Time Changer, Part I
I guess I’ll start this critique with a positive note, which is that I like the theme music. It’s kinda fun and time-travel-y. So, kudos there.
As we continue with the opening credits…wait a second…
GAVIN MACLEOD??? CAPTAIN STUBING IS IN THIS???
Huh. Turns out Gavin MacLeod went RTC when no one was looking. Go figure.
Unusually for a Christian film, we don’t open with a Bible verse plastered on the screen. Instead, the scene is set as 1890. A very pristine 1890, when everyone seems perfectly coiffed and has access to excellent dentistry. And where everyone talks in an “old-timey way”:
“Young man, it is wrong to steal items from other people.”
Two little boys are playing marbles on a blanket spread out on a lawn, which seems a very inefficient way to play marbles. Young scalawag Roger snatches the marbles, but is stopped in his tracks by Our Hero, justice-minded Bible professor Russell Carlisle, who orders Roger to apologize. Roger, however, dashes off.
The 1890 Marbles World Championship wasn’t as exciting as you might hope.
Carlisle teaches at Generic Bible Seminary, and is in the process of getting the Unanimous Seal of Approval for his latest book. Which means that a bunch of rich, old white guys sit around chuckling at each other, including Dean Barney Miller and Professor I Recognize Him From Star Trek.
And they’re having a fine time until Professor Captain Stubing shows up to SPOIL EVERYTHING.
You see, the thrust of Carlisle’s book is that people should be won to the Church based on the teachings of Jesus. But the Captain objects to some of Carlisle’s ideas:
“And I am quoting from page 67: ‘Even if it is apart from his name, if people are rejecting the authority of Jesus Christ in their lives, we must still teach the ways of Christ for the better interests of society. The Lord’s teachings are best for all.’”
“What Dr. Carlisle is implying is that we can put forth the standards of Christ apart from his name. And I think this is deadly.”
I see that the Captain’s own specialty at the Seminary is hyperbole. Because it’s definitely not in knowing that Jesus was hardly the first or only person to come up with the RADICAL IDEA that stealing is wrong.
“Without the authority of Christ, mankind is merely left to compare ideas, and morality becomes a matter of opinion. One person says it is wrong to steal, the next person says it is not.”
Ah, sweet, delicious authoritarianism.
BECAUSE HUMANS COULD NEVER BE TRUSTED TO COME TO THE CONCLUSION THAT STEALING IS WRONG BY THEMSELVES.
Carlisle defends his premise:
“But we cannot always mention the name of Jesus—it may not be received. Especially by those already offended by the Church or brought up in another religion.”
Wow. I…kinda like this guy. He seems pretty progressive, especially for his time.
Damn shame that he will be forced to learn the error of his ways via time travel.
Team Seventies confers on Carlisle’s book, The Changing Time. (GET IT???)
“Satan is not against good morals. He is against Jesus Christ.”
Why is it that whenever I watch Christian movies, I end up liking Satan more and more?
Things go downhill from there, and many, MANY minutes are eaten up as we dance around the stupid approval issue while I am waiting for the FRAKKING TIME TRAVEL to start.
Blah blah blah office politics which might be interesting if we were going to spend the whole movie with these people, but we AREN’T. Stubing invites Carlisle to his place (“You must!”), Carlisle refuses, Stubing asks again, and FINALLY Carlisle goes to Professor Stubing’s secret shed, where Stubing keeps his GORRAM TIME MACHINE ALREADY. Weird thing is, it isn’t even Stubing’s own time machine—it’s Stubing’s father’s machine.
The writers have obviously seen Back to the Future, because Stubing wants to send Carlisle to October 21, 20…something, but Stubing definitely isn’t pulling a Doc Brown here. He has no mad scientist routine—he and Carlisle just have a snappish back-and-forth.
“Time travel is not possible!”
“Russell, you must see where the teaching of good morals alone will lead. You must see for yourself what happens when we remove the authority of Christ.”
The trip has been set so that Carlisle will be in the future for four days, but only be gone from 1890 for a few minutes. (This four-day time period seems random until you remember that Marty McFly was in 1955 for four days in Back to the Future.)
