortunately we've only just begun scraping the surface of what's wrong with this 'disc. This 1990 pressing of the movie presents it in a full-frame 1.33:1 pan-and-scan aspect ratio, murdering its original 2.35:1 theatrical aspect by slicing off nearly half the picture from every given shot. The transfer itself is grainy and unremarkable, with a fidelity barely above VHS in terms of quality. It's also extremely dark, making it difficult to tell what's happening in many of the
"future" sequences, like the one that opens the movie. Whether this is the result of an improper mastering or an awful lighting choice by the cinematographer, I don't know, but if you've calibrated your television properly with, say, a Video Essentials 'disc, then you'll need to push up the brightness and contrast to have a prayer of seeing what's going on in any of the night shots. The one thing they did seem to get right is the audio, which is the same two-channel Dolby Stereo master used in the theatrical release, available on the analog track only; there's no support for digital audio on this pressing, although the 1990 Hong Kong release of the film appears to have both digital and analog options.
On top of all this, the script is a complete mess, the story isn't sure what it wants to be, and the film reduces its two main attractions in Stockwell and Fisher to bit-players completely upstaged by the rest of the Australian cast. It's a complete mess of a movie, given no help by its awful LaserDisc transfer, and yet I loved almost every minute of its nearly-comical ineptness. Inside The Time Guardian, there's a fun, fantastic, 80's sci-fi action bonanza struggling to find characters and a script worthy of bringing it to life.
Part of what really works for the film are the special effects. The film had a budget of eight million dollars, which is about a million and a half more than James Cameron had to work with on The Terminator, and the special effects are competently executed. The scene where McCarthy's deputy investigates the bit of Jen-Diki technology layers on a bunch of cool lighting effects, the laser gun battles look like B-reel footage recycled from Cameron's apocalyptic, machine-dominated nightmare, and there are some great stunts including a guy in a Jen-Diki costume who gets partially immolated during its battle with Ballard in the police station. The acting, even among most of the unknowns, is also good enough to get the job done, at least when they have a decent script backing them up. Tim Robertson plays McCarthy to the hilt as a take-no-bullshit cop in a masterfully understated yet menacing role, and he's honestly my favorite character in the film. Dean Stockwell, sadly, is completely wasted in his role as the city's boss who spends most of his time shouting at inept subordinates, while Fisher's character Petra suffers what is easily the most ridiculous and needless on-screen death of her career. It's supposed to be a heroic sacrifice, but the end result is silly instead of shocking, and I know I don't usually do spoilers, but her death is too absurd to overlook.
Reading up on this film, it seems like The Time Guardian was a victim of some horrible meddling itself. What started off as a relatively simple story about a city on the run from a lone attacker, penned by John Baxter, suffered a rewrite by an uncredited American author, who clearly wanted to make a version of The Terminator, but had no understanding of what made Cameron's film from three years earlier so effective. Director Brian Hannant tried in vain to reconcile the new script with the old, but knew he didn't have nearly enough money to make the changes work. Baxter, unsurprisingly, told the producers where they could shove it, and left the shoot. In response, International Film Management cut the shoot down to nine weeks from its original thirteen, leaving a harried Hannant with no time at all for re-shoots and a horribly stressful 'get it right the first time' production schedule. Hannant continued clashing with IFM after principle photography was completed, and finally walked away from the whole thing during post-production when it became clear IFM was preparing to fire him. IFM dumped the film in the lap of Andrew Prowse, who found himself responsible for re-shoots in addition to working as the primary editor. The end result of all this tinkering is that The Time Guardian feels less like one single, coherent movie and more like three or four that have all been jammed together and told to, "Just work, dammit!" 'Disjointed' is putting it politely--this film's a total clusterfuck from start to finish.
So why the hell did I enjoy it so much?
Much of it had to do with being in the right mind-set. You don't sit down to watch a movie with that kind of jacket art and expect a triple-A Hollywood-style blockbuster. Everything about it screams "B-Movie", but it has the kind of budget and potential that some A-list features of the day would have killed for. The action set pieces are really quite good, especially the Jen-Diki attack on the jail towards the end which involves lots of smashed down doors, busted out windows, and the aforementioned immolation. Actually the set design is quite good in and of itself: the city shares the same properties as the Nostromo from Alien, that 'lived in' look of things kludged together, with unnecessary parts cannibalized to keep the important bits working just a little longer. It's very 'future imperfect' when it comes to depicting its future, and I can appreciate that.
It's a movie with a nonsensical story that takes itself just seriously enough to be fun, but not so serious as to misunderstand what its trying to do. If you try and analyze it too closely, you'll just get a headache. Look at it the same way you look at something like Axe Cop (a comic book where a seven year old kid's story ideas about an axe-wielding law enforcement officer are professionally laid out and illustrated by his much older brother). It's not supposed to make sense, it's just supposed to be fun, and there's even a skinny-dipping scene which will remind you they used to get away with showing boobs in a PG-rated film back in the day.
I can't say I recommend The Time Guardian, because I don't. I especially can't recommend it to fans of either Dean Stockwell or Carrie Fisher, who were clearly doing this one just for the money (or possibly a free trip to Australia). Nevertheless, it's one I'm going to keep in my collection, at least until I can track down a version on DVD that hopefully has better lighting and a widescreen presentation. Other than that, it was totally worth the $2 and tax I paid for it.
Here's the trailer so you can decide for yourself if it's something you want to invest money and/or time into watching.