Journey to the Center of Time

Journey to the Center of Time. Borealis Enterprises 1967.

Before watching the movie:

A nonsensical title on a movie about time travel? This should be just the kind of campy midcentury sci-fi story I’ve really been itching for. They’re getting harder to come by, at least ones that are new to me.

I don’t know much more about the plot than that some scientists get lost in time, and really, does one actually need more?

After watching the movie:

Doctors Mark Manning, Doc Gordon, and Karen White haven been spending years working on a project to look through time, but so far have not been able to get their equipment to be able to see more than 24 hours into the past or any amount of time into the future. Stanton, the new head of the company funding their research, does not see the same value in what they are doing as his late father, and demands he show them results tomorrow or he will cancel their funding and fire them all. At the demonstration, they push their laser-driven viewing apparatus past its tolerances and find that, instead of seeing the future, the lab itself has traveled to the future, exactly five thousand years into the future. They briefly get caught up in the final human war, but aliens help them repair their lab-pod enough to attempt to return home, but their equipment was never designed for travel and cannot be fully controlled, and the overload threatens to crack their laser’s ruby.

Right away I was struck by the similarity to another movie I’d seen where a lab designed around a large time-viewing screen enables the scientists to travel through time, and I was worried I had already seen this movie. However, it turns out that the other movie is The Time Travelers, and though this is considered a remake of it, I consider it pretty significantly changed. Aside from that movie having the screen turn into a time portal the characters walk through, which is somehow both more absurd and yet makes more sense than the whole lab physically traveling, that movie makes the arrival in the future the main adventure, while in this one it comes off as a kind of lackluster pit stop, and the climax happens millions of years in the past, menaced by a lava pit and a forced-perspective Gila monster.

There is no subtlety at all in how pig-headed and mercenary Stanton is. Every line and action is based on “what’s literally the most unlikable thing he could do right now?” It does not let up through the entire movie, and it really decreases my enjoyment of what’s going on. However, he does meet his end in the kind of delicious ironic sci-fi twist that rarely makes the jump from prose stories to the screen. Most of the movie from there could have been skipped because the heroes were in a more satisfying place to end than if the story hadn’t completely abandoned logic for a moment to set up a Weird Ending that was as weak an imitation of the earlier version as the glimpse into the future.

One of the funny things about old science fiction is when what was cutting edge science at the time has become mundane. The time viewer technology is explained as being based on a story of a satellite that was accidentally viewing exactly 24 hours in the past due to some strange reflections that are somehow related to how the constant speed of light means that if you could stand 24 light-hours away you would see what happened 24 hours ago, but this is more controllable because the system is based on the magical properties of a L.A.S.E.R. You know it’s a L.A.S.E.R. because it uses a ruby as its power source, as in there’s a large, loose ruby on a pedestal in the middle of the room under a cage of wire loops and it might break if the numbers go too high. I might be able to come up with an explanation for how this setup can, when overloaded, do an entirely different thing than it was designed for, but they sure didn’t.

Most of the ideas this adds to the earlier story are better, but at the expense of the ideas it retained. In another iteration or two it would probably be both a really good adventure and also completely unrecognizable from the original.


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