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THRILL SEEKERS

Review by Alex Haberstroh

Stars:  Casper Van Dien, Catherine Bell, Martin Sheen, Peter Outerbridge
Director:  Mario Azzopardi
Audio:  DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  4:3 Full Frame

Studio: York/Maverick
Features:  See Review
Length:  87 Minutes
Release Date:  February 6, 2001

Film ***1/2

Anyone who has suffered through all, or parts of, Van Damme’s Timecop, will know that the genre of time travel is the ultimate two-edged sword.  In a capable filmmaker’s hands, it is a fascinating subject with limitless possibilities, occasionally producing gems like the Back to the Future trilogy, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and The Terminator; in the wrong hands, it is often a cheesy, unrealistic, and overacted look at the world. 

For some reason, filmmakers are just not concerned in showing what the world of the future could be like, instead they just mention the concept of “time travel” in passing and then move on.  Films like Sphere, where thousands of feet below the Pacific is found what’s believed to be an alien craft at first, only to discover that it’s really an American craft from fifty years in the future.  So why doesn’t the film explore that?  Because instead the audiences get to see two minutes of the ship (the best damn part of the movie) and the duration is spent trying to make a moody, suspense drama about how dangerous it is being trapped with people in close conditions (basically “cabin fever” underwater)!  Of course, the film, even though it had great actors like Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson, and Sharon Stone, was received rather coldly by critics and audiences alike.

To say that an interesting and original time travel movie was a diamond in the rough would be an understatement.  So, on that note, I was quite surprised when I popped in an obscure TV movie entitled Thrill Seekers, and ended up loving it. 

What if the future yielded the greatest discovery of all time: time travel?  For the first time, we would be able to defy the laws of physics, journeying to any point in time and space instantly.  Humans could finally use their newly realized technology to advance and improve society, researching both the past and scouring the undiscovered future, unlocking the secrets of the universe and answering such eternal questions of how and why we exist.  Or would we merely misuse the gift?  Using the machine not for humanitarian gain, but instead warping its purposes horribly to our own selfish ends?   

So begins the plot of Thrill Seekers, the engrossing time travel yarn released by TBS in late 1999.  In the future, time travel has been banned by the United States, but can be purchased for a price.  An underground company called “Thrill Seekers,” marketing the black market technology, sends wealthy (if somewhat morbid) patrons through time, allowing them to witness catastrophic disasters like “The Hindenberg,” or “The Titanic.” 

Throughout its entirety, Thrill Seekers uses its characters Tom Merrick (Van Dien) and Elizabeth Wintern (Ball), two tabloid journalists from the present who discover the existence of the “thrill seekers,” to pose the question of why people from the future would manipulate technology to purposes far from its original intentions.  The story, while not saying it directly, points out that no matter what amazing advances are made in the future, science will always be a perversion because man will always succumb to his flawed and unscrupulous nature.  

The movie was surprisingly intelligent and, even though the focus is more “story oriented” than “character oriented,” I enjoyed the performances of Van Dien, who, even though his acting isn’t normally expected to be anything beyond a male version of a Gwyneth Paltrow (who’s incredibly overrated), is well suited as Tom Merrick, a guilt ridden and burned-out reporter who’s tortured by a tragic mistake.  Performing equally well was Martin Sheen as Grifasi, the methodic and all business head of “Thrill Seekers,” although it would have been nice if he played more of a role than five minutes worth.  Catherine Bell was a nice touch, although unfortunately she didn’t really have much to do but look pretty for her many close-ups.   

Video ****  

The video was in full frame as it was filmed for TV.  The colors seemed to keep their integrity throughout, and the transfer was not marred by any visual problems such as shimmering.

Audio ****

Looking at the box I was completely surprised to see that the film not only featured Dolby Digital 5.1, but also DTS!  Both the Dolby Digital and the DTS were incredibly engrossing tracks.  The music was constantly a presence throughout the soundstage, and the surrounds were filled with many layers of sound, especially evident in the explosions and car crashes. 

I found it amusing to see that a lesser-known studio like York/Maverick could do a much better audio transfer than some of the bigger studios like MGM or Disney! 

Features **

Certainly nothing that’d impress a supplement aficionado.  Trailers for Thrill Seekers, Prophet’s Game, and The Hunger and some filmographies, but in all fairness, it’s for a TV movie, so not much should be expected here anyway. 

Summary:

In conclusion, it’s not often that a movie takes me completely by surprise.  The movie has an intriguing premise that manages to avoid getting caught up in cheesy clichés, instead providing an entertaining experience for all.  Recommended.