Saturday, September 6, 2008

My Top Ten Favorite Adventures in Time Travel



Sometime in the early seventies, MGM rereleased their 1960 George Pal classic "The Time Machine" to theaters.  When it came to the Opera House, Duke (my older brother) said "Let's go!"   So off we went, and I saw the best movie of my 10-11 year old life.  After the matinee, my brother proceeded to explain to me why the movie was flawed in regards to time travel, but it didn't matter. 

I was a changed man. Time travel.  I was hooked for life.



Rod Taylor in George Pal’s 'The Time Machine', 1960  

But this blog isn't about the endless possibilities of such a thing--yeah, I know; if I went back in time & killed my great grandfather, would I cease to exist? 

If I could go back & hand Thomas Edison a light bulb and tell him what to do with the blasted thing--then who really invented it? 

I have no desire to debate paradoxes here; I just want to share my Top Ten Time Travel Favorites!   Oh, and for the record--for the people who say Doug, what about 'Timecop'?  'Terminator'?  'Time Tunnel'?  'Peggy Sue Got Married'’?   'Somewhere in Time'? My response would be...well, what about 'em!?  

I'm sorry, but when it comes to time traveling I can be a downright snob.   So, going in ascending order...


10. The Best Time Travel Stories of the Twentieth Century (collection of short stories)



I don't know if I'd say they were the 'best' stories; but they're certainly the most nostalgic for any sc-fi reader.  And perfect for when you need to do some time-trippin' but don't want to invest in a novel or movie!  Ironically, this includes one of my favorite Bradbury shorts--"A Sound of Thunder", which translated into an awful movie.  What were you thinking, Ben Kingsley!?




9. Deep Space Nine - "Trials & Tribble-ations" (November 4, 1996)


Okay, the ONLY reason this isn't higher on the list is because it was (IMHO) a loving tribute to Trek fans only.  The episode begins with the USS Defiant (Captain Sisko & his crew shown above) returning to DS9 (their space station and home) with the 'Bajoran Orb of Time'.  Unknowingly, a Klingon (surgically altered years ago to look human) has OTHER plans--revenge!  He uses the Orb to throw the ship 100 years into the past--where the Defiant lands smack-dab in front of the ORIGINAL USS Enterprise--who are in the middle of their own adventure, the classic Star Trek episode from 1967:  “The Trouble with Tribbles”!

After the bad guy sneaks off the Defiant, Sisko & Company must don "original Trek" uniforms (complete with miniskirts, go-go boots and 1960's hairdos) to secretly blend in with the classic 'Star Trek crew' & keep this rogue Klingon from altering history.

617D5C2B848A9C67_1224_7[1] 617D5C2B848A9C67_1224_8[1]

(The first image is from the original episode; the second shows the same events, but DS9's Odo is now in the picture!)

The producers did such a wonderful job of recreating original costumes & sets, including incredible exterior shots.  But what was GENIUS was the expert weaving of actual clips from the 1967 episode into the story, including computer enhancement to 'insert' the DS9 crew in all the right places.   I believe my jaw hit the floor at least a dozen times the first time I saw it!



Benjamin Sisko meets both his hero & ours, Captain James T.Kirk--and the timeline has been preserved too!  An unknowing Lt.Uhura is obviously smitten...




8.  The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (2003)



In a nutshell, the story is about a man with a mutated chromosome who begins 'falling backward' in time (at the age of 40) to the 1960s, in this 9 year old girls backyard.  He can be there for 10 minutes--an hour--an entire day before he 'pops back' to the present; he has no control over the phenomenon.  Over time, this girl discovers and befriends him, always keeping food and clothing ready for his next visit. 

The book gets really interesting as she grows up and enters college; she decides to find this man.  (They're actually around the same age, as he is coming from the year 2001.)  And when she does meet him--she's already had the experience of getting to know who he is for the last 10 years.  He on the other hand, is only in his early twenties (he didn't start 'falling back' until his late 30s) so his younger self has no idea who this woman is, or why she's pursuing him.  A great read, both from a relationship perspective--and paying careful attention to the intricacies of time travel as well.  I couldn't put it down.  The ending?  Absolutely flawless.



7. The Final Countdown (1980)

On December 7, 1980 the USS Nimitz (a nuclear aircraft carrier--102 aircraft, 6000 men) is mysteriously thrown back thru time--to December 7, 1941!   (And very conveniently right before the Japanese are ready to attack Pearl Harbor.)   The captain (Kirk Douglas) now has to decide if he should use his vessel (which contains more firepower than the US & Japanese fleet combined) to stop one of the greatest attacks in American history.  But won't it alter history?  He has to make a decision... will he fight the Japanese?  Hell yes, he's a Navy captain not a scientist!

