Every week, Rod Serling talks about the “Twilight Zone” between fear and knowledge, science and superstition, light and dark. He might have added sublimity and schlock. Every few weeks or so, my daughter and I plunge into that twilight zone known as the cinema. Sometimes, we find quality in the lowest budget movies. Other times, we leave an A-rater in disappointment.
This time, we found ourselves truly in the middle ground. Beyond the Time Barrier hardly has the luster of a high-budget production, but neither is it the worst of the C-rate sludge.
First, a summary:
Major William Allison is a modern-day Air Force test pilot. At the zenith of his first suborbital flight in the “X-80” (looking suspiciously like one of the new F-102 interceptors), he finds himself hurled forward some 64 years. He does not discover this immediately–when Allison arrives at the decayed ruins of “Sands Air Force Base,” he hasn’t a clue what’s happened. This bit is nicely done and strongly reminiscent of the debut episode of The Twilight Zone, even to Allison’s shouting of its title: “Where is everybody?”
We soon find out. Allison is shot unconscious by a ray gun controlled by the Security Captain of an underground citadel. When the pilot comes to, he is in the custody of several armed guards and one lovely young maiden. After a brief questioning by the Captain and his boss, the citadel’s “Controller,” and a stint in the city dungeon, populated by bald mutants, Allison is given free run of the city. It seems that Trirene, the Controller’s granddaughter, has taken a liking to Allison. The pilot finds the city a strange place, beautifully constructed, but its people are all deaf-mutes with the exception of the Controller, his Captain, and the insane-seeming mutants. Trirene is a special case–she is a telepath, which makes things awfully convenient for Allison.
There is one other group of humans in the city: the Escapes. Like Allison, they are people who flew their spacecraft fast enough, and in the right trajectories, to end up in the future. Two are scientists from 1994, residents of planetary colonies. Another is a Russian space pilot from 1973. They inform Allison that the Earth has been doomed by atomic testing, which has destroyed the atmospheric/magnetospheric layer that protects the surface from hard radiation. All the people left are sterile or mutated. Allison is wanted so that he can mate with Trirene and foster a new generation.
Lucky Allison! But he is persuaded by the Escapes to try flying back in his rocket plane on a path that will take him back to 1960 in the hopes that he might warn the world of their impending doom. The Russian pilot frees all the mutants as a distraction–they ravage the city, pouncing on the fleeing citizens and eating them alive. This is the scene the trailers boasted as making the film “the scariest ever made!” More on this later.
Then the plan goes to Hell. Each of the Escapes, in turn, betrays Allison for a chance to fly back to their own time. Trirene is killed in a scuffle with the last one. The Controller, bereaved, wishes Allison luck and sends him on his way.
My daughter observed at this point, “I don’t know how they got the cameraman up there… but they sure aren’t going to be able to bring him down!”
Allison makes it back, and he is able to warn his colleagues, but the movie has a twist: Allison has returned an old, feeble man–the consequence of Breaking the Time Barrier.. backwards, I imagine.
I’ll be honest in my admission that i enjoyed the film, though I likely would not remember it a year from now if not for the commiting of my thoughts on it to print in this article. There is uneven pacing, some truly bad acting (particularly the Captain), ridiculous science, and plot holes big enough to plunge an X-80 through (for instance, if the scientists who drew up Allison’s flight plan all wanted to go back to their own time, how can Allison use that plan to get back to 1960?). The special effects are of the crudest sophistication. I can take or leave the “atomic testing will doom us” plot. I find that reviewers often praise a movie for its moralizing messages, but this one falls flat for me.
But the citdael is lovely, with a fine unifiying triangular motif. I have since learned that the “set” was actually a model city of the future built for the Texas State Fair in Dallas last year. There are two female characters of note: the truly lovely and charming Trirene and the canny Russian pilot, Markova. I thought the scenes depicting the mutant attack were effective, though my daughter cared too little about the citizens to be disturbed by their grisly deaths. I appreciated the lack of antagonists through much of the movie.
My daughter called the film “mediocre.” She may be right, but the film won’t be a total waste of your evening, particularly if the popcorn is extra tasty.
I’m off to Japan, tomorrow! Expect updates to be slightly delayed, but with exciting photographic supplements.