First, the Ugly: GREY SKIES: The Alien Conspiracy (2002) is at the same Z-movie level as Time Enough: The Alien Conspiracy, and like the other film, an anthology of three pointless, poorly done stories against a backdrop of two future forces struggling to avert or cause WW III. It doesn’t help that one of the stories is an unrelated short about the Grim Reaper, fitted to the theme with a new framing sequence. “Do you see the emphasis that is placed upon this concept?”
Happily the final film in the series, THE ALIEN CONSPIRACY: Beyond the Lost World (2001) shows some imagination, though still about the level of a mediocre AIP movie —after several more self-enclosed stories, it turns out the Morphs know their efforts are futile, so they send New York City back in time to preserve humanity (because over millions of years, they will evolve into guess who?). “Aliens are boring—not like vampires or werewolves.”
Speaking of crappy series, NEMESIS 4: Cry of Angels (1998) is a real mess that ignores the cliffhanger of Nemesis 3 and instead shows Sue Price’s “DNA mutant” (considerably glammed up) working as a vigilante in 2080, not liberating humanity from cyborg tyranny (humans and cyborgs have an “uneasy peace”) and displaying the fembot power to project knives out of her nipples. At least as there’s no time travel I’m off the hook for this one. “Everyone sent me—and no-one sent me.”
The mediocre: LOST EMPIRE (2001)has Chinese scholar Thomas Gibson sent into a Mystic China pocket universe to recover the original manuscript of the classic Journey to the West and thereby stop an evil emperor from rewinding time to erase all change since his rule. As the emperor doesn’t unmake history and Mystic China, contrary to my memory, isn’t really the past, this doesn’t make it either. On its own terms, one of the weaker of this particular run of fantasy miniseries. “We told him ruthless repression is the only way to run a nation.”
IT’S A VERY MUPPET CHRISTMAS MOVIE (2002) is a very minor It’s a Wonderful Life variation in which Joan Cusack as the Banker of Doom plots to shut down the Muppet Theater with a forged contract, convincing Kermit the world would be better off without him… Where the earlier film is structured to lead George Bailey to understand the meaning of his life, this is just a Muppet Show plot with the alternate history shoehorned in. And I don’t entirely buy the alternate—surely Piggy would have more in her life than being a recluse with cats? With Whoopi Goldberg as God. All rights to image with current holder. “When you write the laws of the universe you know where all the loopholes are.”
The good: By contrast with the previous three films, THE TIME TRAVELLERS (1976) actually looks darn good—it has a plot that works (however formulaic) and actors who actually can act, which makes it feel positively A-list. This pilot film has government agents going back to right before the Chicago Fire in the hopes of rediscovering the only known cure to a devastating plague now sweeping New Orleans. It really isn’t that good, but dang it, even simple competence beats some of the crap I’ve been watching. “She’s a ghost out of the past—and you’re nothing but a spectre from the future.”
PAST PERFECT (1996) turned out a lot better than I expected, as hard-bitten cop Eric Roberts discovers mysterious vigilantes Nick Mancuso and Saul Rubinek are whacking the teen gang Roberts and his partner are out to bust, then learns it’s because the killers are executing the kids for crimes yet to be committed. Unlike some films that involve similar themes, this ultimately focuses on whether change and redemption are possible, which raises it several notches. “You are consigned to the program, god help you.
GINTAMA: The Final Battle (2013) falls into its own category as different events work with different effectiveness. The story of Gintoki the samurai getting pulled five years into the future in the hope he can learn the source of a pandemic and go back in time to stop it works well enough. Unfortunately a lot of the running time is devoted to showing how the original anime characters have changed over the five year gap, and as I didn’t see it, that’s not terribly interesting. The heavy breaking-the-fourth-wall aspect (“What a waste of a talented voice actress!”) is sometimes funny, sometimes not. If you’re a Gintama fan, you’d probably have more fun with it than I did. “Can you really say someone who’s been on the toilet for five years is alive?”