OCTOBER 13 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : THE TIME GUARDIAN (1987)
Review by Ron Demkiw
If you have forgotten what The Time Guardian is about your memory has shown a great mercy to your mind. It is a Carrie Fisher and Dean Stockwell movie shot in Australia. It is about a time travelling city from the desolate far future that materialises in 1980s' outback Australia and is being hunted by Dalek-inspired mutant cyborgs. It is a lot of codswallop.
James Cameron used a lot of the same kind of genre material in The Terminator so, in my opinion, there was nothing in principle wrong with the premise of this movie; the themes could have formed the basis of a half-decent movie, if not a good one. Unfortunately what happened instead was a great cinematic hymn to ineptitude.
Due to its release on DVD, The Time Guardian has been extensively reviewed, often quite amusingly, elsewhere on the Internet, and I have no intention of repeating any such views here, but there are a couple of points I believed have been missed. Careful viewing of the DVD reveals the cyborgs have no robotic lower half: their lower half appear to be corduroy trousers and boots. They look like work-for-the-dole recipients stumbling blindly around in cardboard boxes on the upper half of their bodies.
The film is full of missed narrative opportunities. For instance, the filmmakers make an elementary blunder in revealing the cyborgs almost in the first shot, thereby instantly eliminating 50 percent of the reason an audience would want to keep sitting through the movie. It is a basic rule of genre films that you don't reveal your monster for as long as possible, and then in bits and pieces. The cyborg enemy should have remained an unseen menace, revealed by their bloody handiwork, for at least the first 40 percent of the movie. There should have been a gory cyborg autopsy.
The film abounds with genre references. Stockwell's character is called 'Boss', a direct reference to Things To Come (1936), and the film appears to owe something to James Blish's Cities In Flight stories, and William Hope Hodgson's The Night Land, and a lot of the plot is almost a reversal of Doctor Who And The Daleks (1965). One of the puzzling things about the movie is that the scriptwriter, John Baxter (author of Science Fiction In The Cinema), has all this genre knowledge, yet fails so disastrously in his own screenplay. One can feel sorry for the simps who usually write bad sci-fi movies, but what excuse does Baxter have?
Being a survivor of the Doctor Who story The Horns Of Nimon, I have attained an almost superhuman tolerance for bad movies, and can swallow all kinds of ludicrous hokum, but what I can't forgive in The Time Guardian is the incredibly lame ending. The enemy stops and lets itself get mown down by a ray thingy.
The points of interest for me are that someone I know was a production assistant on the film, and in 1985 I saw a cyborg prop on display in the theatre. It looked like cardboard. At the time the movie looked like an embarrassment and I avoided it, but over the years it pursued me and eventually caught up to me on television. Thankfully I forgot a lot of it, but I could not believe that any movie was as bad as I remembered The Time Guardian to be. When I saw the DVD, to my dismay it was even worse than I remembered it to be.
OCTOBER 13 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : THE TIME GUARDIAN (1987)
"The Time Guardian" is such a bad movie that you will feel like screaming at the main characters. In fact when I first saw it people in the audience were yelling at the main character to "Shut up" and for the evil characters to "Kill him, for heaven's sake how can you miss him."
The actual plot isn't so bad it's just that the movie was miscasted and poorly produced and directed. The acting is bad the fight scenes are dumb and the costumes are embarrassing.
The story is one of time travel and takes place on board a giant space ship city of the future that can travel through time. The good people of the city are being chased by the evil robots called the Jen Diki or Gin Drinkers. The Gen Drinkers stagger around like drunks in cardboard robot costumes from 1940s Flash Gordon serials. They are big and strong but not very fast. Running away from one would like trying to out maneuver a grand piano.
Ballard, played by Tom Burlinson, is the head of security and is assistant is Carrie Fisher, looking as if she were just fresh out of rehab. The security team wear special nipple armor, something like form-fitting Roman Centurion breast plate.
The movie starts in the future. It's a lovely day on the planet, when suddenly the Gin Drinkers attack and start killing everyone outside the city. All the goodies run to the city for safety, but the Gin Drinkers are like the Energizer Bunnies. They keep going and going. Tom fights them off, but there are too many of them. So he orders his people back into the leg of the city/ship, and they can run up into the city and be safe when the city teleports through time.
