Thursday, September 22, 2011

Time Chasers (1994) – MST3K Review

Nick Miller (Matthew Bruch) has just created a time machine using his small plane and a combination of his old Tandy computer and his Nintendo Entertainment System. As a result he can fly through awesome colorful visual effects and land in a futuristic shopping mall. He’s convinced he can make some serious coin doing this so he contacts Lisa Henson (Bonnie Pritchard) a local journalist and corporate big-shot J.K. Robertson (George Woodard).

Well wouldn’t you know it, Robertson is out to turn the time machine into a weapon! So Nick and Lisa must race against time (see, because it’s a time travel movie!) to top Robertson. Prepare yourself for early 90s fashions, time paradoxes and a trip back to the American Revolution as the Time Chasers attempt set things right.

Movie Review:
Also known as Tangents, this is actually a good bit of independent movie making fun. Sure it’s a bit silly and looks dated, but there’s a fun story at the center and the cast and crew are obviously enthusiastic about the project. This is one of those cases where the sum of the parts don’t add up to a stellar whole.

The movie was filmed in 1990, and you get a strong 80s vibe off the whole affair (Lisa’s outfits and hair in particular are very late 80s). But it’s also a movie more inspired by Spielberg than Tarantino. The movie aims for thrills and adventure over snarky dialogue and angst (two trademarks of the mid and late 90s). So the movie was already dated by the time it was released.

Filmed entirely in Vermont by a plucky group of independent filmmakers, you get the feeling that this is a labor of love. Sadly to make a solid sci-fi effort dealing with time travel to the future and the distant past, you need quite a bit of cash. That’s where things fall apart. The time machine itself is ridiculously low tech. One of the benefits of the Back to the Future trilogy (which was obviously a huge inspiration here) is that we never get a good look or understanding of how the time machine works. All the mechanisms and glowing lights are more fantastical than straight up science. Time Chasers makes the mistake of showing us the computers used and the old floppy discs that supposedly store all the time travel technology. Not only does this immediately date the film, but stretches the credibility for anyone vaguely familiar with the limits of 80s computer technology.

The script itself is actually handled pretty well. There are a few plot holes, but the movie breezes by them, so you don’t really notice until you think about it afterward. Unfortunately some of the acting is suspect. Our main character Nick is like a variation on the character Richard Dreyfuss played in Jaws, and Bruch seems to be channeling Dreyfuss any chance he gets. Our main character is the nerdy hero who gets in over his head. But the script has our hero make some boneheaded decisions and Bruch approach can make Nick actually abrasive at times.

Henson is hit or miss, sometimes fitting the part of the dogged journalist with a thing for scientists with huge chins. Other times she seems lost or confused (maybe the patterns on her clothing hypnotized her). Woodard is having a blast as the evil villain, yeah he’s over the top, but he makes the whole thing more fun. The rest of the cast is either over the top or stumbling through lines (friends of the cast and crew I suspect).

The special effects used for the time travel are low budget and silly. You can’t help but laugh. However I have to give them credit for creating as much of a futuristic look to the mall as they could with the budget they probably had. The two future scenes (one attempting the bright Back to the Future Part 2 style future, the other the cruddy post-WWIII future that looks like old Detroit from Robocop) try to do a lot with very little. Sadly it isn't too convincing. For the American Revolution scenes, director David Giancola recruited the local reenactment group and had some fun. Sure some of these guys look as close to minutemen as I would have back in the 90s (hey I had the ponytail!). But its not everyday you get a group of redcoats chasing around a business exec who happens to have an UZI with him.

The movie boasts a few action scenes with Nick and Lisa attempting to escape some corporate goons or maybe some crazed future denizens. The most memorable scenes are when Nick attempts to escape from pursuers in a car while riding a bike (inspired by The Final Sacrifice perhaps?). The other scene has Nick attempting to climb down a tree before his own plane falls down on him. This scene is very close to the similar one in Jurassic Park that would come out a few years later. Was Spielberg inspired by Time Chasers?

What it comes down to is a movie that overstretches its reach. Sci-fi usually relies on special effects, and even if you have a fun and entertaining story to work with, if the surrounding elements look shoddy it can be a deal breaker for some viewers. But not for me. I appreciate the effort the cast and crew put in. It’s a flawed but fun movie. Still it has a lot of material to work with for our favorite riffing crew.

Episode Review:
Time Chasers is the middle episode of the heroic three episode conclusion to season eight. These three episodes are some of my favorite from the entire series run, mostly because they all fit into one my favorite genres: cheesy 80s sci-fi. And while Time Chasers is technically 90s, it is so rooted in 80s style that it fits right in.

Part of me thinks Mike and the bots come down a little too hard on a movie that was obviously made by a group of independent filmmakers who tried their best with the resources they had. But the final result is an episode that is so funny and entertaining in its own right that I think the whole thing works better together: like chocolate and peanut butter.

They pretty much go after everything in the movie from our nerdy hero (Crow quips “I refuse to accept this guy as our hero. You hear that movie?") to the hideous early 90s fashions (Tom says, “I’m a naked robot and even I know you don’t dress like that").

They have a lot of fun with Woodard’s villainous performance as well as his office (which looks like it was filmed in a library or mall). Woodard has some odd speech patterns and they pick right up on it, adding lines and mimicking him exactly. Anytime he’s on the screen they have a good time.
They also comment on everything during the actual time travel sequences, from the costumes, sets and especially the Revolutionary War extras. Mike wonders how fast the British would have won if these guys were defending our country.
While there are a few slow spots, they are few and far between. You get one of the best riffing sessions of season eight. And while I prefer Space Mutiny and Overdrawn at the Memory Bank, it’s a strong middle episode in this trilogy of riffing.

The host segments are some of the best of the season taking the time travel element and having some real fun with it. The opening segment has Mike trying to avoid saying the phrase Lost in Space or else something horrible will happen. Then Mike and Pearl have a nice chat in her van. It’s actually a nice little scene with Crow popping in for some laughs.

At the first break Tom decides that the only way to keep Mike from becoming a prisoner on the Satellite of Love is to send Crow back and time and convince him not to take the temp job that would land him in this mess. Well Crow goes back in time all right but things don’t go as planned. When Crow gets back, he discovers that Mike’s brother Eddie (also played by Mike) is now the poor dope on the SOL. And Eddie is a chain smoking, beer swilling jerk who uses Tom Servo as an ashtray! After suffering through a riffing session with Eddie, Crow travels back in time in the next segment to stop himself from convincing Mike to not take the temp job. The final segment has Mike and Pearl discussing the movie and Crow’s time travel adventure. But Pearl points out that somewhere in the 1980s another version of Crow is wandering around. The episode ends with Crow working in a cheese factory in the 80s.

So not only do you get a really fun riffing session, but a solid (if low budget) time travel film and some of the best host segments from the Sci-fi era of the show. This episode easily gets five pink blazers out of five.

This episode is available on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection: Volume 5


  1. Great review! Loved this episode also.

    “I refuse to accept this guy as our hero!"

  2. Thanks! Easily one of the best of Season Eight and possibly one of the best of the series.