Time Chasers (1994) (part 1 of 3)
In Time Chasers, amateur Vermont filmmaker David Giancola writes and directs a zero-budget homage to the Back to the Future trilogy, complete with an unorthodox time machine, jumps back and forth from the ‘50s to the near future, and a few instances of people meeting their past/future selves. It was made on the (really, really) cheap, the special effects are bargain basement, and the acting is (to put it mildly) laughable, but it isn’t nearly as bad as people might tell you. And by “people”, I of course mean MSTies.
This movie gained a reputation for being terrible thanks to an appearance on Mystery Science Theater 3000, but if you watch the actual, unedited movie, you’ll find that Time Chasers is a surprisingly entertaining action film given its miniscule budget, with a few funny lines and an occasionally thoughtful plot.
Nick Miller is a dorky Vermont scientist with a horrifying brown mullet and Jay Leno’s chin. Using nothing more than an ancient PC and a Commodore-64, Nick has singlehandedly created a time machine that he calls “the Time Transport”.
For reasons never made clear, the Transport has been built into a small propeller-driven plane, and every time Nick travels through time he has to take off and land, as well as pass through a cheap special effect that looks like the feedback loop when you point a camcorder at its own monitor.
At the start of the film, Nick returns from a successful flight to the future, which is illustrated by him handing his mechanic friend a JFK half-dollar from the year 2041—though I don’t even think they still make these things now.
High on his amazing breakthrough, and fully aware that he is now officially the first human being to travel through time, Nick immediately… goes home to watch TV. And as he heads home, we learn that Nick Miller is a different sort of action hero. He doesn’t own a car, and he prefers to ride a bike. No, not a motorcycle. A bicycle. Which puts him in the same league as rough and tumble action heroes like Jupiter Jones.
During a commercial break in a late night movie, Nick sees an ad for a company called “Gen-Corp”, which features CEO J.K. Robertson talking about how his company is always on the lookout for new ideas from inventors.
The next day, a shirtless Nick gets on the phone and invites a Gen-Corp representative down to the airfield to see the Time Transport in action. But he does it on the pretense of showing off a new type of fuel intake. Then he calls up the local newspaper and invites a reporter to come down to the airfield, but this time he makes up a story about a skydiving grandma. Naturally, both parties eagerly accept the invitation. I guess not a whole lot happens in Vermont.
Down at the airfield, the reporter shows up, and she’s Lisa Henson, a woman with a soccer mom haircut who happens to have been one of Nick’s high school classmates. And then the Gen-Corp rep shows up, a guy named Matthew Paul, who looks a lot like Jon Lovitz in a televangelist’s pink/white suit and a bad hairpiece.
Nick takes them both up in the plane, where he confesses that he lied to them. He says they never would have believed the truth, which is that he’s actually built a time machine. He points to the Commodore-64 in the cockpit as proof and tells them, “The computer runs through a series of equations in about eight picoseconds! Obviously, I had to speed up the computer’s RAM quite a bit for that!” Come on, that’s just plain ridiculous. 64K ought to be enough for anybody. Even if they are traveling through time.
Nick explains the process by which his plane is able to travel into the future, and he even says that to return to the past, all he has to do is “reverse the polarity”. Because if there’s anything that Star Trek has taught the world, it’s that you can do pretty much anything by reversing the polarity. Later, I plan to reverse the polarity on my DVD player and turn this into a professional looking movie.
Lisa and Matthew think he’s nuts at first, but Nick proves his story by flying them through the video feedback loop into the year 2041. Strangely, it’s Lisa who suggests flying to 2041, even though she couldn’t possibly know that’s where Nick just came back from.
Amazingly, 2041 will look remarkably similar to 1991. But there are subtle hints that the future is much more environment-friendly: Everyone rides bikes instead of driving, and Matthew sees a placard on a building claiming it’s made of “recycled material”.
Oh yeah, and some kid is holding a small device to his ear, meaning Time Chasers accurately predicted the invention of cell phones! Except for the part where cell phones were actually invented in the 1970s. Still, when it comes to predicting devices that already exist, this movie comes astonishingly close.
Also, in some random place, a holographic preacher talks to a random woman, who seems rather bored by his sermon. And in the MST3k episode, Mike and the Bots quipped that the woman looks like Lisa Kudrow, and many fans, not realizing they were making what is commonly known as a “joke”, actually believed that Lisa Kudrow was in Time Chasers. For the record, this is not Lisa Kudrow.
Cut to the gang from 1991 taking in the wonders of the mid-21st Century… by having coffee at a mall food court. Of the future! And then the Back to the Future homage kicks off in earnest when Nick attempts to explain the science behind his time machine. But instead of anecdotes about falling off a toilet seat and thinking up the Flux Capacitor, Nick delivers an incredibly awkward analogy where the universe is his cup of coffee, and he and Lisa are the spoons. Well, eventually they’ll be spooning with each other, if that counts.
The gist is that what we perceive as “time passing” is really “Everything affecting everything all the time!” You see, the universe is like a big coffee cup, with “a trillion spoons” in it. When all you need is a knife.
Matthew, being your standard-flavor corporate weasel type, already sees the obvious financial applications of time travel, such as putting money in the bank a hundred years ago and collecting the interest in the present. But Nick wants no part of that sort of distasteful material gain, oh no. He only wants an “R&D grant” to “continue my work”, but given that he’s already able to bring three people into the future and return them unharmed, I’m not sure what further research needs to be done here. I would say he’s well past the proof of concept phase.
Lisa wonders how he envisions Gen-Corp using this technology, so Nick suggests studying the long term effects that humans are having on the environment. Then he adds with a completely straight face, “Or… maybe we could figure out a way to stop shooting at each other!” Or… maybe we could use the Time Transport to turn bombs and guns into kittens and rainbows! Seriously, what was the director smoking when he came up with that line?