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CLOCKSTOPPERS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Jesse Bradford, Paula Garces, French Stewart, Michael Biehn, Robin Thomas
Director:  Jonathan Frakes
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  See Review
Length:  93 Minutes
Release Date:  August 13, 2002

“Okay…I’m officially freaking out now.”

Film ***

What excited me most about the arrival of the film Clockstoppers was not the subject matter, though it was cool, nor the cast of young actors, though they were likable…it was the fact that Jonathan Frakes had directed his first film outside of the Star Trek franchise.

Frakes may always be known to Trekkies as Commander William Riker from The Next Generation, but he proved himself a talented director by helming not only some television episodes from the series, but the films First Contact and Insurrection as well.  The former is regarded as one of the best of the Star Trek movies; the latter isn’t, but no one can deny that Frakes brought solid visions to the screen in both cases.  He proved himself comfortable with action and special effects, as well as coaxing the best from his actors, and wrapping it all up in packages of pure fun.

Fitting, perhaps, that his first directing foray outside of Star Trek would be a fast paced, science fiction film, and one aimed at entertaining the whole family.  Clockstoppers earns a comfortable PG rating, meaning not only can parents feel good about their kids seeing it, but they can watch too, without feeling trapped into constantly peeking at their watch.

Even if they did, chances are, they don’t have a watch like the one that falls into the hands of Zak (Bradford).  Zak’s a normal kid…free spirited, enterprising, athletic.  His main concerns are the new car he hopes to buy and the beautiful new girl from Venezuela, Francesca (Garces), whom he’s dying to impress.

His father (Thomas) is a top notch professor and scientist, who has secretly been helping one of his old students, Dopler (Stewart) with a revolutionary experiment:  a device that speeds up the molecular patterns of its bearer to the point where everything else around seems completely still…from the bearer’s point of view, it essentially freezes time!

The device is implanted in a watch, which accidentally ends up in Zak’s hands.  The first few sequences of “time freeze” are fun, as he and Francesca reap a few mischievous benefits of super-speed.  But all is not well.

Such a device in the wrong hands would be unthinkable, and the wrong hands happen to be a corporation Dopler was working for, headed by a Mr. Gates (!?!) (Biehn).  He will stop at nothing to get the watch back, including kidnapping Zak’s father and making Zak out to be a fugitive!  It will take all of the young friends’ pluck and determination to get Zak’s father back and prevent Gates from selling the technology to the highest bidder!

Okay, as with any Einstein-theory based film, you could argue the scientific wherewithal of speeding up or slowing down time, and what it would actually mean to the “time traveler”.  If you want to have fun at the movies, sometimes you have to let your brain rest and just accept science the way it's presented to you for 90 minutes.  Being a Star Trek veteran, Jonathan Frakes knows that well.

He wisely doesn’t dwell on the science, but on the fun of the premise…what WOULD you do if you could freeze time?  I can think of plenty of things…but unfortunately, my movie wouldn’t have been PG rated.  ;-)

The special effects are quite cool throughout…the vision of time standing still isn’t just a bunch of actors becoming statues, but rather, streaks of light that don’t fade, water droplets that suspend in mid air, bees that hover slowly, and so on.  Frakes’ eye for detail is strong in these scenes…keep an eye on the backgrounds, and you’ll notice he didn’t miss a trick in making it all seem real.

The strength of the cast boils mostly down to the two young stars, and both do well.  Jesse Bradford has a kind of Bruce Campbell-esque charm (and yes, I do mean that as a compliment), while pretty Paula Garces brings a touch of strength and independence to her role…she ain’t no damsel in distress, folks.

But again, the real star is Jonathan Frakes, who took what might have been substandard material and elevated it into something well-paced and fun.  Given the chance, he could become our next major action film director, in which case Clockstoppers under scrutiny will make for a strong resume entry.

NOTE:  Speaking of Frakes and his Star Trek background, keep an ear out for one of the year’s funniest in-jokes.

Video ****

Outstanding!  For a film with such distinct visuals, Paramount offers the best anamorphic transfer you could want with this DVD.  This picture is a colorful, detailed work in which said details go by both fast and slow.  Nothing is lost in the mix because of compression, grain or softness.  Images are sharp and well defined in all levels of lighting, and colors are strong, natural, and perfectly contained throughout.  Highest marks.

Audio ****

The 5.1 audio track is even better, with one of the best uses of digital surround for an opening title sequence I’ve heard!  And of course, it’s just the beginning.  The picture is filled with fast swooping action that sends the sound in all directions with no timidity.  Dynamic range is strong, the bass is ever-present, and…oh, yeah, the music soundtrack is killer, too, boasting a great range of good rock songs.  Top notch!

Features **

The extras department doesn’t fare as well, but there are a few items present…a ten minute promotional featurette, two music videos (by Lil’ J and Smash Mouth), a trailer, and 4 promotional spots that I’m guessing aired on Nickelodeon.  I would have loved a commentary track by Frakes, but I suppose he was off working on the next Star Trek film.

Summary: 

Don’t be afraid to slow down and take a look at Clockstoppers…it’s fun, if not overly smart, family entertainment with good young actors, great premise, and formidable direction by a capable Jonathan Frakes.  Frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me to see it end up as the basis for a new television series.