The U.S. celebrated Groundhog Day a couple of weeks ago (is there an international, or even fictional equivalent, I wonder?), and as usual, it was an opportunity for geeks everywhere to show our appreciation for one of the greatest time travel films ever made: Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andy MacDowell. Like I need an excuse to re-watch it! But this year the occasion reminded me of another film that is not nearly as well known…
Before the Syfy Channel (née Sci-Fi Channel) built its reputation on making so-bad-they’re-good genre films, Fox was the champion of low-budget SF movies-of-the-week. The nostalgic and sometimes faulty part of my brain fondly remembers the 90s as the heyday of TV movies, and Fox gave us instant classics such as Generation X, W.E.I.R.D. World, and Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (starring David Hasselhoff in the titular role). Many of them were obviously backdoor pilots for new TV shows or cheap knockoffs of Hollywood blockbusters, but my favorite of the era was 12:01.
Starring Jonathan Silverman (Weekend at Bernie’s), Helen Slater (Supergirl), Jeremy Piven, and Martin Landau, on the surface it looks like a rehash of Groundhog Day. Whereas the latter film doesn’t really try to explain the cause of the 24-hour time loop, 12:01 attributes it to a science experiment that threatens to trap the entire world in the same day. Silverman is not quite as talented or entertaining as Bill Murray, but he got the job done. I remember liking him and Slater and in general appreciating the film on its own merits. And it turns out it may not be a ripoff of Groundhog Day at all–in fact, the creators maintained that Groundhog Day stole from them.
Could be. 12:01 was based on a 1990 short film directed by Jonathan Heap called 12:01 PM, which was in turn adapted from a short story of the same title by Richard Lupoff, published in the December 1973 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. (Lupoff followed up with “12:02 PM” and “12:03 PM” in issues from 2012 and 2013–I’ve gotta track these down.) In the short film, which aired on Showtime’s 30-Minute Movie series, Myron Castleman (played by Kurtwood Smith) repeats the same hour over and over again, from 12:01 to 1:00 p.m. At least it’s his lunch break.
Director Jack Sholder expanded on this premise for 12:01, which aired on Fox on July 5, 1993. Groundhog Day was released on Feb. 12, 1993. Suspiciously close timing, but I can understand the skepticism–at least as far as the film versions go. Whichever came first, it’s a shame because there’s no avoiding the similarities, and 12:01 actually compares pretty favorably. Good enough that even though I haven’t seen it in a while, I may just grab it on DVD instead of digging out my old VHS tape from storage.
If you’re curious about this time loopy alternative to a beloved film, here’s the trailer for the Fox film, 12:01: