I’m not science-y enough to make a time machine, or even figure out if/how it’s possible. As far as I can tell, no one else is either.
That doesn’t stop time travel from being a device to tell stories.
Sometimes it’s the main idea behind a story, sometimes it’s nothing more than a plot device to tell a story that examines basic human characteristics. Sometimes the use, execution, and metaphysical consistency behind time travel work well, and sometimes you watch the credits wishing you had a time machine so you could stop yourself from watching Lost in Space.
I grew up on Back to the Future, which started my fascination with time travel. I’m always on the lookout for new movies and books with it, and it always seems like it holds such great potential for interesting stories.
But even in the best stories, there’s usually something looking to break your brain.
By the way, I’m assuming you are familiar with (or have at least seen) the following films. If not, here’s your warning. *There be spoilers ahead, matey.*
Back to the Future
Like I said, I grew up on Back to the Future. I want a DeLorean, a hoverboard, and for all of you to laugh at the title of this post. I’ve tried to figure out how long the entire series takes from Marty’s standpoint, how many instances of the DeLorean there are in BttF II’s 1955 scenes, and why hoverboards “don’t work on water” when it’s obvious Marty’s still floating above the water in front of the courthouse. Theory: they work in that they hover, but they don’t have a means of propulsion unless so equipped with one like Griff’s. Could you paddle a hoverboard? We’re off topic. I wonder what the series would have been like with Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly. I also wonder why Old Biff doesn’t travel to 2015A when he brings the the DeLorean back from 1955.
While they are in the alternate 1985 (hereafter 1985A), Doc explains that he and Marty can’t go back (forward) to 2015 to stop Old Biff from getting the Sports Almanac, because if they go to 2015 from 1985A, “it will be the future of this reality, in which Biff is corrupt, powerful, and married to [Marty’s] mother…”
This all happens because of the events that were changed when 2015 Biff gave 1955 Biff the Sports Almanac.
If Old Biff gives Young Biff the Almanac and then firetracks it back to 2015, he should be moving forward through the timestream in which he is corrupt and powerful. This would would mean that Doc and Marty are either stranded in the original 2015, or erased when the timeline corrects itself.
There was a deleted scene that was supposed to show Old Biff fading away as the timestream catches up to him, but I still don’t buy it. Why does time… take TIME… to catch up… to ITSELF?
In the very beginning of Timecop, there’s a discussion about the rules of time travel, in which the following statement is made:
“Now, you can’t go forward, because the future hasn’t happened yet. However, you can go back, and that’s where things get tricky.”
This seems fairly straightforward. The central problem I have with it is that later in the movie, goons are sent from the future to take out Van Damme in the present (kind of like Terminator, but with lots of kicking).
Goons from the future that hasn’t happened yet.
You could explain that away by saying that the guys from the future come back in time from their own present, so they’re not breaking the rules. Fair enough, but the overarching implications of only being able to go back in time from the present forget to take into account that whatever time you’re currently experiencing is essentially the present.
Let’s say I decided to go back to 1982. 1982 is now the time I’m experiencing, and I have an impact on it just like it would on me. Technically, the future I just came from hasn’t happened from the perspective of 1982. So just like Marty and Doc stuck in 2015, I can never get home.
Another thing that’s presented in the movie is the principle that “the same matter cannot occupy the same space.” That’s why (in the movie) it is inadvisable to go visit yourself in the past, because you might shake hands, and that would cause a temporal anomaly that looks like this:
First of all, our cells replenish themselves over time, with only a few types lasting our entire lifetime (heart muscle, cerebral cortex, and eye lens cells). Between those cells being difficult to access and the fact that matter physically cannot occupy the same space as other matter, this metaphysical hazard is hardly something to worry about.
Also, where does that gigantic rocket sled go? And how does it turn around?
I love the Terminator series. The idea that “there is no fate but what we make for ourselves” is inspiring and cautionary.
At the end of Terminator 2, future events were (will be? will have been?) changed when the Connor/Dyson/Terminator squad destroyed all of the Cyberdyne data and the T-800 components.
So yay! There’s no more Terminators, no more Skynet, and humanity will live on!
Except, the Terminators came back in the first place… So kind of like the goons from the future that hasn’t happened yet, the Terminators have come from a future that can’t exist because they were never created, but must exist because here they are.
There’s a line that Tarissa Dyson speaks in T2: “Aren’t we changing things? I mean… right now, changing the way it goes?” That leads me to…
That’s right, the Nicolas Cage flick.
It’s based on a Philip K. Dick novelette entitled “The Golden Man,” where the titular Golden Man has the ability to see into the future so as to view all possible outcomes from a single action.
While not a time travel movie, it does help to understand the nature of paradoxes and how they come to be.
In Next, it’s stated that the very act of looking at the future changes it. Kind of like how the Oracle tells Neo not to worry about the vase…
“What’s really going to bake your noodle later on is… would you still have broken it if I hadn’t said anything?”
