Doctor Erik von Steiner (Preston Foster), Doctor Steven Conners (Philip Caret), and Carol White (Merry Anders) are testing out a time-viewing device. Because it draws so much power, a technician from the power plant named Danny McKee (Steve Franken) is sent to shut the experiment down. He discovers that the screen is actually a portal and steps through. The whole thing is becoming unstable, and the others step through to save him, whereupon the portal disappears behind them. They are in a barren future devastated by nuclear war. Mutants pursue them and they hide in a cave which leads them to a ruined underground city.
It is 2071. The leader of the city, Doctor Varno (John Hoyt) explains that Earth can no longer support life, so the survivors and their androids are working on a ship to take them to Alpha Centauri. The time travelers cannot join them but are allowed to work on the time portal to return home. Mutants break in and destroy the ship, killing many on board. Doctor Varno now believes the time portal is their only hope, so the city works feverishly to help with its rebuilding.
The four travelers escape to their lab with some of the future people, leaving the androids behind. They discover their past selves seemingly frozen in position, about to begin the experiment. They realize they are now experiencing time at an accelerated rate and the rest of the world, including their past selves, are moving in slow motion.
They think that if they travel to a previous setting, 100,000 years in the future, that they had experimented with, that might kick it into working correctly. They do that and come out in a green landscape, Earth inhabitable again. They see their past selves moving at normal speed again, then moving faster and faster, stuck in an accelerating time-loop until the movie abruptly ends with a picture of the Andromeda Galaxy.
This was a 1964 film, also called Time Trap, directed by Ib Melchior. It inspired the 1966 TV series The Time Tunnel and was loosely remade in 1967 as Journey to the Center of Time. Despite the low budget, it appears quite impressive, partly because an actual stage magician used tricks that would otherwise have required expensive special effects.
Superfan Forest J. Ackerman appears in the film, in exchange for mention in his science-fiction magazine. Also, he was writer and director Melchior’s literary agent. The film was favorably mentioned by several critics but was lampooned by Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Because talent agencies could not find enough actors who were seven-foot-five, the mutants were played by Los Angeles Lakers. Dolores Wells, who played the minor role of Reena, was Playboy Playmate of June 1960. There are fairly tasteful scenes that suggest loosened mores in the future. Ray Dorn stole much of the movie for Journey to the Center of Time in 1967, as did Irwin Allen for his TV Series The Time Tunnel in 1966. Melchior decided not to sue. In fact, he borrowed from himself to write The Premonition, an episode for the Outer Limits in 1965. The four-note musical intro for Twilight Zone is in the movie’s musical score. The time-loop ending appeared in Doctor Who: Heaven Sent in 2015. It is also suggested that Gene Roddenberry appropriated ideas from Melchior without crediting him.
Clearly, The Time Travelers is not the earliest Time Travel movie I could list here. George Pal’s The Time Machine appeared in 1960, but I reviewed that as a classic example of dystopian depopulation, and you can find it there if you wish. Time Travel is obviously an extremely popular plot device in science-fiction. It appeared in five episodes of Star Trek’s Original Series, ten in The Next Generation, ten in Deep Space Nine, eleven in Voyager, and ten in Enterprise. In Star Trek Discovery, the entire second season was a time-travel story. Of the movies, The Voyage Home, Generations, First Contact, and the entire J.J. Abrams reboot is about time-travel. The entire series of Terminator movies and the Sarah Connor Chronicles are time-travel stories, as well as the 350-odd episodes of the Doctor Who series. All of these are reviewed in Joe’s Corner.