Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison. It may not keep me sane, but it will probably always involve one guy shouting, “This doesn’t make any sense!” And that’s good enough for me.
THE GRAND TOUR (1992)
Ben Wilson (Jeff Daniels) is coping with the death of his wife by fixing up a small guest house with his daughter Hillary (Ariana Richards). Although he isn’t finished, a busload of weirdo tourists show up insisting that they be allowed to stay. Over the course of approximately fourteen hours of screentime, Ben discovers that these nutjobs are actually tourists from the future. But wait a minute… what’s the historical significance of this little podunk town? Unless– OH SHIIIIIIT…
I’m going to cut right to the good parts… unlike this movie does. The story here is great. It’s a neat concept, and it builds up to a pretty intense climax with lots of surprises. But… the… pacing… is… unbearably… slow…
Who… are… these… people? I’d… better… find… out…
If this story were purely a mystery to solve who these strangers are, maybe this pacing would have been appropriate. Perhaps as a slow, boring movie for your mom that ends with a surprise. And that’s a movie I wouldn’t recommend. The Grand Tour, however, builds at a glacier’s pace to a reveal in the middle (that’s given away on the box and the poster anyway), then has a race-against-time second half that should have been the speed of the whole thing.
Sure, I could have enjoyed not knowing that there’s time travel in this story, but it must be repeated: discovering that the tourists are time travelers is not where the movie ends. You can give that away in the first 20 minutes and get on with the actual, much more interesting story of what happens to the town and how Ben can prevent it. The build-up to this revelation is, admittedly, set up well, but it’s padded with some truly bizarre sequences like Ben spying on a future lady oiling up her tit.
Oh, did you think that was a joke?
Rated PG-13 for gratuitously unnecessary scenes.
Boob lube aside, this is a compelling story about love, bravery, and the fetishization of history, and it may have one of the most perfect ambiguous endings I’ve seen in a long time.
Jeff Daniels is pretty much always good in everything, and this is no exception. He plays dads well. And in this, he’s an Action Dad! Not full Neeson, mind you, but he’s willing to drive real fast and punch real hard in the name of fatherly love.
Oh, and do you recognize his daughter?
Here, she’s got a baseball hat. Does that help?
Yes, it’s Ariana Richards of Jurassic Park fame. Cinemanaut John would like to note that her acting is better here than on the ol’ dinosaur tour. She’s less of a tomboy in The Grand Tour, but I didn’t notice much of a difference in her performance. John’s probably just thrilled that she isn’t talking about UNIX.
THE SPECIAL EFFECTS:
You know, this certainly feels like a low budget film, but when shit goes down, shit really goes down.
The means of travel is a mere passport in which you write your destination and poof! You’re there! That may sound like magic, but it has blinky lights in the back. Science!
Phew! Thought there might be a wizard inside or something.
Time travel is represented as a simple cross-dissolve, which might make you laugh, but on the other side of the spectrum for stock sci-fi effects, the split screen used for time clones is spot-on, even with moving cameras. At least, I assume it looks good; I watched this on VHS.
- I couldn’t find this on DVD for under 40 dollars, which makes me think it never had an official DVD release. Go VHS if you can.
- The VHS opens with the two most contrasting trailers I’ve ever seen: Orson Welles’s Othello and the live-action Boris and Natasha movie.
- Tallying up IMDb, Wikipedia, the Leonard Maltin app, and the film’s own opening credits, this has five titles: Grand Tour, Disaster in Time, Grand Tour: Disaster in Time, Timescape, and The Grand Tour. While it’s based on the novel Timescape, I’ve chosen to go with the title that’s actually in the movie: The Grand Tour.
THE “NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE!” MOMENT:
For all the bonus points, Ben is shouting at himself about how time travel is all bullshit, but here we are.
“Fuck the physics, Ben! By the time you figure out whether it’s possible or not, we’re gonna be dead!”
One member of my viewing party actually left halfway through this movie. At just 99 minutes, it certainly feels much longer than it is, but you really should stick it out all the way to the end. I think, between the amount of time it takes Ben to figure out his guests are future people and the title switch from Timescape to The Grand Tour, the director wanted the audience to believe this was just a normal movie without any sci-fi shenanigans. This isn’t the right approach, but the script is both clever and fun, and again, it goes out strong. It appears ridiculously difficult to get a hold of, so don’t go nuts trying to track it down, but if you see a copy somewhere, pick it up and muscle through that first hour. I think you’ll enjoy it.
Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.