The Day Time Ended (1979) The Day Time Ended (1979/1980) -***

     I remember seeing The Day Time Ended on the shelves of various video rental shops back in VHS days, but I never got around to watching it. Apocalyptic disaster movies in the vein of When Worlds Collide and The Day the Earth Caught Fire donít hold a lot of appeal for me, and I figured on the basis of the title that The Day Time Ended was one of those on a cosmic scale. Like maybe some maverick astrophysicist would discover that the Big Crunch was underway, setting off a race against time to punch an escape hatch through the fabric of space-time before the implosion of the universe reached Earthís neighborhood, you know? Thatís not what this movie is at all, however. When screenwriters David Schmoeller, J. Larry Carroll, Wayne Schmidt, and Steve Neill speak of time ending, they mean the total breakdown of the orderly, linear progression of past into present into future, making it impossible for the protagonists to keep track of where and when they are, even as they face down interlopers from all the possible histories of the universe. The whole thing plays a bit like what might have happened to Close Encounters of the Third Kind if Jaws hadnít made enough money to cover its cost overruns, leaving Steven Spielberg on the outs with the studios, and scrambling for work with any production company that would have him. It also plays a bit like how Close Encounters might have turned out if everyone involved had spent the nights following each dayís shooting dropping acid with Philippe Druillet and Renť Laloux.

     Because The Day Time Ceased to Be a Meaningful Concept is not an obvious or intuitive reading of The Day Time Ended, the movie opens with Grant (Jim Davis, from Dracula vs. Frankenstein and Satanís Triangle), the patriarch of the ensemble, explaining the situation in voiceover atop a succession of starfields. Time, he has learned, is a dimension in the same sense as the three spatial ones, meaning that past, present, and future exist simultaneously, just like the front, middle, and rear of a material object. Only the limits of human perception make it appear otherwise, and this is the story of how Grant and the other five members of his family had their eyes opened to timeís true nature by an unprecedented cosmic catastrophe. As for the catastrophe itself, it would appear to be touched off by the simultaneous supernovae of an entire trinary star system 200 light years from Earth. The writers wisely never attempt to explain how thatís supposed to work, but they do imply that itís a relativistic process rather than a quantum mechanical one by having the temporal distortions attendant upon the threefold stellar detonation arrive hot on the heels of the light from it.

     Naturally Grant and his family arenít paying much attention to reports of the weird goings on in space, despite the surprisingly voluminous media coverage that the triple supernova receives. Theyíre too busy moving the old man and his wife, Ana (Dorothy Malone, from Basic Instinct and Rest in Pieces), into the futuristic, solar-powered retirement compound designed and built for them by their hotshot architect son-in-law, Richard (Christopher Mitchum, of Once and The Serpent Warriors), deep in the desert of Southern California. The two men have been there a while already, getting the place in order, when Ana flies in from the opposite coast together with her daughter, Beth (Patricia Lafferty, from Kingdom of the Spiders and Impulse), and two grandkids, the pubescent Steve (Scott C. Kolden) and the much younger Jenny (Natasha Ryan, of Good Against Evil and The Amityville Horror). Richard wonít be sticking around, though, after the women and children arrive, because he has a big job for another client to attend to. That will put him in a position to play cavalry later on (or at least to make a game attempt at it), when the rapidly escalating strangeness at the homestead cuts off communications, giving Richard an inchoate bad feeling about what might be going on there in his absence.

     It would be misleading to characterize what happens from here on out as a plot. What we have, rather, is a bewildering parade of barely-connected manifestations, which Grant and his family are unable to thwart, to escape, or to do much of anything about at all. In that respect if no other, The Day Time Ended really does resemble the sci-fi disaster flick for which Iíd mistaken it all these years. Small increments of time start going missing, like when Grant finds the car he intended to start already running, even though neither he nor anyone else at the ranch turned it on. People on different parts of the property begin experiencing the passage of time differently, so that what feels like hours to someone out in the front yard might feel like mere moments to someone in the stable. Unidentified flying objects appear in droves, running the gamut from squadrons of seemingly incorporeal lights traveling in rigid formation to solid and evidently crewed alien spacecraft. The most irksome of the UFOs is a smallish drone war machine armed both with rayguns of various grades and something like a reversed tractor beam. Unearthly creatures invade the homestead, too, including an androgynous, dancing fairy; a predatory, reptilian monster somewhat like a theropod dinosaur; and what I can describe only as a cross between a gorilla and a hippopotamus, festooned with fully a dozen small, droopy teats. A green-glowing pyramid decorated with vaguely Mesoamerican-looking carvings pops into and out of existence at frequent but irregular intervals, sometimes at roughly the size of an overlarge bus-stop shelter, and sometimes as a tiny, toy-like charm. And of the greatest concern for the protagonists, the homestead begins suffering from recurrent vortices of radiant who-knows-what that transport anything caught inside them across time and/or space. Some of these intruders from the distant past, the distant future, or the distant present are hostile to the humans contending with them, while others are apparently friendly. Still others take no notice of Grant and company at all, or are merely impersonal, physical forces. Eventually, I think weíre meant to take it that the family winds up on a planet belonging to that star system that blew up 200 years before the start of the film, untold millennia in the past. The reason Iím not sure about that is because even the best home-video edition of The Day Time Ended is panned and scanned, so that itís impossible to tell whether there are supposed to be two suns in the alien sky or three.

     No one will be surprised to see Wayne Schmidt credited not only among The Day Time Endedís writers, but among its producers and special effects artists as well. Not since Bert I. Gordon got out of the embiggening business was there a film more obviously built around its effects. Schmidt and Steve Neill (who had done monster and gore makeup for End of the World and Laserblast in previous years) pitched a sci-fi adventure movie to Charles Band, but were told that their idea was going to cost too much, although Band was interested in principle. The first draft of The Day Time Ended was their second attempt, which was then rewritten by David Schmoeller and J. Larry Carroll. What actually made it to the screen, though, was yet another rewrite, this one evidently courtesy of an uncredited friend of director John ďBudĒ Cardos. In any case, the movie works much better as a showcase for the various effects shops affiliated with Charles Band Productions at the turn of the 80ís than it does as a work of visual fiction. Taken on its true level, though, itís honestly pretty impressive. On an implausibly low budget (much of which was needlessly gobbled up by building Grant and Anaís house to residential standards, rather than movie-set standards), The Day Time Ended offers up creditable examples of virtually every visual effects technique in circulation at the time, including stop-motion animation, matted-in miniature models, light-based optical effects, and even good old-fashioned matte paintings (the latter provided by Jim Danforth!). A lot of imagination went into the cavalcade of the bizarre that overwhelms Grantís ranch, and the premise of the film created a reasonable excuse to throw in just about everything that anyone involved in its creation could devise. My personal favorite bit, naturally, is the monster fight animated by Dave Allen (the destitute manís Ray Harryhausen), but even the simply-rendered squadron of precision-flying lights has its appeal, rooted as it is in authentic 1970ís UFO lore. The mysterious pyramid and the dancing fairyó the latter a sort of benign interpretation of the Hopkinsville Goblinsó similarly represent commendably earnest attempts to incorporate actual bits of the paranormal hooey that loomed so large across all of pop culture in those days. And although I stand by my statement that The Day Time Ended doesnít have a plot as such, the weird shit going on at the ranch has a rhythm and a sense of escalation about it that more or less successfully simulate certain features of a plot. This movie may be nonsense, but with closer scrutiny than most people will be inclined to give it, you may see that it isnít utter nonsense.

 

 

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