Timescape, released on video as Grand Tour: Disaster in Time, is a 1992 American science fiction film by Director David Twohy. This time-travel themed film is based on the novella Vintage Season by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore.
It stars Jeff Daniels, with Ariana Richards (who achieved international fame the following year playing Lex in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park) and features a cameo appearance by Robert Colbert, one of the co-stars of Irwin Allen’s 1960s TV series The Time Tunnel.
**WARNING*: this plot summary contains spoilers**
Ben Wilson (Jeff Daniels) is a widower haunted by the death of his wife, who has been killed in a freak car accident. He has recently returned to his home town and purchased an old guest house on the outskirts of town, which he is renovating with his young daughter Hillary (Ariana Richards).
When local bus driver Oscar arrives with a tour group from “South California”, their leader insists on renting out the rooms at the guest house, pointedly rejecting Ben’s suggestion that they could stay at his friends’ large hotel in the middle of town. Wilson soon begins to note their peculiar behaviour, manner and dress and Oscar points out the fact that, while they purport to be tourists, they do not carry cameras or take photographs. Shortly after they settle into their rooms another stranger, Quish (David Wells), arrives to join the group, and Ben notices the odd fact that Quish’s clothes have a fine covering of ash.
Ben’s suspicions are heightened by events of the next day. Quish has a minor accident while walking through the town and Wilson helps him, in the process recovering Quish’s dropped American passport. Looking through it, Ben discovers that the stamps within include locations inside the United States and dates that are many decades apart. The local doctor then shows Ben an X-ray of Quish’s head, which reveals that there is a mysterious object embedded in his skull. As they leave the surgery, Wilson confronts Quish, having deduced that the stamps correspond to the times and places of famous disasters, including the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, the crash of the Hindenburg and the Mt St. Helens volcanic eruption (hence the ash on his clothing). Unnerved, Quish will only respond by warning Wilson to leave town immediately and not return until he is sure it is safe.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Ben, his vengeful father-in-law, Judge Caldwell (George Murdock) — who blames Ben for his daughter’s death — has secretly arranged to have Hilary taken away from Ben on the grounds that he is an unfit parent. When Ben returns home he finds Hilary gone and confronts the Judge but is threatened with arrest; defeated, he goes to stay at the local hotel. There he visited by Reeve, one of the Tourists, who confirms his suspicions about their true nature: they are time-travellers from the future who visit the scenes of famous disasters as part of a “Grand Tour” of the past. She then gives Ben a euphoric substance and seduces him, leaving him unconscious.
Late that night Ben he is found and revived by Oscar and they return to the guest house to find out why the Tourists have come, but minutes later the town is struck by a large meteorite, resulting in almost total destruction. Ben races to the Judge’s shattered home, where he finds Hilary alive; heading back into town he finds the hotel destroyed and his friends dead, while the Tourists stroll through the devastation with an air of detached fascination. Ben and Hilary work through the night helping the survivors, who are taken to Hilary’s local school, which has become the local disaster relief centre.
When Ben and Oscar return to the guest house the next day, Ben is alarmed to discover that, although the tourists have left the house, their luggage is still there. He and Oscar track them to an abandoned factory outside the town, where Ben realises that they are awaiting a second disaster which is about to strike the school. The tourists try to detain him but he evades them and races to the scene hoping to save Hilary. Meanwhile, maintenance workers accidentally damage a gas line in the basement of the school and just as Ben arrives a hurricane lamp in the hall ignites the leaking gas, destroying the school in a massive blast and killing most of the people inside, including Hilary and Quish, who has followed Ben to the building.
Ben regains consciousness to find that he has been taken prisoner by the Tourists and that an official from their time, the Undersecretary (Robert Colbert), has arrived to investigate and try to remedy the disruptions to Ben’s “Timescape”. He explains that his people have discovered that time is more resilient than they had first believed but, because of the changes enacted by Ben and the Tourists, all time excursions have been suspended pending a full investigation. Just before they depart Ben attacks Reeve for her lack of humanity, but as she leaves she embraces him, secretly slipping Quish’s passport into his hand.
On examining the passport Ben discovers that it conceals one of the Tourists’ time travel devices. He eventually makes it work, and returns to the previous evening to try and save his daughter and the townsfolk from the disaster. Realising that Hilary is then at her grandfather’s house, he tries to sneak her away but he is caught and thrown into jail, which is itself soon to be destroyed. However he convinces the deputy to allow him his one phone call and manages to contact his pre-existing self at the hotel, just as that self is meeting with Reeve. This alternate self helps the ‘original’ Ben to escape from the jail and together they manage to alert and save most of the people by ringing the bells in the old church on the other side of town.
Leaving Hilary with his ‘earlier’ self, the ‘original’ Ben walks through the scene of the impact; there he is again confronted by the Undersecretary, who had returned to take Ben back to his proper point in time. He warn Ben not to interfere any further and threatens to alter the past again to eliminate Ben’s actions, but Ben challenges him by arguing that if the Undersecretary’s assertions were true, his people would have already done so.
In the final scene, we see Hilary taking bookings for the now-completed guest house while Ben reads through old love letters from his late wife. When Hilary looks up, Ben has vanished, and as the movie closes Hilary suddenly hears and is drwan towards the sound of someone playing her mother’s favourite tune on the piano.