Saturday, March 26, 2011

Beyond the Time Barrier

Spoiler Level: High

This is an old black-and-white movie from 1960, one year before Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space.  It's a product of its time, playing on the concept of man going into space being a complete unknown, and (of course) serving as a warning against the use of nuclear weapons.

Major Bill Allison is flying the first space plane, designed to fly straight up into space.  During the flight, his plane ends up breaking the time barrier, and he arrives back on Earth 65 years later, in the year 2024.

And here is why I find these kind of movies fun-- we get a look at what they predicted Earth's future would be like.  After the first manned moon landing, the Earth banded together and colonized Mars and Venus in 1970.  But fallout from nuclear weapon testing has worn away the protective layers of Earth's atmosphere, resulting in the Earth being bombarded by cosmic radiation.  In 1971, this radiation caused a plague, causing people to mutate and resulting in future generations being born deaf, dumb and sterile.

Ahhh, if only the Earth had banded together after the first moon landing, instead of only going a half a dozen times and then never going back again. I also loved how they were predicting colonies on Mars and Venus just ten years into their future.  I'm guessing we didn't know how brutal the conditions on Venus are back then? However I have to give them points for coming close to predicting the hole in the Ozone Layer and Global Warming.  And even Major Allison's jet is similar in concept to Virgin's space plane.

Most of the dialogue and some of the acting is pretty bad, so much so that I was surprised this movie was never used on MST3K.  Heaven knows my wife and I were playing MST3K with it on our own. The science is pretty laughable as well.  ("Gravity has no effect on time!") And then of course there's the cigarettes, with Air Force officials lighting up in the hospital.  But that's part of what makes these old SF movies fun.

As to things I genuinely did like about the movie:  They actually had access to an Air Force jet, which was pretty impressive, and the model work when the jet is dropping its stabilizers looked a lot better than I expected.  There's some very cool paintings used to show the future city, which granted don't fit in with the actual movie footage well, but are still neat to look at.  And the future city is obsessed with triangles.  The place is full of them, the doors, the walls, the support pillars, everything is triangles, even the dissolve wipes from scene to scene, all of which makes for some very neat camera angles.  I liked the triangles.

So really, it's not as bad as an Ed Wood movie, but still bad enough to be fun, and good enough that I never got bored with it.

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