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"the worst SF films ever made"
The Time Guardian (1987)
Director: Brian Hannant

review by Ron Demkiw

If you have forgotten what The Time Guardian is about your memory has shown a great mercy to your mind. It is a Carrie Fisher and Dean Stockwell movie shot in Australia. It is about a time travelling city from the desolate far future that materialises in 1980s' outback Australia and is being hunted by Dalek-inspired mutant cyborgs. It is a lot of codswallop.

James Cameron used a lot of the same kind of genre material in The Terminator so, in my opinion, there was nothing in principle wrong with the premise of this movie; the themes could have formed the basis of a half-decent movie, if not a good one. Unfortunately what happened instead was a great cinematic hymn to ineptitude.

Due to its release on DVD, The Time Guardian has been extensively reviewed, often quite amusingly, elsewhere on the Internet, and I have no intention of repeating any such views here, but there are a couple of points I believed have been missed. Careful viewing of the DVD reveals the cyborgs have no robotic lower half: their lower half appear to be corduroy trousers and boots. They look like work-for-the-dole recipients stumbling blindly around in cardboard boxes on the upper half of their bodies.

The film is full of missed narrative opportunities. For instance, the filmmakers make an elementary blunder in revealing the cyborgs almost in the first shot, thereby instantly eliminating 50 percent of the reason an audience would want to keep sitting through the movie. It is a basic rule of genre films that you don't reveal your monster for as long as possible, and then in bits and pieces. The cyborg enemy should have remained an unseen menace, revealed by their bloody handiwork, for at least the first 40 percent of the movie. There should have been a gory cyborg autopsy.

The film abounds with genre references. Stockwell's character is called 'Boss', a direct reference to Things To Come (1936), and the film appears to owe something to James Blish's Cities In Flight stories, and William Hope Hodgson's The Night Land, and a lot of the plot is almost a reversal of Doctor Who And The Daleks (1965). One of the puzzling things about the movie is that the scriptwriter, John Baxter (author of Science Fiction In The Cinema), has all this genre knowledge, yet fails so disastrously in his own screenplay. One can feel sorry for the simps who usually write bad sci-fi movies, but what excuse does Baxter have?

Being a survivor of the Doctor Who story The Horns Of Nimon, I have attained an almost superhuman tolerance for bad movies, and can swallow all kinds of ludicrous hokum, but what I can't forgive in The Time Guardian is the incredibly lame ending. The enemy stops and lets itself get mown down by a ray thingy.

The points of interest for me are that someone I know was a production assistant on the film, and in 1985 I saw a cyborg prop on display in the theatre. It looked like cardboard. At the time the movie looked like an embarrassment and I avoided it, but over the years it pursued me and eventually caught up to me on television. Thankfully I forgot a lot of it, but I could not believe that any movie was as bad as I remembered The Time Guardian to be. When I saw the DVD, to my dismay it was even worse than I remembered it to be.
Time Guardian

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