Beyond the Time Barrier (1960)

Time travel is a subject which has been addressed occasionally in films with varying degrees of success. For the most part these adventures usually entail journeying into Earth’s imminent future and can provide an interesting basis for speculation of what might be in store for humanity. Probably the best cinematic examples of this brand of storytelling are George Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE (1960) and Franklin J. Schaffner’s PLANET OF THE APES (1968).

With such an engaging title as BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER and the promising premise of an intrepid jet pilot traversing through the stratosphere with his supersonic aircraft into the far-flung future (2024) one would expect to be in store for quite an experience. However this film offers very little that is new from previous efforts like Edward Bernds’s WORLD WITHOUT END (1956) and fails to be particularly memorable or provide any genuine excitement.

This film’s main weakness is its thin story line (the pilot soars into the future, is briefly taken prisoner by the existing society there and eventually escapes back to the present circa 1960) coupled with some ideas which have potential that is never successfully realized. Considering how dialogue heavy this movie is it has a strange inarticulate quality. Vague characters are introduced (a trio of captive scientists designated as “escapes” from Earth colonies on neighbouring planets who also accidentally travelled through time and miraculously ended up in the precise same era as the jet pilot) but the amount of exposition required to explain exactly who they are, where they came from and their role in this society of tomorrow renders them virtually incoherent to the viewer.

When the jet pilot resolves to return to the present (to warn the authorities about the cosmic radiation plague which will ravage the Earth of 1971 due to a depletion of the planet’s protective atmospheric layers eroded by constant atomic weaponry testing) in traversing the time warp a second time he physically accelerates into an aged infirm yet he is still able to safely land his craft and recount his experience. While the sight of our now withered and wrinkled hero has some shock value it really serves no purpose since the pilot’s mind remains unimpaired and he is able to alert his superiors at the air base hospital of the impending calamity that awaits mankind. Had he been unable to do so it would have effectively given some tragic irony to the story.

The film’s one bright moment occurs when the pilot (after penetrating the barrier of time) touches down his craft at the site of his former air base and explores the now bleak and desolate landscape only to find everything in ruins and in a state of total disuse. Some effort is made to show the exterior of the futuristic city complex encountered by the pilot in a series of interesting drawings (coupled with a superimposed animated glow effect) and the surrealistic styling of the city complex’s geometrically designed interiors have the proper out-of-this-world look to them. The sequences of the jet aircraft time travelling through the star-filled heavens are passable and Darrell Calker’s competent orchestrations easily transcend this movie’s shaky dramatics and ponderous events the music was designed to underscore.

If seen as a curio of 1950’s sci-fi cinema BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER might hold some interest for the inquisitive or have some special appeal for hard core devotees of director Edgar G. Ulmer’s work but this misfire effort will doubtlessly leave the more objective and discerning viewer with complete indifference and boredom. Had the script been more capably handled the result might have been some minor masterpiece and a more fitting epitaph to an underrated and much neglected talent.

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