Timescape (1992) AKA Grand Tour: Disaster in Time

“There is a purpose to time, you know. Keeps everything from happening all at once.”

Justin’s rating: Do you believe in second chances?

Justin’s review: Somewhere along the line of my movie watching career, I’ve realized that I’m kind of a big David Twohy fan. He’s written and directed some terrific stuff (Pitch Black and The Arrival come to mind), and I’ve made it a mission to see the rest of what he’s done. This took me back to his very first gig in the director’s chair, that of 1992’s Timescape — or, as it is more awkwardly known, Grand Tour: Disaster in Time.

Widower Ben Wilson (Jeff Daniels in peak ’90s form) is taking care of his daughter Hilary (Ariana Richards) in a rural town when suddenly a tour bus pulls up loaded with strange people. They barge into his inn — which isn’t quite ready for business, but a fat wad of cash convinces Ben otherwise — and unpack a whole lot of weirdness.

These people claim to be from southern California, but Ben has his doubts after watching how they wander around like they’re in a museum looking at strange artifacts. Turns out that, wouldn’t you believe it, they are tourists — only from the future. And as Ben discovers to his horror, they’re all kind of disaster junkies, traveling back to places like Pompeii to witness some of the most devastating moments in history.

And now they’re in Ben’s town.

C’mon, tell me that’s not already far better than most tired time travel movie concepts! What I really loved here is that as this is happening, Ben is struggling with the grief and guilt over losing his wife. This situation ends up on a collision course with the time tourists, as Ben is downright desperate to keep his daughter safe.

I don’t want to say anything else about the plot, because there are more twists and revelations than what I shared. Let me just say that there’s an actual meaty story here that’s more takes the viewer on a wildly inventive ride.

I’ve seen a lot of time travel movies, and I must say that for a first-time effort by Twohy, this one is incredibly well-done. Like, it may just have jumped into my Top 10 in this sub-genre. What really makes it work is the time and effort put into the characters. Daniels is pumping out the same likable everyman charm that he had in Arachnophobia, and Richards is an eminently watchable child actor. She rocked it in Tremors and Jurassic Park back in the day. The tour bus driver Oscar is another cool figure who ends up bonding with Ben over the oddity of these visitors.

Timescape takes a little bit to really get going, but it is never, ever boring. Terrific acting, a growing mystery, heightening tension, genuine drama, familial love, a chance at redemption, and a heavy dose of time traveling make this a gem that deserves to get discovered a whole heck of a lot more than it has already. Take this as a very strong recommendation: See this movie!

Didja notice?

  • Death by sideways horse kick. I mean, it’s tragic, but what a way to go!
  • Using flash cards to test your kid while driving don’t seem that safe
  • Ben is remarkably cool about strange people walking into his home
  • The casual mention of the church bells not ringing — that’ll come in useful later
  • His father-in-law is a piece of work
  • Daniels’ “OK, good luck!” when he peels out of the parking lot after realizing that he dressed up his kid for the wrong spirit day at school cracked me up
  • “Rules that say we can’t talk about the rules.”
  • The tourists refer to people in the past at “Bygoners”
  • I’m not one for people punching women in the face, but I’ll agree that this one was justified.
  • Oscar’s laconic “figure they’re all gonna kill us” is well done.
  • The future tourists’ Mardi Gras outfits are terrifying
  • How to open a door quickly: buzzsaw!
  • How Ben gets the time passport to work
  • The door is whole again — that’s a neat way of showing that we’ve gone back in time
  • The bells scene is quite well done

One comment

  1. You’ve said it all about good (and they’re really good) sides of this strong debut. It has some TV look, but it’s not annoying, because it could pass like an episode from ‘Twilight Zone”.
    I’ll try not to spoil anything, but maybe it could have been even better if character got stuck in his second visit to the past. In that case, whole concept of grief would went even further, and this movie could have been one of the best examples how tragic guilt kills logic in lives.

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