Clockmaker (1998)

(aka Timekeeper)

I have to confess that I find the idea of children’s films put out by Full Moon Features to be a very strange notion.  But, for a brief moment, they did release a fair number of them under the Moonbeam Pictures name.

As far as I know, none of them have deadly puppets, but I could be wrong.

This one, although it lists a “Christopher Rémy” as its director was actually directed by Christopher Coppola.  While I’m sure he’d rather be remembered as a pioneer in the field of digital film, he is Francis Ford’s nephew and Nicholas Cage’s younger brother.  There’s probably room here for some debate about nature vs. nurture, but we’ll pretend that we’re not all so cynical that we think who you know matters more.  

This is a marvelously visual film, which offers us a number of stunningly designed set pieces on what had to be a minimal budget.  I love the strange, somewhat organic look of the future scenes, with their inexplicable pipes (apparently internet connections) that seem to have grown randomly out of all the interior and exterior walls.  There is a wild sequence when the children enter the titular Clockmaker’s apartment and immediately run afoul of a goofy funhouse killer clock security system, complete with big rolling gears and potentially lethal giant pendulums.  And the top-hatted, black-dressed assassins from an alternate future are delightfully sinister.

Unfortunately, like many of their films at the time, this one was made in Romania because it was very, very cheap.  Most of the cast are local talent, with other voices dubbed in.  While the children weren’t locals, they give decidedly flat performances and just aren’t interesting enough.  The basic story is reasonably exciting (if a little familiar), the script isn’t bad, yet it all falls just a touch flat.  I suspect that it would have helped if they’d given it a somewhat less leisurely pace and maybe knocked ten minutes off the running time.  And spent more money on the acting talent.

Still, I think it should be entertaining enough for its target audience — children — even if could have been a far better film with a little effort and maybe one of the Fanning sisters.  I would have liked it far more if it had been shorter, but its weird visuals do seem to linger long after you’ve forgotten most of the rest of the film.

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