Friday, November 17, 2017

A bunch of time travel films

Thirty half-arsed "reviews" of films featuring varying degrees of time travel, salvaged from my old blog since Photobucket's ransom demand made wading through that site even more irritating than it was already. In alphabetical order, not chronological. That would just get confusing.

12 Monkeys

"The movie never changes. It can't change. But every time you see it, it seems different because you're different. You see different things" – James Cole
It's been a while, but this one stands up to repeat viewing more than some other films that have been in my mental Top 10 since adolescence by virtue of nostalgia for how much I used to like them. And I did get a different perspective by watching it after La Jetée. This is still better, sorry snobs.

This might be Terry Gilliam's best film. I have a soft spot for Brazil, and if you count Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which he co-directed, that's occupied the Top 1 spot somewhat undeservedly since I was about nine. But here, there are enough quirky flourishes to keep it feeling subversive, to the extent that it's perplexing to see his world populated by A-list stars like Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt.

Pitt is ludicrous in this, despite apparently being nominated for one of those prestigious industry awards. His portrayal of a lunatic consists of moving one of his eyes to the side, speaking fast and jumping around, whereas Willis plays troubled time traveller James Cole much more believably. I always watch this trying to convince myself that it's all in Cole's mind, but ultimately that doesn't serve the film's plot, and it feels like they've pushed the ambiguity as far as it could conceivably go, while simultaneously choreographing the chain of events that caused the mess these inept scientists are trying to fix in the first place. The test of a smart time travel film is that it gets more impressive the more you analyse it, unlike something like The Butterfly Effect that collapses in on itself half-way through.

There's still plenty of evidence that Cole could be imagining all of this, like the omnipresent "Bob" guy and repeating imagery that could be fuelling his divergent escapes into a less realistic future that looks like something out of a slightly subdued Terry Gilliam film. You know, plus the fact that he's literally in a mental institution near the beginning and pumped full of drugs. But the film doesn't make any sense unless he's really a time traveller, you'd have to invent a load of other supernatural explanations like telepathy, clairvoyance, preincarnation... he's a time traveller, alright? Keep your Reddit fan theories to yourself.


Back to the Future

Probably as close to a perfect trilogy as there's ever been, the Back to the Future films have a very special place in my heart, and you don't have to look far on the internet to see I'm not alone in that. I've spent so much time getting absorbed in fourth-dimensional speculations, fan theories and other celebratory materials over the last few years that it was about time I actually watched the damn things again. They may have been permanently burned onto my brain cells through countless rewatches growing up, as one of the few things my family could watch and enjoy together (the males at least), but a few years can give a different perspective.

The main thing that struck me is just how well it holds up. It's probably even better now that I'm older than Michael J Fox is pretending to be, with more life experience behind me. As a kid, there was always the question of which of the three films was my favourite, and my opinions went back and forth all over the trilogy. Watching back, the original is clearly the definitive take, just as strong on its own merits though fortunately not spoiled by its successors.

It's extremely funny, bold without being blue, and intriguing in its temporal mechanics without being off-putting to casual viewers (that's what the internet's for: go crazy). I wonder if the cast and crew had any idea of the legacy they would leave on several generations (and counting) with their light-hearted summer blockbuster? It's been up there with my favourite films of all time since I was about eight, there's no chance of it slipping down the ranks now.
"If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour... you're gonna see some serious shit" – Emmett 'Doc' Brown

Back to the Future Part II

I knew the day would come when the futuristic sci-fi year of 2015 would become the disappointing present. This is going to take some getting used to.

This smart sequel was my favourite of the trilogy as a kid, though I flipped back and forth a lot. While my appreciation of the original film has strengthened over time, I wouldn't say I like the follow-up any less than I used to – it's just less essential by virtue of relying so much on its predecessor. And rely it does, in what must surely be a movie first of the characters stepping back into their previous film and skulking around in the background.

The tone is all over the place, from the bright and comical 2015 scenes to the dystopian alternative 1985 and double nostalgia of the extended 1955 reprise. With Biff becoming a Hollywood villain and the DeLorean heroically swooping around it does run the risk of criticism for dumbing down, but its demonstration of the catastrophic potential of time travel is crucial to the arc of the series.

