For more than a dozen installments now, Of Dreck & Drink has held rigidly to a pretty specific definition: One craft beer. One bad movie. One synthesis of the experience. But who’s to say that the “drink” portion always has to be beer? What if a film calls for something a little higher octane? And what if you’re gifted with an opportunity to drink some of the finest whiskey in the world? My policy, suffice to say, is that you take that chance and don’t look back.
And so, when someone from WhistlePig asked if I wanted to try some samples of their award-winning 100-proof rye, I knew I had to find the perfect film to act as its companion. WhistlePig is a little unique in its origins, being bottled in Vermont, not exactly a state known as a hotbed of the craft spirits movement. I began to wonder: Is there a terrible movie out there that is particularly “Vermont” in its delivery? What are the identifiable characteristics of Vermont on a national level, anyway? Maple syrup and cheese references?
And then it hit me—wasn’t there once a particularly goofy film featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 that took place entirely in Vermont? A film that caused Crow T. Robot to dub the state “the other, smaller Wisconsin”? A film whose credits ended with an angry Tom Servo ranting “I really, really hate the citizens and officials of Rutland, Vermont. I’m not kidding, Mike. I never liked the citizens and officials of stupid Rutland, Vermont. This is just the nail in the coffin, as far as I’m concerned. Go to hell, citizens and officials of Rutland, Vermont!”
And that film is called Time Chasers. It’s the story of a man, his time-traveling plane, blatant copyright infringement and the natural beauty of the majestic Vermont outdoors. And it’s a perfect accompaniment to 100-proof whiskey.
WhistlePig’s flagship whiskey is a 10-year, 100 percent rye, which is uncommon in several respects. One, you don’t see a ton of rye on the shelf carrying a 10-year age statement, as most rye tends to be consumed significantly younger and age statements aren’t as big of a draw as they are in bourbon or especially scotch. Two, there are very few ryes that are actually made with 100 percent rye—in order to be a “rye whiskey,” an American whiskey simply needs more than 51 percent rye in the grist—the rest is usually a combination of corn, wheat or other flavor grains for balance. In particular, there’s almost always at least a little bit of corn in the grist to give the resulting whiskey a bit more richness or caramel-like sweetness, because rye tends to be very dry. This, however, isn’t the case with WhistlePig 10 year, perhaps owing its richness to the fact that it’s also a burly 100 proof instead of the “standard” 80 or equally common 90.
On the nose, this rye is initially intense and fusel—you immediately know this is a strong, assertive dram you’re dealing with. As you get past the alcoholic heat, you start to pick up the waves of peppery rye spice and the expected vanillans, but where the whiskey really shines is in its flavors. An intense burn begins as it coats the palate, stronger even than other 100-proof bottled in bond whiskeys you may have sampled—things like Old Grand Dad Bottled in Bond or the regular Knob Creek 9 Year. Then a tidal wave of spice arrives—so much peppery rye, and a rye bready maltiness, followed by just enough brown sugar sweetness. Further drinks, once the taste buds have adjusted to the intensity of the rye flavors in particular, reveal more of the vanilla and sugar cookie sweetness, before some curious, almost berry-like fruitiness and cocoa notes, as well. From start to finish, it’s an extremely complex, assertive and deep dram of whiskey—you know, tasting it, that it would make a superb Manhattan, but that almost seems like a waste of great whiskey that might as well be consumed neat for maximum appreciation of its subtleties.
It’s the whiskey that the villain in Time Chasers would drink, if only he was about five times more dignified.
When one starts doing a little bit of research into how Time Chasers came to be, and sees that it was directed by a 20-year-old, it becomes a little harder to hold its myriad flaws against it—or at least they become much easier to understand. Despite that, it truly is one of the more entertaining and light-hearted films to ever be featured on MST3k—it’s bad in ways that make it inherently more watchable, rather than less. One could argue that the same film, handled a bit more competently, would be much less fun. Watching it outside the context of the TV show, it’s still clear how awful it is, but it’s never really a slog.
Time Chasers feels like an idea born in the car ride home after an excitable, 16-year-old David Giancola saw Back to the Future for the first time. All of the same elements are pretty much there, except not-so-subtly reversed in such a way that one would think he was actively trying to avoid it being labeled as the rip-off it was. The time machine car is now a plane. The main conflict revolves around protecting Earth’s future rather than a journey into the past. And there’s now a suited, corporate villain rather than a high school bully to contend with.
