Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 39 min.
Release Date: May 9th, 1992 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: David Twohy Actors: Jeff Daniels, Ariana Richards, Emilia Crow, Jim Haynie, Marilyn Lightstone, George Murdock, David Wells, Nicholas Guest
uring a car ride in the snow, Ben Wilson (Jeff Daniels) accidentally collides with a large black horse leashed to a sleigh, resulting in the death of his wife, Carol (Mimi Craven). This fact is presented in a nightmarish flashback – a disconcerting yet oddly serene sequence that springs upon the audience with little warning, presided over by the pleasant notes of Fur Elise. It’s jarring yet informative, and generates an eerie tone for the unusual happenings to come.
Some years later, contractor Ben takes his preteen daughter, Hillary (Ariana Richards, an exceptional child actress), with him to a sleepy little inn (the Wilson House Bed and Breakfast) on the outskirts of the small town of Greenglen, Ohio. Before they’re even open for business, the pushy Madame Iovine (Marilyn Lightstone) swoops in, seeking lodging for three nights. She requires five rooms for her gathering of exotic friends, who arrived with her on the El Dorado bus line. And for some inexplicable reason, they refuse to stay at the hotel in town. Later that day, when the Wilsons attend the wedding of longtime friends Doug and Judy, Ben is harassed by his former father-in-law, Judge Caldwell (George Murdock), who blames Ben for Carol’s tragedy, reminding him of a previous drinking problem and of running off after the incident.
Meanwhile, the group of strangely fashionable tourists manage to make everyone around them uneasy. They don’t carry cameras and they act as if everything they encounter – from the ordinary sights to the plain food – are wholly alien. Even a telephone booth provides wonders. It soon becomes apparent that these visitors aren’t from anywhere around Greenglen … or, perhaps, even from this planet.
As the mystery of the travelers unfolds, so too does an absorbing familial drama, involving the cranky old judge using his influences with the local authorities to take custody of Hillary. It’s brief, and something of a distraction, but it carries a gravity that would have made for an interesting movie all by itself. Although the story eventually reveals its creative sci-fi components, Daniels does an exceptional job of portraying disbelief – and then, once he uncovers Iovine’s sinister intentions, his performance switches to the opposite end of the spectrum, as someone desperately trying to convince others of the unbelievable truth (a traditional perspective that creates plenty of aggravation).
Based on the novella “Vintage Season” by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, the primary concept of disaster-observing time travelers is a fascinating, original sci-fi setup, nicely expanded into feature-film material. Even the supporting notions of a perfected future civilization that yearns to witness imperfection, or the resilience of time itself (examined more specifically and horrifically in the “Final Destination” series), or the repeated use of the word “grand” are amusing, though the depictions of futuristic denizens becomes a little overdone. Costuming and special effects betray the picture’s lower budget, yet writer/director David Twohy (who would continue to pursue sci-fi projects, including “The Arrival” and “Pitch Black”), refusing to be thwarted by financial and technical limitations, crafts an effective little thriller, made just that much more potent with its dependable casting decisions. Visually, “The Grand Tour” might be better fit for television, but towards its conclusion, it exhibits an escalating imaginativeness, particularly as timelines are tampered with and Ben struggles to find a solution to impending doom. “There is a purpose to time, you know. It keeps everything from happening all at once.”
– Mike Massie