It's still endlessly quotable, even if some of the new catch-phrases feel a little desperate, and the back-to-back filming with Part III allows for plenty of set-up that will pay off very nicely.
"There's something very familiar about all this..." – Biff Tannen

Back to the Future Part III

I hate to be a spoilsport and downgrade this one a little, but really it's just in comparison to the other two. I don't have a problem with the more drastic change of setting – we're still in Hill Valley, after all – but the Hollywood action does get a little over the top and the humour veers into goofier territory than previously. I'm also not the biggest fan of Doc's romance plot, even if it did admittedly provide fuel for the best Brokeback Mountain parody out there.

As in the previous film we're dealing with three time periods, and my favourite scenes might be those right at the start with Marty and the 1955 Doc as they piece together the mystery of what happened to Doc's future incarnation in the past and Marty sets off to save him. All the Wild West stuff is a lot of fun, but I can see how it could be jarring to a fan of the first film, or even the second, who was expecting something in the same vein rather than a somewhat simplified reprise of the first film's dilemma of getting Back to the Future (it's in the title, what else are they supposed to do?)

This was never a problem for me, as I grew up with all three films in my consciousness at a less tediously critical age. This is just how they are. If the third film was set in space or World War II, I would have accepted that too. It's probably for the best they quit while they were ahead – as important as these films are to me, I've never been one of the camp craving Part IV. There's other stuff out there, even if the characters aren't quite so adorable.
"Why do we have to cut these things so damn close?" – Marty McFly

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure

The general consensus seems to be that this is the better of the two Bill & Ted films, but I've never really got that – for me, it doesn't stand anywhere near the funnier, darker, madder sequel. Admittedly, the nostalgia factor is at play more than ever as Bogus Journey was my favourite film as a kid until I saw Monty Python and the Holy Grail when I was about 10, while I only saw Excellent Adventure once or twice. It doesn't have the same vibe, and I wonder if I'd even have given these films a chance if I hadn't been six years old at the time.

The best thing about it is Bill and Ted themselves. They're more than stock high school stoners, there's a very charming innocence about these soul mates who fuse archaic and elaborate terms with surfer jargon and who favour water slides over drugs. They may be slackers with no musical talent, but they're not doing anyone harm, and they have little to no concept of danger or their own mortality as they casually kidnap various dangerous figures from throughout history.

It's mostly a silly film, and the overlong sequences of historical characters enjoying themselves at the mall and helping Bill and Ted deliver a sentimental 'history report' are especially cringe-worthy. But aside from all the light-hearted daftness, the script is saved by some smart use of time travel as the characters increasingly wrap their heads around the ramifications of their phone booth TARDIS... even if it breaks its own established rules from the onset.

It's nice to see George Carlin as Rufus too, comforting us that this will all somehow make sense eventually. One of the more surprising achievements of the sequel is that it brought Wyld Stallyns' eventual benevolent world domination a little bit closer to plausibility.
"Strange things are afoot at the Circle K" – 'Ted' Theodore Logan

Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey

There are a few films I can never be objective about, and this is one of them. I first saw it on the big screen at age five or six for a friend's birthday and subsequently rented it out ad nauseam from the video shop throughout my remaining childhood. I don't know why I didn't just buy it. Along with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Knightmare and our Amiga 1200, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey was one of the cornerstones of my childhood.

I've watched it a couple of times as an adult, and I've still been impressed at how funny it is, though I'm so familiar with the script that these new delights have to come out of left field (e.g. unexpectedly hilarious use of the word "totally" in "I totally possessed my dad"). I also love the weird atmosphere, which swaps the time travelling hi-jinks and lack of any real jeopardy in the first film with both sides of the afterlife and freaky space aliens.

There's still a little brain-twisting time travel logic thrown in at the end for old-school fans, which is probably where my preoccupation with the genre can be traced to as I loved all that stuff, and when I watch the Evil Robot Thems topping the Good Human Thems and the dead Bill and Ted running from their hellish destinies I remember how frightening that all was when I was a kid. William Sadler will always be the definitive incarnation of the Grim Reaper too.

Sadly, some plot developments make no sense at all due to bad editing or deleted scenes not being accounted for (the whole thing with Rufus) and it's a real shame that Bill and Ted are so fond of calling each other "fags," which as an innocent British kid I thought was just them sarcastically saying "thanks." It's also a shame the slang term "station" never caught on as the writers presumably intended. Station used to really freak me out too, I always wished he'd stayed as the two little guys.

Subjectively, this is probably in my all-time top ten. Objectively, I think it's at least better than the first film.
"You have sunk my battleship" – Death

Donnie Darko

Oh yeah, this film has time travel in it too. Or at least discussions about it, and then whatever happens at the end.