So now there is a raging gun battle on the staircase as the people run up stairs. Of course, when you think about it, why would they run? These Gin Drinkers move as about as fast as an old lady can push a refrigerator, and they have the reflexes of a car jack. And yet they run about in complete disorder when the Gin Drinkers attack. The Gin Drinkers manage to stagger into the leg of the city just as the city is about to make a time jump.
Macho Tom, seeing no alternative, grabs a giant silver hand-grenade, pulls the pin, and then utters a totally forgettable macho ‘make my day' kind of line, and drops it on the Gin Drinkers. The grenade explodes, blowing up the Gin Drinkers as well as the leg of the city, just as the city goes into time warp. Carrie Fisher yells at Tom for being a macho jerkhead. Everyone in authority is mad at Tom for being a macho jerkhead. But Tom doesn't care, because he is some unbelievable macho jerkhead. He's only slightly meaner to the badguys as he is to his friends.
Now the city is hurling through space and time, but when it lands, it won't have a leg to stand on. Tom gets the idea of visiting Australia. He is after all an Australian (or least a Canadian Australia from the future), and he has in fact visited there many years ago. So he plans to beam down and build a leg for the city to land on.
Cut to Modern day Australia and meet Park Ranger Annie. Annie is looking at some ancient Aboriginal drawings of a giant sort of crystal city. Annie isn't really interested in the drawings that much, as she is really only here as a token love interest. She drives around in the Australian sun with her shirt unbuttoned.
Tom travels through time and arrives out of the billabong (pond) in his space suit. (There is no real reason for Tom to come out of a billabong other then this is where Australian Aboriginal monsters like the bunyip come from.) Tom's next job is to make a giant rock platform that the city can use as a leg when it lands.
He meets Ranger Annie who agrees to help him. So he needs to get some big earth-moving equipment. The man who owns the equipment won't rent it to him, so Tom beats him up and throws him out the window.
Next there is a funny montage scene where we see Tom and Annie in a bunch of different shots that are supposed to convey the message that they are working hard to make a giant support for the city. What it really shows, however, is Tom doing really stupid things like pointing, giving commands, being macho, and digging a little hole with a little shovel. Good, Tom. That big city ship will fit there just fine.
After they are done, they go swimming in the billabong in the nude. This is Annie's idea, and at last she is no longer an extra in the movie but graduates to being the hero's main squeeze.
More stuff happens, and we meet the local policemen, who are even bigger macho jerks than Tom. The policemen put Tom in jail (or gaol, as this is an Australian movie). That night the Gin Drinkers attack. The Gin Drinker comes through the wall and wrecks the cell, and Tom is able to escape, and the bad policemen are killed.
Now there is nothing like a good shoot-'em-up climax. Alas, the climax of this movie is nothing like a good shoot-'em-up. It's so stupid that I'm convinced Carrie Fisher, whose character is killed when she flings herself on an attacking enemy robot to save the two young lovers, actually ad-libbed the suicide scene just to get out of the movie as quickly as possible.
As I said before, there is a big shoot-out between the people in nipple armor and the Gin Drinkers. The Gin Drinkers are winning, but then Tom's adopted Samurai father, who is also a ship's engineer, converts the ships energy supply into a bazooka and gives it to Tom.
Tom then calls for everyone to stop fighting. Which they do. He then stands up in range and in plain sight of the unstoppable robots that have dutifully stopped attacking. Tom gives a big speech about "you wanted our energy, now here it is," except his speech is a lot longer and duller and holds up the action, as most of the audience has figured out what will happen next. Finally, he shoots the Gin Drinkers one by one as they stand there without firing back. The audience I saw this movie with so hated Tom's speech that we were cheering for the robots to "Kill him -- don't just stand there, kill him!"
Rating: 5 turkeys.
Scene to watch for: The cop finds the time portal.
Best line: "Jen Diki, you wanted our power. Now, here it is..."
Things that make you go "Huh?": The ending.
OCTOBER 13 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : THE TIME GUARDIAN (1987)
The recent Australian documentary Not Quite Hollywood was intended to be a corrective, celebrating the unsung and disputed efforts of Australian’s genre films (your Mad Max, your The Man From Hong Kong) against the general favour shown towards the artsy efforts of the 1970s (your Picnic from Hanging Rock, your Newsfront, etc). However, as a counter-corrective, stick in a copy of The Time Guardian into your DVD player and you’ll see clearly how bloody piss-weak “Ozploitation” could be.
