Best movies about time, at least in this space/time continuum

travel-in-time-to-1969-space-time-continuum-andee-designI am part of the movie-viewing public that never tires of a well done flick that examines time. But, as one might guess from the plot of z2, my favorites involve a clever manipulation of time, or a riff on the mysteries of time, rather than straight time travel stories.

There are several reasons that simple time travel stories don’t generally impress me.

yankeeFirst, when they only involve going into the past, they are too often no more than an excuse to do a “fish out of water” piece on a present day hero in an historical setting of the writer’s choosing. I think that Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (written all the way back in 1889) pretty much covered this, and the subsequent 1949 movie starring Bing Crosby brought it to the screen well. If you want to write about (or watch) contemporary people experiencing early Rome or the Ming dynasty, that’s fine, you are absolutely entitled to your pleasures.  I just consider such stories to be more historical fiction than science fiction, and I’m not all that fond of historical fiction.

eloiConversely, if the time travel is only to the future, the DeLorean (or whatever the time machine is called) is only a vehicle to get present day people into the author’s wonderful, or awful, vision of tomorrow.  It is science fiction, but like H.G. Well’s tale of the poor Eloi, the time travel aspect is far less important than the future that is created. I may or may not like the story, depending on what I think of the tomorrow that is being described. For example, although I admire H.G. Wells and his groundbreaking ideas for 1895, I personally wasn’t all that crazy about the flesh eating Morlocks.

spock-prime1The remaining option, obviously, is to craft a story in which folks shuttle back and forth through time. I believe that this kind of fiction is so hard to do well. It is easy for a writer to fall into the silly and overused “the whole universe is going to unravel because I sneezed” situation, as in my least favorite time travel series ever, “Back to the Future.” Some plots avoid this better than others. I thought that the whole Spock Prime thing in the 2013 movie “Star Trek Into Darkness” was a wonderful example of how to avoid this scenario without a complicated explanation. Well done.

So what time related movies do intrigue this humble author? Well, I recently found this wonderful post called 8 great movies that manipulate time written by Jay A. Fernandez back in June 5, 2014 on a blog called “Signature” and I invite you to check it out for yourself.

Four of the eight are some of my favorite movies ever, based on their wonderful looks at the slippery and fascinating phenomenon of time. In order of increasing preference:

4. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008) is based on a 1922 story by F.Scott Fitzgerald. The idea of a baby born as an old man who gets younger as he ages is intriguing, even though the love story which forms most of the plot was too schmaltzy for my tastes. (The truth is that I like romance novels even less than I like historical fiction.) A more modern take on this same idea isTime's Arrow Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis. This is a far darker story based on the idea of time running in the other direction, in a scenario in which the opposite of reality makes more sense than the reality itself.

3. “Memento”(2000) tells the tale of a man who completely lacks short term memory, meaning that there is no recent past for him. The story picks at that disturbing connection between human consciousness and the laws of physics. What is time without an observer?

2. “Run, Lola, Run” (1998) shows how three split second variations at the start of a story yield three vastly different outcomes, not only for Lola, but for everyone whose life she touches on her maniac mission to save her boyfriend. 

1. “Groundhog Day” (1993) is the infamous story of a man forced to live the same day repeatedly. Yes, it is officially my favorite movie, because of its cosmic implication that we all get each of life’s lessons over and over until we finally wise up and learn what we need.

warped-clockThe list includes three other movies I have always meant to see (“Twelve Monkeys”, “Inception”and “Irreversible”) and one other I somehow missed hearing about but have now added to my list to check out (“Primer.”) It also gives an honorable mention to another favorite of mine, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, which makes up for the honorable mention it gives to Back to the Future. Clearly intelligent movies about the nature of time are plentiful, and hopefully the recent interest in science fiction will spur on even more.

 

If I’d only known…

star trekIt you had to pick one thing out of the original Star Trek series to have in your own life, what would it have been? Beam me up, Scotty? The replicators? Warp drive? Well, we didn’t get those, did we. At least not yet. Face it, we got the equivalent of the com badges, those marvelous communication devices that let the whole crew talk to each other all the time no matter where they were.  No, it wouldn’t have been my first choice either.

Yesterday, I finally finished reading Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth’s 1952 science fiction satire The Space Merchants and its sequel, Pohl’s 1984 The Merchant’s War. I enjoyed the first novel quite a bit and the second only somewhat. The Merchant’s War had so damn much potential that I felt cheated when Pohl left so much unaddressed, unexplained and unsaid.

But back to the first book, because that is what I want to talk about here. I could find no date at which the story takes place. We only know that it’s far enough in the future that a man has been sent to Venus, and laws and government structure are substantially different. Pohl and Kornbluth create a world that is believable enough, if one lives in 1954, and that is the trouble with writing science fiction. Things change, even over the lifetime of a book. Twenty or thirty years after a book is written, we do have a better sense of the trajectory we are on. Yesterday’s future world looks unrealistic and even silly today.

growing bolder 6The Space Merchants biggest failure to predict has to do with electronics, which plays almost no role in the story.  There are no computers, there is no internet. Communication is essentially what it was in 1950, only the characters are talking about rocket ships instead. You have to ask yourself how could they not have known? Then you ask yourself, how could they have?

Think quick. Your new novel takes place sometime around 2090, although you aren’t going to give a date. Let’s say it’s a medical thriller.  Or an alien invasion.  It doesn’t matter. It’s the future. I’m going to read your novel in 2055. I really am. Now, you take a good hard look at society today and tell me what the most significant unexpected change in direction is going to be over the next forty years. No extrapolating current trends. This has to be something that is basically new or in its infancy now. The world will center around it by 2055. Any story of 2090 will seem silly if you leave this out.

Got it? Me neither. There are definitely days when I think writing romance novels would be easier.

(For more about The Space Merchants, see my posts on this amazing book at I Know Sexism When I See ItThe Kinky of the Future, Through the Eyes of Another, and Predicting the Future or Shaping It.)