When I saw this at the time I was helpfully going through a David Lynch phase, and its tight-lipped, cryptic execution fit right in. I can't remember what my interpretation was, since it won't have been long before I scoured the internet for assistance and came across various websites with self-appointed number one fans giving their contradictory definitive takes on the subject, but there's enough on the screen to get a general idea, and I like that it's left to our imaginations and religious biases.

What I didn't like was being patronised by walls of text in the director's cut edition, which I only saw recently and wouldn't recommend. While it does incorporate some extra family bonding scenes, Richard Kelly's idea of making his story's meaning clearer to audiences involves interrupting the action with extracts from what was previously supplementary reading for die-hard fans and overlaying distracting computer graphics and eyeballs onto the screen that seem to be trying to persuade me that the time tinkering is actually down to scientists or aliens or something, and I don't like that at all. What the hell is 'PURGE' supposed to mean?

Oh yeah, this film also has actors playing characters and stuff. That's all good, so can we get back to discussing wormholes?
"Sometimes, I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion" – Kitty Farmer

Dr. Who and the Daleks

The first of two tangentially related Doctor Who films of the 1960s, seemingly created solely to cash in on Dalekmania, will be a disappointment to people hoping to see an adventure about Daleks. The mutated, armoured space Nazis are all over the place, as expected, but they don't act much like the more familiar Daleks of later TV serials. Their extermination attack consists of spraying unintimidating-looking gas (rather than the flame throwers teased by the film posters that were apparently too scary for children) and they don't even bloody say "exterminate." What a rip-off.

Despite being adapted and condensed from Terry Nation's script for the first Dalek serial, it doesn't feel very Doctor Who at all, thanks to a number of changes to the characters and situation that end up with the Doctor not even being a weird alien any more, just a slightly senile old inventor with a penchant for children's comics. It isn't Peter Cushing's finest hour. They didn't even use the iconic theme music.

I have much fonder memories of the sequel, in which the Daleks were actually intimidating.
"EX-TER-MIN... what? Are you serious?" – Rubbish Daleks

Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.

There would have been further Doctor Who film adaptations if this sequel had performed better in cinemas, and from the onset it doesn't greatly impress with its awkward title and the continuing absence of the classic TV theme tune. But as soon as Peter Cushing's Doctor and his companions arrive in the destroyed London of the 22nd century (which looks oddly exactly like the London of the 1960s, down to the cars and radios – maybe there was a retro craze before the end?), it's clear that this is the superior of the two cinematic Whos.

It's actually a decent film in its own right too, even if die hard Whovians need to make some adjustments. It helps that I hadn't seen the six-part TV serial this was based on at the time, so I was spared having to make annoying comparisons. The 'canon' story is probably the better version, but at less than half the length, this feels just right.

This time, Bernard Cribbins is our everyman, a diligent copper who accidentally ends up in the Tardis and is recklessly taken to the future, where he's occasionally called on to break the sombre tone with some slapstick. Splitting the characters up into several groups helps to flesh out this nightmare dystopia, where human slaves work in the Dalek mines or are converted into Robomen and a pathetic pocket of resistance scores minor victories against the pepper pot Nazis. The Daleks themselves are a lot more menacing than in their first appearance, now uttering their popularly bloodthirsty catch-phrase and not being restricted to metal surfaces... even if they still can't climb stairs, a-hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! Classic.

They still shoot the rubbish gas though, why not give them lasers? And if I'm going to be picky, their master plan – thereby the actual plot of the film – is unbelievably silly.
"When the Earth's magnetic core is extracted we can pilot this planet to the vicinity of our own and occupy it" – Dalek provides convenient plot exposition for no reason

Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel

I can see why you'd be disappointed if you went into this low-key, low-budget British comedy film made by people you've never heard of and with the guy from The IT Crowd as the only recognisable TV face in it (not the hilarious one, the quite funny one) expecting to witness the birth of the next legendary sci-fi saga (sorry, "science fiction"). But if you just happened to come across it low down an IMDb user's arbitrary list of 100 films about time travel and thought it could be worth streaming rather than the next repetitive episode of a dull TV series you had queued up, it's a real treat.

Writer Jamie Mathieson (subsequently the best writer of Capaldi-era Doctor Who) is clearly something of a veteran time travel nerd (sorry, "imagineer") and that's channelled through the similarly obsessive Ray, whose book smarts on paradox theories gets him and his drinking pals through a strange night when they unintentionally get lost through a time rip in the pub toilets. If I read that summary I might not have watched it, but it's funny and clever enough for fellow time travel fanatics to let their hair down, even if they'll doubtless be annoyed by the end because artistic license means the pseudo-science of time travel is never allowed to play out like it does in your head. Unwind by seeing how many subtle and clunky references to famous science fiction films you can spot instead.

