Timekeepers of Eternity

That was really interesting.

Timekeepers of Eternity is a reworking of The Langoliers, printed on paper then animated. It’s actually really well done, giving a feel for the story that’s all it’s own.

Because I was in an audience of criminally young people, I was one of the only folk who saw the TV movie back in 1995, and also read the short story it’s based on in Four Past Midnight by Stephen King. The novella’s pretty fun, one of those Stephen King short stories that are just a wander around an idea – what if the past physically decays? – and not something ever written with a film adaptation in mind. Back in the late 80s and early 90s where King’s name was money in the bank, regardless of the quality of the flick, they made The Langoliers into a cheap as shit, 3-hour TV movie. It was honkingly bad, despite starring some quality actors, such as the late great Dean Stockwell (from Quantum Leap, Blue Velvet, and Dune), David Morse (from Treme, 16 Blocks, and The Green Mile), and Frankie Faison (from The Wire, and Silence of the Lambs).

My first question upon hearing that someone had reworked it by painstakingly animating printouts of stills from the film, was why? Luckily director Artistotelis Maragkos was on hand to answer just that question in the Q&A afterwards. Apparently The Langoliers was one of those things that was just always on Greek TV during his childhood, and it scared the crap out him. As with many things, when he revisited it as an adult, he realised its *ahem* limitations, but still retained a fondness for it. As a filmmaker, it came to him that he might want to see if he could recreate those feelings of horror and fear using the original movie, but within an animated collage. The result is very effective.

I know what you’re thinking. What? Yeah, so, the frames of the film are printed on black and white paper, and then animated, which as a viewer looks just like watching The Langoliers in black and white. But it’s more than that. Firstly, the 3 hour runtime is edited down to roughly 70 minutes. The whole film shifts focus onto the character of Mr Toomey. He is effectively the villain of the original piece, as he cracks up and becomes violent, providing a stumbling block for the other characters as they try to solve their predicament. In Timekeepers of Eternity, reframing it as Toomey’s story sticks with the horror of the concept, being trapped in a nightmarish situation, in perpetual fear for your life, and losing your sanity.

Quick recap of the plot of The Langoliers: A group of people fall asleep on an ordinary plane flight only to wake up with everyone else disappeared. Luckily there is a pilot among them who is able to land the plane at Bangor Airport, but the world is empty, silent, and seemingly turning stale. They have to figure out what’s happened and how to reverse it before their reality is consumed by the things which eat the decaying past – the timekeepers of eternity one character calls them, but Toomey refers to them as the langoliers.

Toomey is a high-powered 80s executive who is cracking up. He’s already about halfway there when gets on the plane. His abusive father drilled into him a single-minded work ethic, terrifying him from infancy with stories that if he was lazy, the langoliers would eat him up. The langoliers were just a homemade bogeyman, balls of hair and teeth that hide in closets and under the bed. Toomey has instilled this relentless drive into his whole life, until it became a high-pressure nightmare he couldn’t wait to escape. Finally he deliberately sabotaged himself by investing millions of company dollars in worthless stock, and when the shit hit the fan, set off on a flight to Boston to a morning meeting where he would finally and thankfully be fired.

And then it doesn’t happen. He ends up in an almost-empty plane, which gets redirected to Bangor. All his efforts to get the plane to Boston meet with hostility from the other passengers, and it’s not long before things get physical. Seemingly persecuted from all sides, in what seems to be a living nightmare, trapped in this moment suspended before his desperately needed liberation, Mr Toomey’s sanity starts to unravel.

One idiosyncrasy the character has is he rips paper into strips as a act of comfort and control. It’s this that makes the medium of paper in Timekeepers so interesting. Magarkos makes tears in the paper of the film’s frames, so it appears reality itself is tearing, as Toomey experiences it. His shouts and yells crinkle the paper, his stress manifesting as physical damage.

Paper also lends itself well to the situation, with the notion of existence itself being slowed stripped away. There were so many interesting ways this was achieved. I loved the eventual consumption by the langoliers, which actually looks better than the 1995 early CGI monsters. Instead the paper is cut up into points, like little teeth, but made of the material of the universe. It’s so well done, and genuinely unsettling.

Such an interesting adaptation, well worth a look.