The recent Australian documentary Not Quite Hollywood was intended to be a corrective, celebrating the unsung and disputed efforts of Australian’s genre films (your Mad Max, your The Man From Hong Kong) against the general favour shown towards the artsy efforts of the 1970s (your Picnic from Hanging Rock, your Newsfront, etc). However, as a counter-corrective, stick in a copy of The Time Guardian into your DVD player and you’ll see clearly how bloody piss-weak “Ozploitation” could be.
The Time Guardian is a salvage yard of scenes junked from other more profitable and acclaimed sci-fi movies: there’s an intergalactic struggle familiar from Star Wars, there’s a lone man sent back into the past to save the future taken from The Terminator, there are dystopian cityscape shots ripped off from Blade Runner, etc. I was struck continually with a sense of familiarity while watching The Time Guardian of scenes from other movies, but I really just wanted to watch those original films rather than suffering through this dodgy Aussie edition of The 1980s Sci-Fi Movie. And lest you worry that this film has next to nothing to do with Australia there are also some shots of Aboriginals dancing and enough aerial landscape photography of our Great Southern Land to satisfy the “Aussie content” requirement of the 10BA Tax Write-Off that was popular at the time.
Now The Time Guardian is also the type of film where watching it will not help you make sense of the plot. What you have to do is read the description on the back of the DVD box before AND after viewing the film and you should have some awareness of what the hell happened. That’s how I was able to decipher that the story was about a time-travelling city that escapes the 24th Century, running from the dreaded Jen-Diki who look like robots but have mutated humans inside their metal exteriors. The bad guy alien/robots bear a striking resemblance to the Cylons from the original Battlestar Galatica, but less impressive as it’s basically a bunch of tall stunt men wandering around the Kimberley Mountains like Frankenstein, just with heavy Robot heads precariously balanced on their shoulders.
Tom Burlinson – better known as The Man From Snowy River – stars as Ballard, a Time Guardian jerkface who zaps into the past in advance of wherever the city spaceship teleports so as to stop the Jen-Diki from messing them up. Burlinson uses this hoarse voice to fully convey his loner rebel maverick’s aggressiveness and his glare in every scene seems to state “shut up” to any other character in his immediate vicinity. Is your film’s hero supposed to be this annoying? I really hoped a Jen-Diki would clobber him right in the crotch so as to take him down a peg or two. Carrie Fisher, obviously cashing in on an Australian holiday and floating on some quality drugs from her Postcards from the Edge days, stars as his sidekick who wears some Star Wars esque gear, gets wounded, and spends most of the movie laying around, doing diddley squat. The other American export – Quantum Leap’s Dean Stockwell – is imaginatively named Boss and spends a couple of scenes yelling at Aussie subordinates all the while wearing ridiculous costumes that look like they were taken off the rack from a high school theatrical stage version of Star Trek, but all made by the children’s mothers. I mean Stockwell looked better in Dune, which is saying something if you remember that crazy pencil-thin moustache he was supporting there. Rounding out the cast is Nikki Coghill who is the trademark Aussie love interest of the 1980s – blonde, bronzed and boobs-a-hoy – and is apparently a geologist, the type who investigates strange noises outside her night-time camp site in tiny cotton underwear.
What else do you have here? Burlinson hovering over a fallen Jen-Diki in the opening battle sequence, intoning gravely, “Now to cut out your black heart,” and ripping out the metallic robot heart of the enemy; A yokel local quipping about Coghill’s arrival in a dusty male-populated town, “I’d rather be under her than this bloody truck”; Heavy exposition related between Burlinson and Cogill off-screen over landscape shots in an obvious series of plot-hole repairs to the movie; Cogill showing her norgs to the Time Guardian in a water-hole love-making tryst; Macho Aussie cops who don’t believe the hero and inevitably get despatched, most memorably a moustached arsehole cop who gets pulled through a time-mirror or something; Warehouses masquerading as the interior of a futuristic city (as Mitch pointed out, “Seems like the only thing to survive in a post-apocalyptic world were the warehouses.”); A jailhouse assault from the Jen-Diki where Burlinson defends himself with an uzi; An elderly Japanese samurai-sword wielding mentor for Burlinson who reveals his destiny at the end, which is to use the time tube as a weapon against the enemy just after he lectures them (“Stop the fighting now!”) with an echo-effect on his voice; And not to mention this line from the head Jen-Diki, “It seems the Time Guardian has run out of time!”
Brian Hannant was the director here and his previous credit was co-writing the excellent Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. After dropping The Time Guardian on our silver screens, Hannant did not direct another film unsurprisingly.