Today: February 24, 2024

– By Edward Boff – Time Travel. Always a potent concept in Speculative Fiction, as it offers so many possibilities for storytelling.

By Edward Boff

Time Travel.
Always a potent concept in Speculative Fiction, as it offers so many
possibilities for storytelling.
It can show us cultures
clashing, such as in one of the granddaddies of the subgenre, Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee In King
Arthur’s Court
. It can show
how current trends can be extrapolated to their logical extremes, as in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. Or it can show how complicated the
inherent paradoxes and contradictions of time travel can be; illustrated so
well by Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time
Traveller’s Wife
. Some can
even pull off all three at once, which is just one reason to love Back To The Future Part II.

With the
release of Looper this month, Edward
Boff takes a look at how the silver screen has dabbled with trans-temporal
transportation. So join Ed as he
takes a quick peek at some of the film world’s lesser-known journeys through
time and space …

Time After Time
Nothing to do
with the song by Cyndi Lauper, this
presents the idea that H.G. Wells himself (played by Malcolm McDowell) invented a time machine for real. But a friend of his, Doctor John
Stevenson (David Warner) uses the
machine to escape from the law into the future. Of what crime was he suspected? Being Jack the Ripper!
So Wells has to follow him to San Francisco of the 1970s to stop him.
Not only is this well performed with two great leads, but it makes great use of
the real life Wells’ political views.
Wells was a known socialist and utopian, so the culture shock of having
him see how the 20th Century turned out is a great story in itself. Throw in the hunt for the most
notorious serial killer of all time (who gets a chilling speech about the way
Wells’ beloved science has perfected the art of death) and you’ve got a minor
classic! Special note for sci-fi
fans. This was the directorial debut of Nicholas
Meyer
, who later made the two best Star Trek films: The Wrath of Khan and The
Undiscovered Country
.

Time Bandits
A choice piece
from back in the day when kids fantasy stories were allowed to be really dark, Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin bring a very Python
sensibility to this cross centuries adventure. Young Kevin, by virtue of having a hole in the fabric of
time in his bedroom, ends up travelling with a group of dwarves who’ve
‘borrowed’ a map of creation so they can thieve from history’s richest! But even as they’re robbing Napoleon
and King Agamemnon and fleeing from the map’s owner (God!), they are being
watched by pure Evil. (David Warner
again. He gets around!). This film manages its creators’ aims of being
“exciting enough for adults, intelligent enough for kids” in
spades. It doesn’t get too much
into the mechanics of time travel, but it doesn’t matter since it’s purely the
set up for a great series of vignettes.
Napoleon (Ian Holm) being
utterly obsessed with the heights of previous dictators, Robin Hood (John Cleese) greeting people like
Prince Charles, the final battle of Evil vs. the best reinforcements history
has to offer; it goes on and on!
With ingenious low budget effects, an ace cast (Sean Connery, Shelly Duvall, Ralph Richardson...) and a highly
memorable final scene, it’s a family favourite to go down in history.

Twelve Monkeys (Main Picture)
If you’ve been
discussing Looper, you may be forgiven for thinking “a Bruce Willis time
travel movie about a predestination paradox; where have I heard that one
before?” Chalk up another
appearance for director Terry Gilliam
on this list, in a film inspired by the 1962 experimental short La Jetée. Prisoner James Cole (Willis),
from a future devastated by a plague epidemic, is sent back in time to just
before the outbreak to gather intelligence that could lead to finding a
cure. But he overshoots, and ends
up in a clinic under the care of Dr. Railly (Madeleine Stowe). Or is he actually crazy and imagining it
all? And what does it have to do
with animal rights nut Jeffrey Goines (Brad
Pitt
) and a recurring nightmare Cole has? Twelve Monkeys is all about
paradoxes, and the way time travel tale can fold back in on itself. The film sets lots of intriguing
mysteries, and seeing all the hints and clues revealed by the end is immensely
satisfying. Although there’s one
major mystery you’ll probably guess early on, it still hits like a punch to the
gut when the moment comes. With
all three leads on top form, neat production design, and a score that will
stick in your head forever, you’ll see why it’s Gilliam’s most mainstream
success to date. Bonus points for
the excellent making-of documentary on the DVD The Hamster Factor too!

Primer
Hoo boy, when
it comes to incredibly complicated, wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff, nothing
can hold a candle to this extra low budget (only $7000!) indie piece. It follows tech geeks Abe (David Sullivan) and Aaron (Writer,
Director, Editor, Producer and Musician Shane
Carruth)
in trying to build a machine to reduce the mass of items inside.
Why? For SCIENCE that’s why! They
discover it has an even weirder effect; time forms a loop within, so it’s
possible to use it to hop back in time.
They first decide to use it to scam the stock market and get rich, being
careful to avoid paradoxes, but then things get complicated …

Things get so
complicated in the final act that there exist, out there, websites devoted to
figuring it all out, complete with charts! Apparently there are at least nine different overlapping
timelines in the course of the film, and we only see bits and pieces of
them. Now there are two schools of
thought to this. You can see it as either being a perfect example of how
nightmarishly complicated time travel can be, or it’s just a film that’s too
clever for its own good. While
there definitely is evidence for the latter, like the very technical dialogue
that refuses to simplify things to us mere plebs (although those with science
degrees can just about keep up), it’s definitely worth a watch to judge for
yourself. The thing that’ll really
have scratching your head though is “seriously, only $7000?”

Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel
Stop if you’ve
heard this one. Three blokes (Chris
O’Dowd, Dean Lennox Kelly and Marc Wootton
) go into a pub. One of them finds out there’s a warp in
the fabric of time in the gents, and sees a future where they’re all dead! They soon find themselves confused not
just at this but the possibility that one of them, perpetual loser Ray, may
have got himself a girlfriend from the future (Anna Faris). FAQATT is a very modest production, (all the action
takes place around a single pub), but that doesn’t stop it from engaging in
some big ideas. A lot of classic
time travel tropes are either evoked or turn up (hiding from past selves,
characters gone for a minute, gone for months from their perspective) and it
even throws in a few new neat concepts of its own. Plus, it’s just plain funny. It has three great leads with good chemistry, and they get
some truly inspired material to work with, including one scene that will mean
you’ll never hear a certain karaoke favourite the same way ever again! Of all the films on this list, this one
is most certainly underrated. It’s no absolute masterpiece, but it’s good solid
fun and deserves to be far better known. Definitely track this one down.

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