The Time Guardian is a salvage yard of scenes junked from other more profitable and acclaimed sci-fi movies: there’s an intergalactic struggle familiar from Star Wars, there’s a lone man sent back into the past to save the future taken from The Terminator, there are dystopian cityscape shots ripped off from Blade Runner, etc. I was struck continually with a sense of familiarity while watching The Time Guardian of scenes from other movies, but I really just wanted to watch those original films rather than suffering through this dodgy Aussie edition of The 1980s Sci-Fi Movie. And lest you worry that this film has next to nothing to do with Australia there are also some shots of Aboriginals dancing and enough aerial landscape photography of our Great Southern Land to satisfy the “Aussie content” requirement of the 10BA Tax Write-Off that was popular at the time.
Now The Time Guardian is also the type of film where watching it will not help you make sense of the plot. What you have to do is read the description on the back of the DVD box before AND after viewing the film and you should have some awareness of what the hell happened. That’s how I was able to decipher that the story was about a time-travelling city that escapes the 24th Century, running from the dreaded Jen-Diki who look like robots but have mutated humans inside their metal exteriors. The bad guy alien/robots bear a striking resemblance to the Cylons from the original Battlestar Galatica, but less impressive as it’s basically a bunch of tall stunt men wandering around the Kimberley Mountains like Frankenstein, just with heavy Robot heads precariously balanced on their shoulders.
Tom Burlinson – better known as The Man From Snowy River – stars as Ballard, a Time Guardian jerkface who zaps into the past in advance of wherever the city spaceship teleports so as to stop the Jen-Diki from messing them up. Burlinson uses this hoarse voice to fully convey his loner rebel maverick’s aggressiveness and his glare in every scene seems to state “shut up” to any other character in his immediate vicinity. Is your film’s hero supposed to be this annoying? I really hoped a Jen-Diki would clobber him right in the crotch so as to take him down a peg or two. Carrie Fisher, obviously cashing in on an Australian holiday and floating on some quality drugs from her Postcards from the Edge days, stars as his sidekick who wears some Star Wars esque gear, gets wounded, and spends most of the movie laying around, doing diddley squat. The other American export – Quantum Leap’s Dean Stockwell – is imaginatively named Boss and spends a couple of scenes yelling at Aussie subordinates all the while wearing ridiculous costumes that look like they were taken off the rack from a high school theatrical stage version of Star Trek, but all made by the children’s mothers. I mean Stockwell looked better in Dune, which is saying something if you remember that crazy pencil-thin moustache he was supporting there. Rounding out the cast is Nikki Coghill who is the trademark Aussie love interest of the 1980s – blonde, bronzed and boobs-a-hoy – and is apparently a geologist, the type who investigates strange noises outside her night-time camp site in tiny cotton underwear.
What else do you have here? Burlinson hovering over a fallen Jen-Diki in the opening battle sequence, intoning gravely, “Now to cut out your black heart,” and ripping out the metallic robot heart of the enemy; A yokel local quipping about Coghill’s arrival in a dusty male-populated town, “I’d rather be under her than this bloody truck”; Heavy exposition related between Burlinson and Cogill off-screen over landscape shots in an obvious series of plot-hole repairs to the movie; Cogill showing her norgs to the Time Guardian in a water-hole love-making tryst; Macho Aussie cops who don’t believe the hero and inevitably get despatched, most memorably a moustached arsehole cop who gets pulled through a time-mirror or something; Warehouses masquerading as the interior of a futuristic city (as Mitch pointed out, “Seems like the only thing to survive in a post-apocalyptic world were the warehouses.”); A jailhouse assault from the Jen-Diki where Burlinson defends himself with an uzi; An elderly Japanese samurai-sword wielding mentor for Burlinson who reveals his destiny at the end, which is to use the time tube as a weapon against the enemy just after he lectures them (“Stop the fighting now!”) with an echo-effect on his voice; And not to mention this line from the head Jen-Diki, “It seems the Time Guardian has run out of time!”
Brian Hannant was the director here and his previous credit was co-writing the excellent Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. After dropping The Time Guardian on our silver screens, Hannant did not direct another film unsurprisingly.