Of course, the single biggest difference is the replacement of a classic protagonist with one “Nick Miller,” a physics teacher and amateur pilot with a chin-butt and mullet to rival anything from the ’80s-era National Hockey League. His characterization simultaneously attempts to suggest pathetic dweeb (when he gets beat up by a maintenance man) and “hunky dreamboat” in equal measure, which makes one wonder if they ever considered revising any of the lines after actor Matthew Bruch showed up on set. As Crow insists at length in the film’s MST3k treatment, this just doesn’t look like the leading man of what is purportedly a sci-fi action movie. Did someone really see the below screenshot in the dailies, nod their head, and say “This is exactly how I pictured it, yes”? That seems hard to believe.
Tell me that doesn’t scream “leading man.”
The film’s plot revolves around Nick’s “time transport,” powered by floppy disks that help the plane’s ’80s-era PC operate the “series of molecule accelerators” that make time travel possible, and please don’t mention the flux capacitor, thank you very much. Joining him is intrepid Girl Reporter Lisa, an old high school crush, which helps Giancola avoid the messy and tedious work of explaining why either of them would be attracted to the other. Hey, shared history! Thanks, Script-Writer’s Handbook!
Of course, the real star, and source of the most humor, is the film’s villainous white-collar devil J.K. Robertson, the CEO of supposedly multinational corporation “GenCorp.” It’s humor born of Giancola’s naivete, casting a frankly amateur actor in a role that is supposed to exude slickness, capability and menace. George Woodard, who played the character, was a dairy farmer in real life and that’s exactly what he sounds like, making him supremely awkward when cast in the role of some kind of CEO captain of industry. He speaks with the drawl of an old cowpoke, barely able to soldier through the corporate-sounding lines, clearly uncomfortable in his rented suit. He has the look of a man who’s wondering how he got into this position and wishing he could just retire to the porch of the town general store to kick up his feet and enjoy a nice sarsaparilla. Or a few fingers of WhistlePig Rye on the rocks, for that matter.
He’s also indicative of what makes Time Chasers so frequently hilarious, which is the huge gulf that must have existed between Giancola’s ambitions and the means at his disposal. Few films are so visually hamstrung by their lack of resources. When Nick and Lisa land the plane in a devastated future version of Earth, she clambers out, looks around (straight at the audience) and says “It looks like there’s been a war.” And perhaps there has been, but the director apparently didn’t have any budget to depict that there had been a war, besides filming the immediately following scenes in a dirty alleyway. Later, when our heroes visit the GenCorp global headquarters, it appears to be located in a local middle school, and J.K. Robertson is found in an office ringed by bizarre strands of lights and giant mirrors that suggest the atmosphere of a gaudy circus funhouse. Where in the hell was this filmed, anyway?
The office of a powerful and influential man.
It all culminates in a series of chases that span through recent and eventually Colonial history, with the nebbish Nick being foiled at pretty much every turn, as if this would somehow garner him some sort of audience sympathy. Directorial note: Pitying a character is not quite the same as liking him.
Before I close, I want to tightly, laser-focus in on one short segment where the film really comes together into a beautiful mess. It happens when Nick, on the run from Robertson’s machine gun-toting corporate goon squad, attempts to steal a stranger’s car from in front of a quaint general store, then IMMEDIATELY crashes it into a bizarrely constructed tableaux of cardboard boxes and parked bicycles, flipping it on its side before abandoning it in the middle of the road. The entire sequence takes about 13 seconds of film time, and it’s one of the most randomly shoehorned stunts I’ve ever seen in a cheap action movie. It’s as if Giancola woke up one morning and received a telegram from the city of Rutland, Vt., telling him that he had a one-day car crashing permit from the city, but oh no, it’s expiring in three hours! Quick, who has access to a tan Yugo and some decent insurance? No time to rationalize the crash, just shoot it!
I hate when a pile of carboard boxes just leaps out in front of you.
Time Chasers radiates a certain good-natured Midwesterness that the MST3k crew found themselves inexorably drawn to, as they so often were. It’s harmless, inoffensive, and everyone in it seems to be so pleased with the opportunity that they’re totally unaware of its flaws.
WhistlePig Rye, on the other hand, may be bottled on a farm in rural Vermont, but in terms of the experience, it possesses every bit the sophistication that David Giancola presumably hoped Time Chasers would have. It’s so perfectly crafted that it’s legitimately difficult for me to imagine what would make for a better rye whiskey. Despite my ironic appreciation for the guilelessness of the film, I can’t support it over the legitimately beautiful artistry of the liquor in my glass. In a confrontation between the two, the WhistlePig is the aesthetic victor in a landslide.
Want all the shaky logic of Back to the Future without the likable characters? Give Time Chasers a whirl, although you’ll probably want to stick with the MST3k version.
Prefer your consumables to radiate a certain sense of dignity? You’ll probably want to stick with the extraordinary, peppery rye from WhistlePig.
Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor, and he thinks a well-made rye whiskey is a great excuse to not drink craft beer on occasion. You can follow him on Twitter.