It does feel more like a feature length TV pilot than a film, and I liked the idea at the beginning that all the talk about coming from the future really was a massive wind-up to cheer Ray up after he lost his job, but they couldn't really sustain a film on that. Also because it's a film, that means there's a confrontation with a tedious villain towards the end and these endearingly un-heroic guys have to save the day.
"I really thought that time travel would be a bit more thrilling than this" – Ray

Groundhog Day

Definitive time loop morality tale Groundhog Day doesn't immediately leap to mind when you think of time travel films, probably because Bill Murray doesn't climb inside a time machine at any point. If the lack of scientific/alien equipment and explanations bothers you, you probably just need to spend a few revolutions in a sleepy, snowy town to mellow out. While there are nits galore to pedantically pick on Phil Connors' final day in the loop, there's really nothing I can fault in this film... with the possible exception of the daft bit where he joyrides with the groundhog.

Even with the concessions to comedy, I think it paints a pretty realistic picture of what this experience would do to you, with self-serving sexual relief, bouts of serious depression and delusions of godhood gradually giving way to the deeper satisfaction of doing good for goodness' sake. Either that or you'd surrender to entropy and just never get out of bed.

This is also one of the best films for off-screen speculation, especially if you're mathematically minded and set about working out exactly how long it will have taken Phil to master and hone his various talents while still balancing his daily obligations. We're likely into the centuries.
"This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather" – Phil Connors


Fancy that – a huge-budget, mainstream, proper sci-fi film in this day and age! It had my appreciation even before I (belatedly) got round to watching it, and while it's no 2001, it's at least sort of a superior Contact, if you wanted to like that one but it left a bad taste in your mouth.

My GCSE-level physics makes me in no way qualified to judge the accuracy of the pseudoscience, but I've read Hawking, Sagan and Greene and understood some of it, so there was a lot that felt satisfyingly plausible. And then a less plausible, downright weird ending, because 2001 set that precedent.
"We've always defined ourselves by the ability to overcome the impossible" – Joe Cooper

La Jetée

I'd known for a long time that this 1962 French short film was the inspiration for 12 Monkeys, but evidently I'd never found 26 minutes to spare to watch it on YouTube until now. It turns out Terry Gilliam paid respectful homage to the horrifying post-apocalyptic future with its unnecessary goggle motifs, while also incorporating the bookending airport scenes. The rest is different though – there's no overacting Brad Pitt character and the "is this all in his mind?" angle doesn't get as much focus. The romance plot is done better though, even if the mademoiselle is mute and passive throughout. It was the sixties.

This is regularly ranked among the best science fiction films, and it feels like the sort of short story I'd come across in an otherwise bland anthology of space opera and robot rebellions and really enjoy. As a film, the still images (they couldn't afford a video camera) make things suitably disorienting, especially combined with the choral music and ambient heartbeats, so it gets credit for turning its serious budget constraints into an advantage, helping to make the whole thing more ambiguous. Until we visit the sparkly future and it gets a bit Old Doctor Who.

I still prefer 12 Monkeys, hammy Brad Pit performance and all. Is that sacrilege?
"He understood there was no way to escape time" – Narrator

The Langoliers

As the opening credits faded into view over rolling clouds I asked myself out loud "am I actually watching The Langoliers?" This tedious, poorly acted three-hour miniseries is the sort of thing most people wouldn't sit through once in their lives, let alone the three times (at least) that I've now had the experience. What can I say? We rented this on VHS from Blockbuster when I was about 10 and it instantly became part of my childhood nostalgia just by virtue of being in it.

As I watched those characters check in for their flight and wake up on an otherwise deserted plane in mid-flight, I felt the warm familiarity of revisiting a TV series from my youth. I was also taking a flight at the time, so it seemed like an appropriate way to kill the time.

The langoliers themselves – buzzsaw-teethed meatballs that rank alongside Velociraptors, Mumm-Ra from Thundercats, Jemadah from Watt on Earth and Lord Fear from Knightmare as some of the most iconic villains of my childhood – don't show up in the opening part, which sets up the mystery and the admittedly rubbish characters played by occasionally familiar TV actors. There's Dean "Quantum Leap" Stockwell as the mystery writer who comes up with wacky theories that, like Fox Mulder's, mostly turn out to be true. There's also the sad-face captain played by someone from something, the deranged businessman, the rehab teen, the nerdy teen, the kind-hearted teacher, the token black guy, some old guy and the blind girl who can sense things because blind children are magic.

