The Timekeepers of Eternity (2021)

It’s always interesting to see something old through new eyes.

In this case it is the classic Stephen King miniseries, The Langoliers — one of the few good adaptations of one of his stories I’ve seen.

But now Greek director Aristotelis Maragkos had re-imagined it, in a strange, condensed, animated form, which takes the obsessive paper-tearing habit of the tormented business executive, Craig Toomey (played with intensity by Bronson Pinchot) and uses it as the visual theme for reinterpreting the entire film.

The story plays out essentially the same way, with a group of people on a routine flight to Boston waking up to find the entire plane empty.  Things only get worse when they try to land at Bangor, Maine, and find the entire airport deserted and things somehow…wrong.

It’s a wonderfully nightmarish sort of story, but Maragkos makes it even stranger and creepier by using a unique form of collage animation: he painstakingly photocopied the original frames of the film, then used them to fracture and fragment the image, while combining and condensing scenes to tell the same story in a far more compact way, that puts Craig and his fears at the center of the new film.

I’ll note that Maragkos gives it a far darker ending than the original, but this deliberately unreal visual approach allows him to give the entire film a deeply subjective remake, with eyes appearing from nowhere and reality crumpling up at times like a discarded piece of paper.  In certain scenes, we even get glimpses of the animator’s hand at work.

It’s hard even to begin to describe the unexpected sui generis quality he achieves, with reality tearing into strips or someone’s head tearing open.  I found the airport climax particularly impressive: as much as I loved the Langoliers appearance at the end of the original miniseries, it always looked cartoonish and very CGI and looks even more so today, although not in a good way.

Here, they’ve been replaced with terrifying, torn paper monstrosities, while the dodgy CGI of the destruction of the terminal becomes far more abstract and yet somehow less unreal.

Watching a few of the original scenes, I’ll confess that I’m impressed by how he used the existing footage and dialogue in new ways, combining and rethinking scenes without changing a single line of dialogue.

At the same time, the excellent performances by a great cast (including both David Morse and Dean Stockwell) remain just as strong — and we even get to see Stephen King for a few minutes, in a surreal bit part.

Aristotelis’ film debuted at Fantastic Fest this year, although I’m not sure when — or if — it will escape the Indie Festival circuit.  I doubt if there will be too many films as strong out there, but I have to wonder how they would ever get the rights for even the most modest of DVD releases.  It may not use any of the original footage — not directly, at least — but don’t expect that to make it any simpler.

I hope I’m wrong.  This is a shorter, creepier, and punchier version of a reasonably good miniseries.  It does not feel like a bare skeleton of the original (perhaps because so much has been combined rather than cut) but eliminates the padding and dead weight and strips it down to its fighting weight, while adding a strange new visual language to the film.

It’s impressive, and remarkably watchable for what is clearly an art film.  It was made with an eye towards being effective and crowd-pleasing.

And, frankly, that would help most art films.

So keep your eyes open for a chance to see this one.  It’s worth the effort.

You never know, it might — if it drops through the right tear in the fabric of reality — end up on disk.

And you won’t want to miss it.

(My thanks to Wouter Jansen for providing a screener)

(Available through Alamo Drafthouse until October 4)



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The Rivets Zone:  The Best SF Movies You’ve Never Seen!



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