Unearthed Films Stopped a Disaster by Going Back in Time and Re-releasing “The Grand Tour” now on Blu-ray!
Widowed contractor Ben Wilson and his daughter, Hillary, are a many 2×4 and paint bucket deep into a renovation of a dilapidated inn on the outskirts of town. Haunted by his wife’s death violent death and reminded of it by an angry father-in-law, Ben tries his best to be the best father to Hillary that a single dad can be despite his urge to drink and forget about the horrors of that fateful day. Unexpected and eccentric guests arrive at his doorstep demanding to pay handsomely to stay at his unfinished inn, regardless of the condition, and eager to be present for the secret spectacle to come that makes his inn more desirable than all the amenities of the hotel in town. The guests’ odd behavior, strange belongings, and secret talk lead Ben to believe these so-called tourists are not from his time and that the spectacle their awaiting for is tragedy in the making.
For an extreme film label such as Unearthed Films, Jeff Daniels is not necessarily a headlined name I would see on the cover art. Nor, and more surprisingly so in this instance, would I ever have thought that a PG-13 rated film would be in the same assemblage of titles as “Slaughter Vomit Dolls,” “Philosophy of a Knife,” and “Christmas Cruelty.” Yet, here we are today, the year 2023, over two decades of extreme horror distribution, and David Twohy’s “The Grand Tour” has been released. The 1992 time-traveling clock-racer, that also went by other titles such as “The Grand Tour: A Disaster in Time” or “Timescape,” is written for filmic treatment by the “Riddick” franchise director, adapted from the novella “Vintage Season” by the husband and wife writing team, Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore. “The Grand Tour” is a production of Channel Communications and Drury Lane Productions, the companies behind Brian Thompson starring “Nightwish” which became also another Unearthed Films’ vault release and is produced John A. O’Connor (“Steel Justice”) and Robert Warner (“The Return of Swamp Thing”).
“The Grand Tour” stars the aforementioned Jeff Daniels who at this point was coming off the phobic-inducing success of the itsy-bitsy film called “Arachnophobia.” Daniels brings the same family man charisma, sarcastic wit, and unnerved intensity to the widowed construction contractor Ben Wilson. The character of Ben Wilson is unbuttoned from the beginning with only nightmares of an accident involving a horse drawn sleigh and verbal tit-for-tats with his bristly former father-in-law concluding the death of his wife only a short time ago. Wilson’s marked as a drunk and a shirker though barely do we see only a slither of the former; instead, Wilson’s rather astute, loving, and fearless in his time of time designed duress. Perhaps, Wilson’s arc has already been puzzled together and Twohy only mirrors into his once shameful soul to showcase how much he’s learned and how far he’s come to be more than just an abashed single dad and though Wilson is unbuttoned from the beginning of the story, Daniels buttons up the role with nothing less of perfection. Wilson’s daughter Hillary is played by pre-“Jurassic Park” screamer Ariana Richards who solidified her round-eyed concerned, over-the-shoulder look first in “The Grand Tour.” Hillary becomes the crux torn between the loving father that Wilson’s portrayed to be and an overreaching grandfather, who’s also the town judge (George Murdock, “The Death Squad”), holding a longstanding and personal grudge with his daughter’s ambivalent death. The youngster is also the reason Wilson is willing to risk the perfect future to save an ill-fated past. “The Grand Tour” enlists a versed lot of talent to round out the cast with Marilyn Lightstone (“Heavy Metal”) as the voluble tour guide, David Wells (“Society”) as a tourist with a conscious, and Jim Hayne (“Sleepwalkers”) as a down-to-Earth bus driver caught in the middle just like Wilson. There’s also Nicholas Guest (“Dollman”), Time Winters (“Skinner”), and Anna Neill.
Temporal manipulating or time-travelling films will undoubtedly always have faults as time is a finicky thing, some films accomplish time loops better than others, but I personally feel that as long as the narrative is entertaining enough and the time theory isn’t ludicrously idiotic, all can be forgiven or overlooked on the stretched fabric of time and place concept that can have easily spotted loopholes. “The Grand Tour” is one of those divertingly pleasurable narratives with calamity hanging in the balance, a central do-or-die performance, and theme that hits at the core of a numb human perspective when seemingly life is nothing less than perfect. The script bypasses the whole negating physics of the narratives time-travelling and butterfly effect piece with Daniel’s character verbally damning the hypothetical’s inaccuracies in a fit of life- and time-saving panic to not hang up on the details and keep the story churning. Twohy never offers too much too early when the intrusively eccentric inn guests appear without concern for their surroundings but are increasingly curious about minor, trivial things that when compared to the small town residents, people would take such things for granted, yet their curiosity isn’t exactly appreciation for the humbler things as it’s more of a naively morbid reflection on how who these well-dressed and fit-as-a-fiddle travelers call “bygoners” lived and died. Historical catastrophes have become looking glass sideshows for the bored or how the event is termed as a spectacle is if the disaster is an extravagance performance for others to reap the benefit from its grim amusement. Twohy pulls off the massive feat of catastrophe without the use of computer-generated imagery that we see heavily in his later films to create galactic worlds and creatures. There’s composite motion paint work and diorama miniatures to create the illusion of a small town in turmoil that works just as well, if not better. The whole “Grand Tour” package sells the sleight of hand devastation but also the intrinsic emotion and passion that follows it, or in this rewind the clock case, before it as well.
Though I’m wigged out by the tame release from Unearthed Films, I’m still glad the out of print and sci-fi jarring “The Grand Tour” has booked an excursion back to the physical media outer rim! A brand-new AVC encoded Blu-ray, released as the 11th cult classic under the Unearthed Classics sublabel, shepherds a new in-print North American option. Sold as a Hi-Def release with 1080p, there’s honestly nothing that can be really done or to improve upon a Betamax 350 resolution by 480 pixels in a stretched 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Certainly better video and audio quality compared to VHS, and likely the best quality “The Grand Tour” will ever be in to-date, the release remains a deficient for detail with blurry, soft-glowing traits. The Blu-ray’s bitrate is also erratic, dipping as low as upper DVD, 8-11 Mbps, to shooting up as high as lower 20s which tells me the storage capacity of the BD25 likely isn’t enough to properly decode the film and, in certain frames, compression artifacts show with smooth surface, color blurring that eliminates sharper edges amongst other issues, such as faint banding and blocking nothing to really warrant discouragement. The English PCM 2.0 stereo mix is commensurable with the original Betamax audio recording and though soft around the audible gills, the dialogue, ambient, and soundtrack mixes satisfy the need but in case you need an English SDH option, the Unearthed Films’ Blu-ray has you covered with a well-synched and timed error-free translation. The special edition bonus features include the “Timescape” title sequence, production stills, various posters and one-sheet artworks, a new Lost in Time: Cannes promo discussion with Ed McNichol who worked on the pre-production Cannes promotional trailer with Jeff Daniels but isn’t available in the special features here, and Unearthed Classics trailers. The physical aspects of the release include a cardboard o-slip with a front image reminiscent of outside region 1 DVD covers of Jeff Daniels running between two periods in time. The slipcover sheaths a clear Blu-ray case with latch, the inserted cover art is the same slipcover but is reversible with a mockup of the Canadian released DVD cover. The disc print image echos the reversible cover art image. “The Grand Tour” is Blu-ray has a region A playback, clocks in at 99 minutes, and the film is rated PG-13. An obscure Jeff Daniels film lost in time, unable to reach back into the past for a new, refreshed release, is paradoxically meta in its own right but luckily for us, Unearthed Films has our best interests in mind while keeping the blood and guts at bay for only for a single, solitary stitch in time.