The dialogue is pretty damn bad, the delivery even worse and the plot's full of weird holes that didn't have to be there – like why weren't everyone's clothes left behind if their glasses, pacemakers and braces were? – but for the most part, the mystery sustains it. Even if it lasts at least an hour longer than it really should.
"The langoliers are purpose personified" – Craig Toomey


For a film with a time travel conceit, this dismisses the logical inconsistencies with refreshing honesty, inviting you to enjoy the ride (which is at least internally consistent). It's a nasty, gory, shooty ride with a few dead kids thrown in for good measure, there aren't any characters to root for apart from the vulnerable women and children, and its nihilistic presentation of a Gothic future with silly-looking vehicles that can sometimes fly isn't the most convincing. But it made me think and feel, and that's the best I could have hoped for.

I was mostly grateful that Bruce Willis finally showed up in another worthy sci-fi flick after 12 Monkeys. What about The Fifth Element? Sod off.
"This time travel crap just fries your brain like a egg" – Abe

Mr. Nobody

For the first hour or so, this philosophical Choose Your Own Adventure film coasts along nicely on directorial zaniness. After that, the concept starts to wear thin and I was just waiting patiently for answers.

When we do get the answer, it's the one that makes the most sense out of everything, but it wouldn't have hurt them to throw in some more head-slapping foreshadowing than "those are just some girls he knows," especially given how absurdly detailed the various scenarios are for a child's imagination. What kind of films has he been watching?
"Every path is the right path. Everything could've been anything else. And it would have just as much meaning" – Nemo Nobody


Since I was already familiar with the original Heinlein short story inside-out in every required dimension, I couldn't really get a feel for how successfully this adaptation works on a twist level for first-timers. Is the sequencing too confusing, or the repetition too patronising? I was more interested in the technical achievement and degree of creative license needed to obscure giveaway clues and execute the reveals in a visual medium.

Their solutions are simple and neat, but you'll still need to suspend your disbelief in other areas. Beyond those essential tweaks, it's more loyal to the source than I would have thought possible. I'm especially happy that they stuck with the original time period, so we get to enjoy a retro future past.

And since my first watch was basically my second, I was able to enjoy all the unsubtle "clues" and laboured metaphors. Clunky, borderline embarrassing, but I love all that stuff.
"If at Last You Do Succeed, Never Try Again"


Filmed on an impressively thrifty $7,000, this is as close to a 'realistic' time travel story as there's ever likely to be. The script doesn't patronise the audience, even though the non-physicists will have to allow most of the ambient technobabble to wash over them, and by taking the accidental geniuses on a journey from ends-meet practicality through giddy excitement and eventual conflicting attitudes, it achieves the even more surprising feat of good characterisation.

This level of meticulous planning for time jaunts hasn't been seen since Bill & Ted, and I love that the glamour is completely stripped away from time travel as our heroes are forced to endure uncomfortable nights inside the machine waiting for their own time to roll back and whiling away the hours in hotel rooms so they don't accidentally tread on their own lives.

This is a deserved cult success with an unfair reputation for being impossibly cryptic. The last 15 minutes get a bit convoluted, but with dialogue and pandering narration explaining more of less what's going on, what more do you need? Being encouraged to use your brain isn't a bad thing. Rate yourself lower.
"I can imagine no way in which this thing could be considered anywhere remotely close to safe" – Abram Terger

Project Almanac

The creators came up with a brilliant creative premise to set this time travel film apart, which was to film it as if it was amateur home video footage that had been found, implicitly edited by a maniac. It does make it annoying to watch, and adds to the distracting logical flaws of the story by featuring unbelievable dialogue and impossible angles, but still, top marks for originality, guys.
"We can't build a time machine... in my basement" – David Raskin

Safety Not Guaranteed

I was looking for a light-hearted time travel film with a glimmer of romance, since that pretty much constitutes the overlap on the Venn diagram of my and my wife's tastes, and research suggested that this would fit the bill. It did so nicely, though it's no Back to the Future Part III (dead centre of the diagram).

I was intrigued by the genuine backstory of the odd classified ad that forms the film's basis, though you shouldn't Google it after you watch as it'll only shatter your illusions. The writer evidently found inspiration in that ad/meme, and crafted a warm and nicely ambiguous story around it... then added a couple of stupid sub-plots to occupy the secondary characters and fill up more of those annoying pages so the finished product would at least come close to 90 minutes.

