Beyond the Time Barrier (1960)

threehalfstar

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I honestly don’t expect a lot out of my genre films in terms of dialogue or narrative. The most tepid performances & the most dully hamfisted morality play plot structures are totally excusable to me as long as the film can make up for its shortcomings in terms of style. Something that really tickled me about the time travel sci-fi cheapie Beyond the Time Barrier is that it wholly commits its entire style/aesthetic to a single-minded image: the triangle. According to this film everything in the future is made of triangles: doorways, TV screens, desks, windows, goatees. Even the (too frequent) transitional wipes between scenes are triangle shaped, a choice that dives head first into stylistic overkill. Beyond the Time Barrier‘s anti-nuclear war message wasn’t likely to stand out too much amidst much better films with the same technology-has-gone-too-far-too-fast sentiment: Godzilla, Them!, The Fly, etc. The way it wholly commits to an all-triangles future makes for an interesting, memorable look for such a dinky little cheapie, though, and I have great respect for genre films with that kind of stylistic followthrough.

A US Air Force pilot in the dead center of the Cold War space race flies a newly designed aircraft into the upper atmosphere that speeds beyond the sound barrier, breaking “the time barrier” and landing in the year 2024. After a brief 28 Days Later style tour of Earth’s desolated surface (something to look forward to next election cycle, I guess), he becomes a victim of a surveillance state tasing, gets dragged to an Oz-like “citadel,” and is imprisoned in a bell jar. His new temporal home is a sort of space age variation on the HG Wells classic The Time Machine. Radioactive mutants roaming the wasteland outside the citadel are rounded up & imprisoned underground (behind trangle-shaped jail cell bars, of course). Those not fully mutated were left sterile & abandoned by the humans who escaped to the new colonies on Venus & Mars. They plan to breed their latest captor, the American alpha male pilot, with their last hope: a telepathic mute daughter of their new nobility. She is a strange cocktail of the ideal 1950s macho male fantasy (cheerful, quiet, smart, obedient), but our hero longs to return to his own time anyway, escaping a life as a future-gigolo so that he can selflessly warn the people of Earth that their Cold War nuclear proliferation will lead to a global plague. The variation in the plot here is that the planet never had a chance to be destroyed in a nuclear war because merely testing the bombs poisoned the atmosphere enough to cause a global unraveling, but otherwise it’s not so different from any other atomic age paranoia sci-fi you can conjure. It just happens to feature more triangles than you’re used to.

Does our hero make it back to his own time to warn the people of Earth about the consequences of their evil atomic ways? I’ll bet you can answer that question for yourself. Again, there’s nothing especially radical about Beyond the Time Barrier in terms of narrative, but the film does manage to get by on the strength of its detail. Besides the Mid-Century Modern sleekness of its triangular future world, the film also features some nifty moments of plague-zombie chaos and a cool Twilight Zone reveal about how time travel can drastically affect the way your body ages. Of course, with a genre film this evidently cheap there’s going to be details that are only good for a laugh: Ed Woodian reliance on stock footage, oscillating bleep bloop machines, adorably pathetic aircraft miniatures, brushed off explanations of psuedo-science peppered with phrases like “certain mathematical equations . . .”; you get the picture. A little camp value is more than welcome in a small scale genre picture like this, though. Beyond the Time Barrier is efficient in its omni-triangle futurism, and consistently goofy in its heavy-handed sci-fi browbeating. As someone who watches way too many of these things on a regular basis, I can gladly say that was more than enough to make this one worthwhile. I’ve seen plenty of other films with the exact same basic structure play out with much less entertainment value & far less style, even if all of this film’s style was tossed in one trangle-shaped basket.

-Brandon Ledet

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