'Timerider' is far from the rip-roaring, action-packed misadventure its creators had hoped for, but it's light entertainment for a lazy afternoon, with a few clever highlights worth musing over. On paper, the premise of a cross-country motocross champion accidentally traveling back to 1875 makes for some amusing material. Filmmakers William Dear, serving as director, and Michael Nesmith, who also scored the soundtrack, definitely had their finger on the pulse of 1982 pop-culture when they conceived the idea. The very simple concept merges the popularity of dirt bikes and racing with a sci-fi adventure storyline in a classic western setting. What's not to love, so long as you have a likeable hero at the center and match him a motivating romantic element and a villain with a comedic touch.
We get precisely that in Fred Ward's performance as the slightly arrogant motorcycle rider Lyle Swann. The name is often prominently attached to the movie's title, emphasizing him as the center of attention. It also sounds a lot like the name of a superhero's alter ego, clueing us in again to the idea of the character as the eventual heroic type. The story's success relies heavily on his likeability, and Ward ('Remo Williams,' 'Tremors') does an admirable job, especially as his first starring role. We get little glimmers of the character's ego and some pretentiousness, the sort of determined individual who only cares about himself and being the first to cross the finish line. But Swann is equally approachable and chummy, which goes a long way when interacting with people of the past.
He finds himself lost in the Wild West thanks to a time-travel experiment taking place near a cross-country race Swann was apparently winning. It actually kind of sucks being ahead and coming close to victory, only to be pushed back and coming in at last place by about a 105 years too slow. What's really funny about this fish-out-of-water plot is that Swann never seems to figure out what's really going on. When first meeting his love interest, a lovely but hardened cowgirl named Claire (Belinda Bauer), who has the most awesome way of welcoming strangers into town, he wonders if everyone belongs to a strange religious cult. Even when joining the village priest (Ed Lauter) and a pair of marshals (L. Q. Jones, Chris Mulkey) to capture some no-good varmints, Swann remains clueless as to his current situation, leaving wide open a series of silly hijinks and absurd anachronistic humor.
The most blatant gags come from the hilarious reactions of 19th Century people seeing the dirt bike and Swann's attire, which apparently makes him look like the devil. Other bits of comedy — some of which are much too slapstick and cartoonish for their own good — come from Peter Coyote ('E.T.', 'Law & Order') as Porter Reese, the leader of an outlaw gang fixated on stealing the Swann's bike. He's a stock character dressed all in black and smiling a shiny, silver grin, but Coyote chews up every moment and delivers a few good laughs. The more subtle jokes are where the movie does best, like Swann's ability to read and his confusion with others' reactions of him. What really takes me by surprise in Nesmith and Dear's script is the final little twist at the end, just as our hero is saved, creating a pretty clever paradox for audiences to ponder on.
Again, it sounds like something with plenty of potential for fun and excitement. Unfortunately, what looks good on paper doesn't quite play out as satisfyingly in the finished product. It's arguably better suited for the graphic novel universe or as a grocery-aisle pulp novel. To his credit, Dear does what he can and keeps the ride decently well-paced with a few pockets of mild entertainment, particularly in that surprise twist. However, several goofs make the overall production feel mostly cheap and amateur, such as when we see the camera operator and miscellaneous crew reflected in Swann's high-tech helmet. The musical score of co-writer and co-producer Michael Nesmith (of The Monkees fame) is also a shoddy amalgamation of western stereotypes and corny synthesizers, and the photography of Larry Pizer is a weird mess of differing techniques.
In the end, 'Timerider' offers some decent laughs although nostalgia can play a big role in one's level of enjoyment, but it's not a bad way of killing a couple hours in the day when you have nothing better to do.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings 'Timerider' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 housed inside a blue, eco-elite keepcase. At startup, the disc goes to a generic main menu selection on the left side while the movie's music and full-motion clips play in the background.
'Lyle Swann' rides to Blu-ray with a shockingly good 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that will leave viewers in awe for a majority of the runtime. Of course, the source used is not entirely free of minor, age-related issues and some rather inapt choices in the original photography. Once in a while, the occasional white speck will litter the screen and some sequences are poorly resolved compared to others, looking pretty soft and unsatisfying. A thin veil of grain is present throughout, which is nice and adding an appreciable film-like quality, but in a few scenes, the structure can be thicker and more prominent.
The cinematography of Larry Pizer is frankly very odd and somewhat erratic. By this, I mean he seems to alternate between a natural, sharp focus and diffuser filters. The high-def presentation seems to be true to what Pizer shot, which is good, but the changes in the look of the movie are very odd and weirdly inappropriate. Nevertheless, the video displays excellent detailing in the fine lines of clothing and the wood architecture. The smallest objects and pebbles in the background and in the far distance are plainly visible, and rock formations, along with the scarce vegetation, are terrifically distinct. Close-ups are revealing, exposing nearly every pore and blemish in the cast.
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the transfer comes with a surprisingly bold and vibrant color palette, especially an array of richly-saturated primaries. The red in Swann's motocross suit and his bike, in particular, is intense and rather gaudy. Facial complexions appear natural and appropriate to the climate and period. The rest of the image shows excellent contrast with crisp, brilliant whites and strong black levels with plenty of visibility in the shadows of nighttime scenes. Overall, it's a great presentation for a forgettable sci-fi adventure.
Like the video, this DTS-HD Master Audio stereo soundtrack is another great surprising, generating a wide and welcoming soundstage. With excellent channel separation and fluid panning across the screen, imaging is filled with lots of background activity and convincing off-screen effects. Villagers scamper about in fear at the sight of Swann, bullets fly and echo with effective realism, and the final shootout scene creates a highly-enjoyable wall of sound. Even little bits of ambient noise, like crickets in the distance or people walking around in the pueblo, can be continuously heard throughout the movie's runtime.
Meanwhile, dialogue is precise and intelligible in the center so that we can hear every ridiculous conversation forcing the story's fish-out-of-water angle. The mid-range is detailed and well-balanced with plenty of clarity in the upper frequencies, and the low-end appropriate to the design's age and period with some mild punch during action sequences, particularly the finale. The musical score is also cleanly rendered, widening and extending the soundfield by lending itself nicely to the side speakers. All in all, it's a surprisingly fun lossless mix I didn't initially expect much out of.
'Timerider' comes with a fun and amusing concept, but unfortunately, its execution falls just short of complete satisfaction. Nevertheless, with good performances by Fred Ward and Peter Coyote, the movie still manages some mild levels of entertainment for a lazy afternoon. The Blu-ray arrives with strong video and an excellent audio presentation. Supplements are pretty light but they're a nice welcome nonetheless. The overall package of this cult favorite isn't half bad, but enthusiasts will want to wait for a price drop.