All the way through, as we delve deeper into Kenneth's delusions of being a time traveller, I assumed they were going to play the realism card right up to a 'surprise' fantastical ending. So I wasn't surprised there. Maybe they could have cut to credits as he pushed the lever before all those flashy effects, but I don't make them, I just unfairly criticise them.
"The mission has been updated" – Kenneth Calloway

Source Code

You know you've watched too many time travel films when you unconsciously categorise and contrast the mechanisms at work. This smart film from 2011 (I'm only two years out of touch now) uses the repeating time loop format most famously seen in Groundhog Day and imitated by pretty much every sci-fi and fantasy series that fancied itself a bit quirky or wanted to save money by only filming eight minutes of footage that week and using it again and again. But unlike Bill Murray's repeating day we're explicitly told why and how this is happening.

That makes this film more interesting as well as more frustrating for sci-fi buffs, though I think it's open-ended enough that you can come to whichever conclusion annoys you the least. If it really messes with your head, just assume they're showing you the afterlife so you don't need to think about words like "time" or "universe" any more.

We're gradually filled in at a steady pace as our hero conveniently has memory issues when me meet him (he's been through a lot, to be fair), so we don't have to sit through a patronising monologue or read anything. We're told it's not a simulation but that the events can't be permanently altered, as even the butterfly effects impacting on the lives of his fellow commuters are contained within this virtual observation bubble. Well guess what? You lab coat bozos ain't as smart as you think you is, and there's more to it than that. Maybe. Or maybe there isn't and that ending really is a momentary burst of fiction he creates for himself as life support is mercifully terminated.

If this was an arbitrary third season episode of some weekly sci-fi show I'd be blown away, but as a film it makes a few concessions to idiots in the audience, tags on unnecessary elements and feels a little claustrophobic and low-budget, though obviously not to the extent of Primer. The running time also makes it feel more like a TV movie, though I probably would have got bored if it was longer. I don't know what I like, give me a break, this isn't my job.
"Eight minutes and I blow up again" – Colter Stevens

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Probably the first Trek I ever saw as a kid, I was more likely to associate this with other sci-fi farces like Escape from the Planet of the Apes than as the third part in a trilogy, and one of its strengths is that it can be enjoyed on its own merits. Though if you did watch it as the conclusion to that mini Trek marathon, its different setting and tone do make a refreshing change from the militaristic Starfleet and borderline insane villains of the previous two.

Famously the most accessible Trek film, before J. J. Abrams' reboot in a more geek-friendly age, The Voyage Home mostly takes place in 1980s San Francisco. While this eases the burden on the casual audience, it could have served to alienate fans of the franchise if not for the familiar characters who we are catching at their best, contrary to Kirk's claims.

Despite containing time travel and an ecological message, the plot is unchallenging and could be accurately described as a romp. The soundtrack's a bit rubbish and there aren't many model spaceships this time, but you were spoiled by all that in the previous two Treks, so shut your face.
"Double dumbass on you!" – James T. Kirk

Star Trek: Generations

This isn't a very good Star Trek film, so I can't imagine why you'd bother if you're not even a fan. Basically a big-budget Next Generation episode, we have pointless cameos from some of that series' arbitrary villains (at least it wasn't Daimon Bok, I guess?) and the selling point of the two generations working together to save the galaxy boils down to Kirk and Picard hanging around in a kitchen and then fighting another old man on some rocks. Epic.

The scope doesn't feel sufficiently grand for this big-screen handover from Kirk to Picard. I'd say that ditching the Kirk angle and going with a full-on Next Generation feature would have been better, but coming straight out of seven seasons (not to mention the ongoing Deep Space Nine, and Voyager starting out at the same time) the writers seemed pretty burnt out by that point, so it might even have been worse than what we got.

TNG's fantastic feature-length finale 'All Good Things...' is a notable exception to the 1994 nadir, so you could just watch that instead. It's a much better time travel film too.
"Oh my..." – James T. Kirk

Star Trek: First Contact

This will always be a special entry in the franchise for me, as it's what got me obsessed with Star Trek back in 1996 in a way only a pre-pubescent boy can obsess. Before never growing up became more socially acceptable in later decades anyway.

The very look of this film defined 'modern' Star Trek for me right through to the end of Deep Space Nine, when I only had Voyager left and my fandom understandably faded. I couldn't get enough of the Borg, until Voyager started using them and I realised I really could get enough. Back then, I didn't even seem to have a problem reconciling the ridiculous out-of-character action hero Picard with the thoughtful diplomat of the TV series.