Carlisle just BOWS OUT and exits the time travel shed and next we see, he is delivering a supremely stupid lecture about how the Bible is the ultimate authority on science.
THIS WILL BE IMPORTANT LATER
But Captain Stubing is not one to be dissuaded. He talks Carlisle back to his time travel shed AGAIN, and Carlisle reluctantly steps onto the little platform.
Much like Doc Brown, Stubing gives Carlisle some advice about the future: don’t tell anyone you’re a time-traveler, and don’t look up your own fate. (Although, as we know, Doc Brown changed his mind on the latter.)
His final piece of advice is to speak with a university librarian named Michelle Baines, whom Stubing met when he was time-traveling.
Who wouldn’t trust this time machine? It has rotating icing racks and the map from my dad’s study!
Carlisle seems afraid that the time machine is an anal probe in disguise.
Can’t say I blame him.
And so the beams of solar-powered (!) light blast out from the time travel machine and transport Carlisle to the 21st century!
Thus begins the Fish Out of Water portion of our movie, and … I can’t help but feel that the ball was dropped here. Carlisle is astounded by things which really shouldn’t be that astounding to him, blasé about things that he should be astounded by, and manages to navigate a 21st century city with little to no trouble.
The very first place Carlisle finds is a pawnshop, where he cashes in the 19th-century coins Stubing gave him for walking-around money. Carlisle has no problem finding this shop or understanding what he should do there, and is utterly unflummoxed by a female patron of the shop who is WEARING PANTS.
Carlisle then uses some of the money to get himself a hotel room. It looks like he’s staying at the local Fairfield Inn, but despite the fact that he has NO LUGGAGE WHATSOEVER, a porter takes him to his room, shows him the television and the remote, then expects a tip. Dude, that guy would not get a tip from me under those circumstances, though Carlisle seems completely ignorant of the concept of tipping AT ALL.
Then he wanders around the city, being confused by things that shouldn’t confuse him (decorative fountains, toys) and casually oblivious to things that should astound him (women wearing pants or short skirts, people of different races intermingling like equals). Oh yeah, also CARS EVERYWHERE. The only shots that make sense are Carlisle sitting in confusion in a park, surrounded by people carrying on animated conversations on their cell phones, and Carlisle hanging out in a lighting store, turning a simple table lamp on and off again, startled every time.
Let’s see…buildings that are dozens of stories tall, CARS, and that lady there is wearing an extremely immodest skirt. But what draws Carlisle’s attention? A toy truck.
I get that Wandering Around would be the first thing many people would do when arriving one hundred years in the future. But surely the next stop would be a library, to catch up on the last century. And wouldn’t Carlisle, an academic, want to do this? Hell, after being released from his lamp, the first impulse of the genie in the Ducktales movie was to start READING THE ENTIRE ENCYCLOPEDIA.
Let’s face it, Carlisle has a lot of catching up to do. Votes for women, world wars, civil rights, television, airplanes, penicillin…that’s just off the top of my head.
But who cares about all that when there’s shopping to do! Carlisle buys some new clothes, which don’t look all that different from his old clothes. (I’m serious—take a look at that suit up there. Lose the hat, and it looks perfectly normal.) He then tracks down a laundromat, and this is something that actually does make sense to me, as a laundry service would be something Carlisle probably would understand, though I imagine it would give him pause to learn that in modern laundromats, many people wash their clothes themselves, instead of handing them off to others.
It is here that he meets his first unsaved soon-to-be convert, Eddie, the owner of the laundromat. Eddie is played by comedian Paul Rodriguez, and is an avid baseball fan. Carlisle is confused by Eddie’s headset, and equally confused by BASEBALL TERMINOLOGY.
Okay, I get that Carlisle is supposed to be a bit of a fuddy-duddy, but baseball has been KIND OF A BIG DEAL in this country for a long time. Hell, you’d think that hearing baseball language would make him less confused.
Baltimore Orioles, 1896. Picture from Wikipedia.
Eddie’s a nice guy, but he “ain’t got no time for no church,” which knocks Carlisle for a much bigger loop than the fact that he is standing in a building lit by electric lights, where large machines wash your clothes for you without aid of washboard or woman.
