Zotz!: Bullet-Time 37 Years Before the Matrix

Tom Poston’s acting career spanned the years between 1950 and 2006. Poston got his start on a TV show about an actual space cadet and bid his farewell surrounded by Disney’s nearly-twin space cadets Zack and Cody. That long career included a number of memorable performances on the small screen that placed Poston opposite everyone from Bob Newhart to Jaleel White.

The intimacy of television was likely a much more appropriate fit than the big screen for Poston’s deceptively pure performances as average Joes and ordinary guys. If you became a fan of Tom Poston’s comedy from those TV appearances, however, you should take the opportunity to track down what may well have been his only starring role in a big screen comedy. A big screen comedy that foretells one of the most revolutionary advancements in big screen special effects of the last quarter century.

Back in the days before Jerry Springer and inappropriately timed reruns of sitcoms and dramas with decidedly mature content, local stations used to run a movie in the afternoon between school letting out and Dad getting home from work. In my town, John Edd Thompson was the host and the show called The Big Show. Tom Poston’s big screen starring vehicle titled “Zotz!” used to air about every two to four months.

This rare opportunity for Tom Poston to actually be a leading man in a comedy film was originally released to theaters with one of director William Castle’s patented gimmicks to attract audiences. Unfortunately, the gimmick for “Zotz!” was perhaps Castle’s lamest: nothing more than a free plastic coin that mimicked the ancient golden coin found by Poston’s character that endowed him with the power to cause pain and even death if he so desired.

It was the third magical power that the coin possessed that might be most interesting for today’s fans of not comedy movies, but special effects laden science fiction and action movies. That third special power allowed Tom Poston to manipulate the pace at which objects moved through time and space. Keep in mind that “Zotz!” was released in 1962, meaning it is just months older than the writer of this article. In other words: “Zotz!” is practically ancient itself by the standards not just of teenagers, but those in charge of scheduling which movies to run on national cable networks. Of course, there may be a redundancy there. Sure seems like it.

The point I’m making by mentioning the age of “Zotz!” is to remind younger movie fans that what may seem entirely new to them may actually have been preceded by more primitive cinematic approaches that go back much further than they might think. The term “bullet time” was registered as a trademark by Warner Brothers in connection with the breakthrough special effects introduced in “The Matrix.” While there is no denying that the bullet time effects are stunning and deserving of dropped jaws, the plain honest truth of the subject is that an admittedly much more primitive concept of bullet time was literally utilized in “Zotz!” for much more comical effect than was achieved in “The Matrix.”

Tom Poston engages that special power of his weird little ancient coin to manipulate time by yelling out the magic word “Zotz!” just in time to slow down the path of a bullet heading straight for him to a crawl. Yes, it would be hard pressed to make a solid comparison between the technological achievements of “The Matrix” and the special effects used in “Zotz!” but the idea is all over the screen in this Tom Poston comedy.

Keep in mind that the brief segment that foreshadows visions of Carrie Anne Moss and company metaphorically giving the bird to the physics of time is just one reason to track down “Zotz!” The main reason is to catch Tom Poston, who built a career out of being second banana, as the character around which all the comedy revolves.