That isn't the case any more. First Contact is fun, but stupid. It was useful for re-energising the franchise in the late 90s (partly by getting kids like me on board, along with our parents' disposable income) and coming in the 30th anniversary year, its presentation of the origins of the Federation and Earth's official first contact with aliens is very fitting. Oh yeah, and that opening space battle looks fantastic. But sadly, unlike the timeless trilogy of Treks II to IV and the satisfyingly time-bound VI, I feel I've outgrown this one.
"You broke your little ships" – Lily Sloane

Star Trek (2009)

As much as I don't want to consider myself the type of stubborn old-school fan that doesn't like people messing with his Trek, I wasn't all that impressed with this high-profile reboot of the ailing franchise.

It helps to flush the memory of Nemesis and the TNG features in general, but re-casting these classic characters and resetting the universe feels needlessly condescending. I know, they already made spin-offs and prequels so there weren't many avenues left, but then I occasionally realise that many young people today think Spock looks like that and it makes me sad. I'm officially old and ready to be put out of my misery.

Still, the film does make concessions to placate the internet mob by splitting the universe in two and letting us keep our Trek intact without these new kids interfering. It's enough, and if you haven't got used to the idea of alternate realities by now, I don't know how you could call yourself a Star Trek fan in the first place.

This film is fun, but it's not smart. If I had to choose between this fast and energetic reboot and the original Star Trek: The Motion Picture, I'd go with that one in all its dawdling, tedious grandeur. That decision should tell you everything you need to know about me. I still quite like it.
"Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence" – Leonard McCoy

Time After Time

H. G. Wells pursuing Jack the Ripper through time into the 1970s sounds like it should have been a Hammer film. That would have been a lot more entertaining, or at least more confident in its genre. But while Back to the Future successfully mixed science fiction with comedy, and Alien with horror, this time travelling historical rom com detective thriller is all over the place.

It has a little of the fish-out-of-water humour of things like Star Trek IV as Wells is confused and delighted by the future world, but this soon fades away when it tries to become a suspenseful thriller. Though all the murders take place off-screen and are distinctly non-bloody, so all the family can enjoy it. If there's literally nothing else on and you don't have any DVDs or internet access or game consoles or a garden.

Malcolm McDowell at least avoids typecasting by playing the good guy, opposite David Warner, and as this is the only thing I've seen Mary Steenburgen in outside of Back to the Future Part III, she may have ended up getting typecast as the woman who falls for quirky men out of time. This is one of the Ripper films that doesn't turn the killer's identity into a guessing game, though it does raise one of several inconsistencies as the killer wanders around using the name that, in this universe, should be readily identified as belonging to the notorious prostitute killer. Sure, most people wouldn't expect time travel to be involved, but Wells gets a lot of flack when he claims to be himself (and in-universe fictional characters like Sherlock Holmes).

I was mainly watching this as a time travel film though, and as such, it's pretty bland. It does satisfyingly seem to follow a single timeline, without any of this alternate timeline/reality business, and Wells might be seeking to actively avoid paradoxes by not simply travelling slightly into the past and apprehending the Ripper before he was on the run. Either that or the esteemed visionary writer isn't as smart as he's cracked up to be, something the film bears out by implying that all of Wells' 'predictions' were simply stolen details gleaned from the future, the lazy, plagiarising get.
"Until we master ourselves, we have no proper use for time" – Herbert George Wells

Time Lapse

I never actually saw an episode of '90s TV series Early Edition. But its premise – a magic cat delivers tomorrow's newspaper to our hero's doorstep, so he can set about preventing various small-time local crimes before they happen – has always stayed with me as equally inspired and pathetic. Maybe I should dig it out.

Time Lapse reminded me of it regardless, except this time with a magic camera that takes photos 24 hours in advance (so it's also basically that Twilight Zone episode), and presumably with a dash more conflict and inexplicable insanity from the characters who stumble across it.

There's nothing novel here, and the intriguing chicken/egg philosophical questions of who's actually in control of events – where does the artist's inspiration actually come from if he's just copying his own paintings? – is sidelined in favour of low-key crime, drugs and relationship drama and characters turning into homicidal maniacs at the drop of a hat. Still, got to love these slightly rubbish indie time travel flicks.
"Don't fuck with time" – Jasper

The Time Traveler's Wife

This film and its best-selling novel forebear aren't really aimed at me. If I was a misogynist I'd say that's because I'm not a woman, but really it's more down to me not having your human emotions. Alright, it was pretty sad when he died, and nice that his echo lives on for an indeterminate amount of time. But as a hard sci-fi time travel plot, it's no Primer. To compare those two spectacularly different films would be ridiculous.