Knowing how the future is supposed to play out would change anyone’s attitude about their actions in the present. In this way, Next shares a close theme with films like Minority Report (a Philip K. Dick story), Paycheck (another Philip K. Dick story), and The Adjustment Bureau (yet another Philip K. Dick story).
There are multiple reasons I don’t have the same adoration for this movie that others possess. Mostly, I would say it’s because of how nearly it comes to being great. First viewing: No idea what I just watched. Second viewing: “Oh wow. That was really cool.” Third viewing: “Wait a second. That didn’t make any sense.”
Now, before you start hating me and using… choice slanders from the film, hear me out.
Donnie is having a bad week. Things are messed up. A weird dude in a bunny suit lures him out of his house, and while he’s gone, a jet engine falls into his bedroom. Frank (remember the weird dude in the bunny suit?) warns Donnie that the world will end in a certain amount of time, and is instructed by Frank to perform certain tasks, like go a little crazy. Other bad/weird stuff happens, like the alien from Abyss comes out of Donnie’s chest, and shows him where to go. Eventually, Donnie must sacrifice himself to save the world from destruction, which he does by time-travelling back to his room on the night the jet engine fell into it.
That’s how he saved the world. By being in the place from which he was removed in order to save the world.
Basically, Frank could have done absolutely nothing, Donnie still would have died, and there wouldn’t be any need for the alternate timeline in which the entire movie takes place to ever have existed.
Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I don’t get it. I’m willing to admit that. And it does have Frank, a good cast, and some extremely quotable lines.
Somewhere In Time
I don’t care that Christopher Reeve uses his mind to time travel. I don’t care that seeing a penny with a later date thrusts him back to the present. Those are the methods of the movie, and I bought into them. What I care about is…
At the beginning of the movie, an old lady gives him a pocket watch and says, “Come back to me.” He finds out she was old, wrinkly Jane Seymour, travels back in time, and leaves the watch with young, hot Jane Seymour when he is ripped back to the present.
I just have one question: Where did the watch come from?
While we’re on Christopher Reeve, Superman The Movie features one of the stupidest examples of “time-travel.” I had to use quotation marks around that; it’s a moral imperative.
Superman flies so fast he reverses the rotation of the Earth. Which of course makes time go backwards. *OW* My brain just kicked itself. Stupid, stupid, stupid. If I need to explain why, I’m surprised you made it this far.
The only things that bother me about this movie have to do with the Omega-13 device* (a matter re-arranger that generates a 13-second time jump to the past).
- Why is Captain Taggart the only one who remembers the events prior to the activation of the Omega-13?
- Is it infinitely reusable?
Star Trek: Generations
Generations revolves around killing Captain Kirk, a mad scientist trying to get back to a timeless dimension called The Nexus, killing Captain Kirk, officially passing the Trek torch from the original to the Next Generation, and killing Captain Kirk.
First go-round, Picard fails to stop the bad guy, and ends up in the Nexus. From there, he can go to any point in space or time. Naturally, he wants to go back and fix his screw-up. So he recruits Kirk (also in the Nexus, because we’re the writers and we said so, that’s why), goes back, and successfully stops the bad guy from killing lots of people and sending everyone to the Nexus.
This presents multiple problems.
- Original Picard is still on the planet from the first go-round. MultiPicards.
- It completely strips the conflict from the movie. If Picard fails, he’ll go back to the Nexus and then come back here to stop the bad guy. He basically has infinite lives.
Okay. I’ve bashed on time travel movies basically this whole post. But I love them. The above are just examples of things that make my brain hurt and cry when I watch them.
But if you want to see some movies that do it really well, try these out.
12 Monkeys: I love the way it’s presented, the doubt placed in your mind that maybe Bruce Willis is just plain bananas, and the fact that it plays into itself. His future is in his past.
Timeline: This did horribly at the box office, and Paul Walker is at his Fastest and Furiousest, but I like it because of the story and the way altering the past is handled. The fact that everything the team does in the past has no effect on their future is interesting. It suggests that even if time travel became possible at some point, everything that has happened in the past has (will? will have? will have had? I hate tenses in these conversations!) incorporated any time travelling shenanigans into history as we know it. That also calls into question some free will/destiny issues, but it’s fascinating.
Primer: Two guys accidentally discover time travel in their garage. Excellent, low-budget, brain-bending movie. I need to see it again, because I got lost a lot.
Timecrimes: This is the big one. This may be the best time travel movie I have ever seen. I’m afraid to say much about it because I don’t want to spoil anything. It’s in spanish. It’s complex, but easy to follow. It builds upon itself with great skill and mounting tension. It’s also available on Netflix. Watch this movie. Your future self will thank you.
What time travel movies are your favorite? What complications catch your attention?