Andy's Anachronisms
Time Travel Film Reviews


The Time Shifters (1999)

Directed by Mario Azzopardi

The Basic Plot

This made-for-TV movie, commissioned by the TBS Superstation, stars Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers, Sleepy Hollow) as Tom Merrick, a former award winning reporter now down on his luck and forced to take a job at a trashy tabloid. Merrick's first assignment is to write a piece on America's worst disasters. During the course of his research Merrick begins to notice the same face in photos of several different disasters. Intrigued, Merrick brings the discovery to the attention of his editor, who responds by sending him to research the authenticity of the photos. Merrick's determination to find out how one man could be present at disasters spanning nearly a century set in motion a chain of events that threaten to alter the future and in turn Merrick's own family.

The Analysis

My expectations for Time Shifters were set fairly low before viewing this movie. Besides being a made-for-TBS movie, the plot seemed a little too similar to another made-for-TV movie Grandtour: Disaster in Time (1992) starring Jeff Daniels. (also known as Timescape). I had seen Grand Tour: Disaster in Time earlier this year on video and enjoyed it a great deal. Upon hearing that TBS was planning to make Time Shifters, I assumed, wrongly, that they couldn't possibly revisit the same story without the end result seeming derivative. Make no mistake about it, The Time Shifters is definitely an action movie, but fortunately someone out there took the time to make an intelligent movie that didn't gloss over the time travel aspects of the story. Nor were the characters cardboard cut-outs. Combined with a moderate dose of special effects, and decent acting, the story succeeds well beyond expectations.

While the movie succeeds on a number of levels, I felt there were a couple of week points that could not be overlooked. For starters the rationale for the entire Thrill Seekers operation seemed very weak. In Grand Tour: Disaster in Time the travellers motivation for visiting disasters of the past, was that the future had become a safe and predictable place and that by visiting the disasters of the past they were allow the thrill and terror of an actual disaster. In "The Time Shifters" we are told that the company offering the tours is operating illegally and one would presume that their motivation must be profit driven to risk the threat of imprisonment. This in turn raises the question what would motivate clients want to pay large sums to visit disasters throughout history? If time travel was at their disposal, then why not visit a time and a place with a lot more personal connection to them?

Another weak point in the story was the motivation of Catherine Bell's character Elizabeth Wintern in assisting Tom Merrick on his dangerous quest. Having only met Tom Merrick briefly, Elizabeth finds herself soon caught up in Merrick's quest, to the point of helping him escape from the FBI. Her motivation is partly explained by her "respect" for the former award-winning reporter, and her natural curiosity as a researcher. While somewhat plausible, these explanations could not overcome what seemed to me to be the more obvious role of her character as Merrick's love interest.These shortcomings aside, the story manages to incorporate a number of twists that might have been excluded had the powers-that-be desired a more straightforward action picture.

Once Merrick learns of the visitors' true motives he begins to attempt to advert a number of major disasters that have yet to occur in his own timeline. Merrick's action to save the lives of hundreds soon threatens the stability of the timeline that leads to the future. As agents from the Thrill Seekers organization attempt to stabilize the timeline and ensure the disasters occur as they always have, a debate arises as two which timeline is more valid. From Merrick's viewpoint, how could he allow hundreds to die just to preserve one possible future. From the agents' perspective, their own existence depends on these disasters happening as they always have. Merrick argues that all anyone can do in such a situation is act on what they do know and not how it might affect the distant future.

The story also introduces a number of interesting twists and paradoxes, most notably that the future inventor of the time travel device gets the inspiration from finding one of the devices near the end of the movie.

I recommend that you take a look at this movie next time it airs on TBS.

Canadian Content Alert!

A small aside, soon after the opening sequence of the story, I began to suspect The Time Shifters had been filmed in Canada, specifically Toronto. Besides the fact that some of the initial locations that seemed familiar, there seemed to be an inordinate amount of Canadian character actors strewn about to be anything but a Canadian production. I also became suspicious when Casper's son made a reference to watching a hockey game at Copps Coliseum. It could only be a reference to the actual Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario a short drive from Toronto. My suspicions were confirmed when a chase scene took place in and around Toronto's own Union Station. The Copps Coliseum also figure prominently in the movie as a scene for one of the disasters. Among the Canadian's spotted in this film, were Lawrence Dane (Kellogg's Special K commercial) as the older FBI agent, Kathleen Humphreys a local Toronto sportscaster as the reporter outside the Copps Coliseum and a familiar commerical actor whose name I don't know as the Arena announcer. The Arena Announcer can be seen in a number of Canadian commercials including Tim Horton's and a series of Toyota commercials where he appears as disembodied head inside a television. Anyone that can put a name to this face, I would appreciate if they could drop me a line.

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