This whole laundromat thing brings up an interesting point—sure, Carlisle is noticing some of the strange new things in the 21st century, but shouldn’t the prominent issue for everyone be smell?
I’m being serious here. Carlisle comes from a time when toilets and showers were exciting new technology, and not everyone had them. Where people had to be instructed to bathe daily, and this usually meant a standing-up sponge bath. Deodorant had only come on the market in 1888, and this was well before the appearance of body spray, flushable premoistened wipes, and electric toothbrushes.
Honestly, you’d think the typical reaction to Carlisle’s mere presence in our Febreezed world would be for people to take a step or two away from the guy.
(Speaking of Back to the Future, I’m reminded of Part III, where the townsfolk of 1885 are (understandably) astounded by Marty McFly’s perfectly white teeth.)
Anyway, Carlisle asks where he can find a “Bible-believing church” where he can attend services tomorrow (Sunday). Okay, I know that these days, “Bible-believing” is a fundy dogwhistle, but was it so in 1890? I find myself doubting that. Wouldn’t Carlisle be more likely simply to ask for a church in his own denomination?
Well, I guess Carlisle catches on to the yellow pages that Eddie tosses his way, because next thing we know, Carlisle is in a pew, chatting with a guy about all the activities the church offers. Carlisle seems surprised by the mere fact that there are many groups within the church, and not just that these groups ride in “vans” to see “movies.” But haven’t church activities been a big deal for quite some time?
THEN THIS FREAKY SCENE HAPPENS
“How do you do?” (Says Carlisle)
“I’m fine.” (Answers the Creepy Guy)
“My name is Russell Carlisle.”
“Nice looking Bible you have there.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Yes, that’s a nice one.”
“Yes. Yes, it is. [long uncomfortable pause] So, how has the Lord been speaking to you through his word this week?”
“Well, have you ever noticed the strength in the pages of these Bibles? They are so thin, but they’re very difficult to tear. They really hold up.”
“Yes. They certainly do.”
THIS IS A SCENE THAT JUST ACTUALLY HAPPENED.
I can hardly wrap my head around it. These lines were written into a script, spoken by actors, and the director yelled, “Cut! Perfect!”
Does Creepy Guy come to church solely to steal Bibles to roll his joints? Because that’s honestly all I can think of that even comes close to making a remote amount of sense.
Loyal readers, did I miss something? I never went to Sunday school—is this something I would understand had I been raised Christian?
I guess Carlisle is ultimately okay with the Creepy Guy, because he doesn’t move six pews away after this conversation. Instead, he sings the opening hymn with gusto, and hears a standard sermon about trusting in the Bible and using it for teaching and stuff. (Carlisle looks around guiltily at this part, like these 21st-century Christians will realize that he wrote a book about teaching morality without Jesus, and they’ll stone him.)
But he escapes the church unsmited, and retreats to the park for lunch. He spies a young woman, and despite the fact that she is wearing sunglasses, jeans, sneakers, a trench coat, and a backwards newsies cap, what he is really interested in is…her hot dog.
So he buys one from the nearby vendor, and is flummoxed AGAIN when the guy asks Carlisle if he wants a “soda” to go with it. I have no idea why he should be confused, since carbonated beverages had been around for quite some time by 1890, but Carlisle asks for tea instead.
When he sits down to enjoy his hot dog and tea, an unchristian little girl takes advantage of Carlisle’s pre-wiener prayer to abscond with his food!
When Carlisle finally catches up with her, they have the following moral colloquy:
“Young lady, you’ve just stolen my hot dog! Why would you do such a thing?”
“I was just playing around, mister.”
“I would be happy to purchase one for your very own if you are hungry and in need of food.”
“Here, take your dog.” *gives him the hot dog*
“This is not a proper thing you have done. It is important that you respect your elders and that we be kind to one another.”
“I said I was just playing around—it was no big deal.”
“But it is a very important matter. You do understand that stealing is a sin?”
“Says who?” *runs off*
[long, dramatic pause as it all comes together] “The Lord says.”
And so we enter Phase Two of the movie, in which Carlisle realizes that Captain Stubing was Right All Along, and that 1890 is waaay better than twenty-whatever, and begins to make this revelation known to all.