Time Tracers (1997)

It’s hard to know where to even begin with this one.

Imagine the shock of watching one of the most dirt cheap SF films imaginable and suddenly finding a stunningly realistic stop motion animated T-Rex up on the screen – and before long, a lot of other, equally impressive beasts.

Mind you, it’s not long before it starts looking familiar and it becomes painfully obvious that they stole it from a far better film (and yes, I did correctly identify it as coming from Planet of Dinosaurs, which has a very similar mix of great dino animation and poor acting – and which due to neglect is now in the Public Domain).

Mind you, it isn’t the only impressive sequence, as there’s an antique train which ends up in a spectacular wreck; an alien spaceship and a shuttle crash; a Civil War battle; and, of course, everyone’s favorite, a car chase.

However, sharp eyed viewers will recognize the train from the wonderful Hammer-esque Horror Express, and the space sequences from Planet of Dinosaurs (again).  The Civil War footage was shot at a re-enactment.

Only the car chase was an original – if that’s the right word for it.

Another curious detail is the overly complex plot:  we’ve got at least three different strands of the story, each of which brings in another set of characters, most of whom are barely developed.  Who has time when you have to fit in the devious billionaire industrialist, the bubble-headed girlfriend, the journalist, the hired thug, the security expert and his partner/not quite girlfriend, and, of course the mildly demented scientific genius played by cult favorite Jeffrey Combs who gets very little to do here.

But the ideas here are decidedly interesting, even if the film looks and feels dead cheap and the acting is basically flat.  We’ve got the time machine, which sends the team’s atoms halfway across the Galaxy to get them back to the age of the dinosaurs; the newly discovered Anthrosaurus (aka, “Dinoman”), a humanoid dinosaur smart enough to learn how to make his own bow and arrow (if shot at); wise aliens; laser guns; the world’s dumbest uniforms (matched from Planet of Dinosaurs, like the cast); a Russian scientist with a deadly secret (who doesn’t last long); and a series of “time ripples” at the end, just like those in A Sound of Thunder (and I do mean just like, as in, could they have stolen their plot from here?).

Oh, well. Clearly, despite its flaws and general amateurishness, it is one of the more interesting direct to video films of the 90s.  It is intriguing to picture what it would have been like with a budget and better actors.

But then we could as easily say that about Planet of Dinosaurs, too.

So if you walk into this one with a clear understanding of what you’re up against, and can accept its flaws for what they are, then you’ll probably enjoy this film.

But if you refuse to accept its flaws?

Then sooner or later, you’re going to miss out on a lot of interesting films.

 

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