It's an original premise for a romantic film (would I have watched this if it used literally any other gimmick?), but it mainly left me wanting things to be pushed further – at a cost to the tight love story that drives the film, admittedly, but I would have liked it if radically older and younger versions of the time-crossed couple interacted and had to still sort of fancy each other. The film teeters on the edge of paedophilia as Henry grooms his wife's younger self and finally gets it on with her when she becomes legal, but I'm saying they should have pushed it. Think of the hilarious consequences if an old man iteration of her groom showed up and people thought she was marrying his father, or if he travelled to his elderly widow's future and had to debate whether to reject her octogenarian advances. This concept has legs!

But it's a romantic tale foremost, and as such suitably cliched, with a weirdly cruel streak. The author would probably claim otherwise, but from my sci-fi-narrowed horizons I detected elements of Slaughterhouse-Five, Quantum Leap and the arc between the Doctor and River Song in various episodes of Doctor Who that hadn't been made yet at this point. But she's a time traveller, right? That has two 'Ls' by the way, do I have to fix everything for you?
"My free will wants you" – Clare Abshire


This is most definitely a film I should have seen in the 90s when I was young enough to still find anything related to time travel inherently exciting. Not 20 years later when it doesn't even coast along on nostalgia or cheese value. It's just plain alright.

That's not to say it lacks silly moments, as any lightweight sci-fi action flick starring Jean-Claude Van Damme is required to by law. But even that was a letdown, he hardly lets out any terrible puns at all. At one point he shoves a guy's arm into freezing nitrogen, kicks off the petrified arm and announces "have a nice day" before throwing him off the gangway to his death. I tried to pretend it was "have an ice day," but rewatching several times it doesn't sound like it. It could be Van Damme's accent, of course – it reminds me of a McBain segment in The Simpsons when the foreign beefcake has difficulty enunciating Radioactive Man's "up and atom."

As a time travel film, this is about as basic as they come. Paradoxes are sidelined – there's no question of why Walker arrives back from a mission he shouldn't logically have been sent on due to the changed timeline – and they concoct/borrow some temporal laws like travel only being possible to the past because the future doesn't exist yet and the same individual from different time periods not being allowed to touch, which doesn't make any bloody sense but that's okay.

Their depiction of the futuristic year of 2004 features self-driving cars modelled on Star Trek shuttles, virtual reality sex, 80s hairstyles making a comeback and guns that go "pyew pyew." It's all a bit of a stretch as a prediction just 10 years down the line, but maybe they assumed no one would ever feel the need to re-watch this.

The plot itself is pretty goddamn by-the-numbers, all dialogue feeling like a lead-in to the next girder-hanging stunt or kick-punching sequence. Van Damme carries that stuff better than the emotional acting, it has to be said. I didn't expect this film to be smart or anything, but from the occasional nostalgic love I've seen for it online I was hoping it might be another Total Recall, which is completely ridiculous in places but still might be in my top ten films of all time. Sadly, this is a lot more forgettable.
"I catch you fucking this machine again, I'll break your neck" – Eugene Matuzak

Timecop: The Berlin Decision

The unknown, direct-to-DVD sequel to Timecop takes place a good while after the original film and short-lived TV series were supposed to be set, and once again features entirely new characters doing the same basic job. In fact, the only character that crosses over between these different aspects of the franchise is Adolf Hitler.

It's safe to say they weren't too informed by the failed TV series when creating this, though the TEC set-up is similar and Timecops are shown to work in teams rather than strictly solo like Van Damme. Until they start getting erased from history one by one and it's down to Jason Scott Lee's character to stop the meddler.

This has more in common with the Van Damme film than the long-forgotten TV version, most notably with the return of lengthy martial arts sequences that didn't feature at all in the series. It's not completely dumb though, posing the question throughout of whether time travellers have a moral obligation to change history or no right to tread on its sanctity. Before it becomes a straight-up action film at the end, the conflict is a big grey area, which is more than I would have given it credit for.

It's still not a brilliant time travel film, but it's probably the best entry in the small franchise. Comparing it to something like the superficially similar Stargate franchise in its infancy, I feel they had the same potential to succeed, but the execution just wasn't there for this one.
"We don't got much time" – Ryan Chan

No comments:

Post a Comment