Season 3 of Revenge has started airing, Alex and I still plod through it, I have no idea for how much longer because after the second episode, we agreed that the plot has become really ridiculous. Speedy gave up long ago; I don’t think Sam managed to finish Season 2.
All of us having watched at least a couple of episodes of Revenge, we are at least familiar with the actors. And when, some two weekends ago, we embarked on another one of those discussions about the prettiest (and ugliest) actresses, Sam said that, despite being “old”, Madeleine Stowe, glamorous villainess Victoria Grayson in Revenge, is still beautiful. I told the girls that if they think Madeline Stowe is beautiful now, they should see her in China Moon. Speedy agreed wholeheartedly.
That conversation prompted me to rewatch a few of Madeleine Stowe’s films — China Moon, Unlawful Entry and Twelve Monkeys, in that order. And then, I was on a time travel binge, triggered by Twelve Monkeys. Not old film nostalgia (okay, maybe, sort of) but more of a mental review of films that revolve around time travel as a “consequence” of space–time continuum. There are so many; some are good, some are interesting, others are just best forgotten.
Twelve Monkeys (1995), if you haven’t seen it yet, is among the very good ones. It stars Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe and Brad Pitt. The story? Sometime in the post-Apocalyptic future, a convict, James Cole (Willis), volunteers to travel to the past to gather information about the virus that wiped out ninety-nine percent of the world’s population. James gets sent back to 1990 instead of 1996 and lands in a mental institution where he meets Jeffrey Goines (Pitt). Kathryn Railly (Stowe) is James’s doctor. Those who still think that Brad Pitt is just a pretty face should see Twelve Monkeys where he delivered an amazing performance.
Twelve Monkeys is not a simple film on many levels. First of all, the story is told in a non-linear format. Then, there are symbolisms and allusions that add dimension to the story that are easy to miss. And, by the time the film ends, you realize that you got the timeline all wrong. The complexity might explain why it is not as popular as THE iconic time travel films from the previous decade.
Back to the Future
Back to the Future (1985) is pretty big in more ways than one. It was a commercial success, it was critically acclaimed and it is loved by a wider audience. The story is simple enough for older children to follow but still sufficiently enjoyable for adults. Marty (Michael J. Fox) accidentally travels to 1955 in a time-machine (in the photo above) created by his friend “Doc” Brown (Christpher Lloyd) with no resources to return to the present. In 1955, Marty meets the younger version of his parents. His “younger” mother falls for him and Marty has to get her to fall in love with his “younger” father or else Marty himself would never be born.
Back to the Future is a feel-good movie, it has a happy ending, there are no emotionally traumatic scenes, no violence, no nudity… and it is comical in many ways. It’s easy to understand the appeal. Plus, at the time, the story was a new take on time travel. And the time machine being a kickass car helps even more.
But if you ask me which 1980s time travel film I like best, it’s not Back to the Future. I choose The Terminator.
Released in 1984, The Terminator starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as a cyborg assassin who travels from the future to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a human resistance fighter from the future also travels from the future to protect Sarah. The Terminator is a testosterone-driven film with lots of action and some cool visual effects for its time. The scene where the cyborg removes his damaged eye and the flesh from his injured arm is still riveting.
Although the sequels are nowhere as good as the original, The Terminator films are remembered for popularizing the lines “Talk to the hand” and “Hasta la vista, baby” delivered in cyborg-like monotone.
Four years before The Terminator hit the big screen, another time travel film made huge waves albeit in a totally different manner.
Somewhere In Time
Somewhere in Time bombed at the box office and was ridiculed by critics. But its romantic musical score would immortalize the film. Fresh from the success of Superman, Christopher Reeve starred in Somewhere in Time as Richard Collier, a playwright who travels back to 1912 to meet a woman, actress Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour), with whose photo he had fallen in love with. A photo? Who falls in love with a photo? I know, right? What a stupid plot. Maybe love is the wrong word. Perhaps, obsession is more accurate. Whatever emotion or mania it was that Richard Collier felt, it was strong enough to undergo self-hypnosis to travel through time.
Self-hypnosis as a time machine? Yes, well, that makes it easier to understand why the film was panned by critics. But, heck, you see Jane Seymour in that film and it’s easy to forget everything else especially when John Barry’s music is playing in the background. You add Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and everything is just so romantic and dreamy. Never mind the lame time machine — you want the lovely couple to live happily ever after.
Between 1980 and now, there were a lot of other time travel films. And the popularity of time travel in pop culture has been evident on television as well. There have been a lot of TV series about time travel since I was old enough to watch TV but there is only one that I watched from the first to the last episode.
It’s tempting to say that if you haven’t seen Fringe, you had better stick with Seasons 1 through 3, and not bother with Seasons 4 and 5. But for purposes of this post, this is about time travel, after all, I won’t recommend ditching Seasons 4 and 5 because those are the parts where the time travel angle really goes deep.
Fringe is a science fiction drama that revolves around “fringe science” which is rather hard to define. Suffice to say that it falls between science and the supernatural, and includes the paranormal. The main characters are an FBI agent, Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), the mad genius scientist Walter Bishop (John Noble) and his son/not-son Peter (Joshua Jackson). Son/not-son? Yes, well, that is central to the plot; adoption and artificial insemination do not form part of the story.
At its most basic, Fringe is about a father’s love for his son. Prior to his 17-year-incarceration in a mental institution, Walter Bishop was a brilliant scientist who discovered a parallel universe where another version of every person lived. Walter’s son, Peter, died as a child and, in an attempt to save the “other” Peter, Walter crossed over to the other side. The serum that would cure Peter was destroyed during the crossing over and Walter brought back the “other” Peter to his universe to administer the cure. While initially intending to return the boy to his own universe, he never did.
The crossing over caused a rip in the fabric of the two universes that gave rise to “singularities” that are wreaking havoc on both sides. Juxtaposed with the parallel universe theme are two other themes — time travel and alternate timelines. Central to the time travel and alternate timeline themes are the Observers, evolved humans from the future with the ability to cross through time and space. While they move through time and space to study their origins, they are not supposed to interfere with events that can alter the future. One of them, the Observer September, inadvertently commits acts that would alter the future and bring the two universes on a collision course.
Riveting, most certainly. A real mind job that got us hooked through five whole seasons. Although the fourth season felt like the plot was being stretched to ridiculous proportions, we stayed glued. By the second episode of the fifth and last season, we just wanted a closure.
Time travel is a fascinating subject whether you approach from the perspective of fiction or from the numerous pseudo-scientific attempts to explain why it just may be possible. In fiction, time travel has already been interpreted in many ways but I’m sure that we will see more theories and interpretations in the future.