Time Traveling Through the Movies
Traveling through time is a staple in story telling. In
fact, telling a story is, in essence, a method of time travel.
Some of my favorite films tackle the theme head-on. The Back
to the Future franchise is a wonderful example of how the idea can be done,
re-done and even un-done delightfully.
Marty McFly and Doc Brown jump around time lines in both the
future and the past. They march right up to the dangerous—meeting with friends
and family in other times—without crossing the line of the forbidden—seeing
one’s own self out of the right time. Marty, Doc, and even Biff face their
density, I mean—destiny, while suffering and enjoying the consequences of
In the big screen release of Star Trek (2009), J.J.
Abrams used time travel as the pivotal vehicle to make the story work. By doing
so, he seized the ability to start over with virtually every character. To his
credit, he took great care to honor the iconic Enterprise
crew and bestowed them with even more depth of background, simultaneously
strengthening and broadening the Trekkie fan base.
For television, my favorite time-hopper is Sam Beckett
(Scott Bakula) of Quantum Leap. Sam played by VERY specific rules as he
leapt from one decade to another, borrowing other peoples’ bodies as he went
from one crazy situation to another, righting the wrongs of the past. Oh boy!
That brings me to my point. What are the rules of traveling through the fourth dimension?
I am well aware that, as of today, time travel is not possible.
(Except for the ever-present forward process, one day at a time.) As of yet,
therefore, there are no real rules, but every time a story about time travel
comes to life, the writer and director must follow a set of rules, to keep the
story from unraveling.
My problem is that so many of them make up a set of rules,
but then they don’t follow the rules they set. That’s when the trouble starts.
Films like Déjà vu and Premonition come along
and spoil it for everyone. They each had a fantastic premise and an equally
remarkable cast, but when they had to make the stories work, they broke a few
of their own rules. In Déjà vu there were bloody bandages before he had
actually gone back in time. In Premonition a child had cuts and scrapes in one
scene (correctly) but not in another. Maybe it was just bad editing. Maybe it
was a flaw in their idea. Maybe they thought we wouldn’t notice. Some of us
I admit I’m a sucker for time travel. I was scared to death
watching the 1979 film Time After Time. I fell absolutely in love while
watching Somewhere in Time (1980). Not only did the main characters
follow the time travel rules, but also they became the tragic slaves to the
H.G. Wells’ time bending classic, The Time Machine,
set some basic guidelines that most of the movies abide by. He established the
“do not interfere with history” by making it impossible to change one’s fate.
Other stories break this rule and cause the “butterfly effect” with disastrous
results. And of course, we all know that if you see yourself from another time,
you can cause a universe-shattering rift in the space/ time continuum. That’s a
Maybe I’m making a big deal of nothing. Maybe time travel is
just a fun idea—a way to exercise my imagination.
Mr. Peabody and Sherman brainwashed me at a very
young age with their wonderful Way Back Machine. I have always wondered what it
would be like to travel back in time and see history with my own eyes.
Wouldn’t it be marvelous? Maybe… but have you ever noticed
that when a character travels from modern day America
to medieval Europe, they never remark about
how anything or anyone smells? Perhaps time travel dulls your sense of smell.
Considering modern hygiene, I think that might be the first thing I’d notice.
That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema! Thanks for reading!