Saturday, December 4, 2010

Movie vs. Book: GRAND TOUR


They say you can never go back in time. I understand that, and yet I wanted to do a little bit of that myself. Back when I was a nineteen year old beginning genre and movie buff, I saw a movie on TV. I’d only seen it once, but the story and movie stuck with me and I would, now and then, talk about Grand Tour: Disaster in Time with great fondness. While at the used video store, I stumbled across a cheap copy paired as a triple feature disc with Prayer for the Rollerboys and Maniac Cop III. I snatched it up and giggled to myself with glee. I was even more thrilled when I found it was based on a C.L. Moore book because I knew Bill would be willing to do a “Book vs. Movie” on it.

I remembered the basic plot of Grand Tour (called Timescapes outside the US) rather clearly. An innkeeper finds out his latest guests are tourists from the future who travel back in time to visit the sights of great disasters, like most people would watch television. Armed with this knowledge, the innkeeper must figure out a: what the disaster is and b: can he stop it from happening. As a young fangirl, that was a new concept for me. As a seasoned fan, it’s a tale that gets told over and over again, but that didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the flick. I think a big part of that is the writing and the performances. You get so sucked into the story and the lives of these people that you don’t think about how other writers or directors have approached the idea. Instead, you go with the flow.

I don’t think this movie could have worked as well as it did if it weren’t for Jeff Daniels. He played the innkeeper, and he was so good at being completely believable in the most unbelievable of circumstances. A lesser actor couldn’t, upon travelling back in time and having a conversation with himself, couldn’t pull off the line, “Fuck the physics, just get us out of here!” Even though this movie is played as a melodrama (the good guys are very good and the bad guys are very bad) he stays true as a flawed and fantastic human being.

There are downsides to this movie, like the abovementioned melodrama. I found a few moments to be eye-roll worthy, but luckily those were few, and never pulled me too far out of the story. And there are the times where I stopped and thought “Wait, that could never happen the way they say it does.” At least they kept the pacing going so well I didn’t have time to stop and realize the absurdities.

There are a lot of horror fans that will hate this movie. There is minimal gore (although that made the few moments where it did happen more effective), and very little death happens on-screen. But fans of quiet horror will definitely dig it. Also, if you’re looking for a movie to show that friend of yours who says, “I don’t watch horror movies” then this one is perfect. It doesn’t have any monsters or splatterpunk moments of spurting blood that the general public normally associates with horror movies. But it does have the tension and the nervous moments that good horror delivers.

I can never go back to being that nineteen year old girl who first saw Grand Tour: Disaster in Time, the one who thought this was a near perfect movie. Instead, I am a thirty seven year old woman who can see the flaws. Luckily, both versions of me still get a kick out of this grand tour of a movie.

--Jenny Orosel

BOOK: "Vintage Season" novella by Henry Kuttner and Catherine L. Moore (under the joint pseudonym "Lawrence O'Donnell")- 1946

There's a line in the first episode of the cartoon Invader Zim in which one character, a demented robot named Gir, says, "I'm going to sing the doom song now!" He then proceeds to repeat "doom, doom, doom" in a variety of pitches, speeds, and tones in a manner reminiscent of any child making up a song.
There is little of the lighthearted nature of Gir in this story. There is a whole lot of doom, though.
It is because of stories like this that it is worthwhile for horror enthusiasts to read through older science fiction stories. Most of those which lay claim to horror elements are basic thrillers, but sometimes...
Moore & Kuttner present the story of an average man. He is somewhat venal, although he is pushed into duplicity only by the insistence of his wife. He is tempted by a beautiful woman, but cheats on his wife only when seduced and does little or nothing to initiate the seduction. Basically, he is a flawed yet likeable protagonist.
As the story progresses, he learns through hints that his boarders are abnormal, and the veteran sf reader immediately knows that they are either dimensional travelers, time travelers, or aliens. The reader is correct, but part of the brilliance of the story's construction is that the authors knew what options would be in the mind of the reader and played to them, setting up surprises for experienced readers in the story construction itself. Foreshadowing words and events are used in ways which are completely technically accurate, but which are quite apart from that which a reader would suspect.
That, combined with a story concept which is interesting and original, and combined again with a narrative which starts strong and does not lapse at any point and intricate characterization results in a wonderful piece of short fiction. The fact that doom is omnipresent is what makes it a wonderful piece of short horror fiction.
And doom is all around. The visitors, who have lost so much of themselves that they barely qualify as human, are as much the walking dead in their way as are the antagonists in any Romero zombie flick. The townspeople are doomed by a disaster unsuspected. The protagonist is doomed by that same disaster, suspected but impossible to avert. The only person in the story who is not condemned to a bleak ending is, of all people, a symphonic composer whose musical form is the intermingling of screams of pain and fear amongst thousands of devastated lives. When the person who is composing an orchestral movement based on despair is the person with the happiest ending, you know the story is going to be bleak.
And it is. But it's also fantastic.

Five stars out of five.

--Bill Lindblad