This movie should be used as a recruitment film for the Navy--the music is proud & patriotic as we watch F-14s do incredible maneuvers, including shooting down a couple of shocked 1941 Japanese Kamikazes (who were attacking a civilian boat on their way to Pearl Harbor).  If ONLY that darn "time-storm" didn't reappear so soon & whisk 'em back to the present!   I recently watched this (for the first time in 20 years); it still packs a wallop.

6. Replay by Ken Grimwood (1988)



Jeff Winston is a sad, overweight 43 year old (with a nasty wife who has made his life miserable for the last 20 years) when he drops dead of a heart attack.

Or did he?  He awakens to find it is 1963, he's 18 years old again, and he's in the bedroom he had growing up...with the full knowledge of his next 25 years intact.  Can he change his own destiny?  He can and he will.  (I loved the part where he's on the beach, and sees a younger version of his wife there; he remembers that this is where they first met.  When she sees him staring and invites him over--he high-tails it outta there!)  So for the next 25 years, he makes smart investments (based on what he already knows--he finds Steve Jobs & asks to invest in his future--years before he creates the first Apple Computer).  It's a good life, but certainly a much different one...

But then at the age of 43--he dies again.  And what happens?  He awakens in his 18 year old body, it's 1963 once more.   And now he has the memories of TWO futures.  And this is where the book takes off!  While the author never explains what caused this 'time loop', it's fascinating to watch how this man lives the same life over and over...and how it all ends.  Good stuff.  

5. Time and Again by Jack Finney (1970)

617D5C2B848A9C67_1224_13[1]This book would probably be in my 'Top 15 Novels of All Time List' as well.  It involves an illustrator for a New York advertising company who volunteers for a government project attempting time travel by 'fooling the mind'.  He's placed in a "late 19th century apartment" overlooking Central Park, where even his outside view matches the same scenery that someone in 1890 would have.  And here he lives a 19th century life, having period food & newspapers delivered to him, day after day, then weeks, months.  And then one morning he wants to ask one of the deliverymen something, runs downstairs--and he finds himself in 1890 New York.

What makes this book so fascinating is its attention to detail.  The main character (Si) is constantly intrigued; these aren't the "good old days" portrayed in films or books he's seen.  In reality, churches had the lowest attendance in history--seances were all the rage; parlor games were the focus of most conversations.   The author of this compelling (and lengthy) story also included dozens of actual tintype photographs from the period--with his characters blurbs beside them, as if he was the one taking all the photos.  A beautiful blend of fiction and recorded photographic history. 

Here's something else interesting about this book; originally published in 1970, it was released as a 'Book of the Month Club' again in the mid-90's.  And that's when it found it's real success.  So much so in fact, that the author was asked to write a sequel--and completed it right before his death in 1995.  

4. Back to the Future (1985)


I'll never forget when this movie was being advertised, in the summer of '85.  I can still remember watching the commercials with Michael J.Fox looking up into a tree & saying "My dad was a Peeping Tom?" and I was groaning right along with him--"Aw no, they gave that guy from 'Family Ties' his own movie?!"   Even the title (which is common now, like 'Gone with the Wind') didn't make sense at the time.  I had no plans on seeing this.  





"This tells you where you're going, where you are, where you've been..."


But then one day, my youngest sister (Courtney, who was 10) asked me and our sister Shawn if we would take her to see it.   We agreed, begrudgingly--and I couldn't have been more surprised at what we were watching; a smart, funny movie, destined to become a modern day classic.

I honestly felt like that 10 year version of myself from a dozen years earlier, seeing 'The Time Machine' for the first time.   I've seen the second and third sequels (of course), and they're both good.  But the first one--I would've been content with this picture alone.  It was wonderful.

3. Planet of the Apes (1968)



  "Cornelius--I think he understands me!" 


Without a doubt, this 1968 movie (based on the novel by Pierre Boulle) was YEARS ahead of it's time (no pun intended).  Even the harshest movie critics in '68 agreed that it was wildly imaginative & very entertaining; the ending (which wasn't even needed) catapulted the film into cinematic history, thanks to Rod Serling’s spin on the tale.  Neverminding the franchise this spawned, the original stands as a true masterpiece.



"Oh my God. I'm back.  I'm home.   I've been on Earth the whole maniacs!  You blew it up!"



2. The Time Machine (1960)



Well, here it is; the 1960 movie that got me hooked.  A faithful adaptation of H.G.Well's novel, about a scientist in 1899 who builds a time machine & flies off into the far future.  




Published in 1895, the book that started it all...

I'd like to go back in time just to see the kids faces in 1960 when this premiered.  Directed by George Pal (famous for 'Tom Thumb' in 1958), he was known for his use of 'stop-action' special effects, and certainly didn't disappoint here.  (I still marvel at the 'changing mannequins' in the shop directly across from the scientists lab.)  Throw in a 1960 Yvette Mimieux (as Weena) and some blue-skinned Morlocks (ugh, they're cannibals!) and you have the very definition of a Saturday matinee.  Whatta show!


1. Star Trek - "City on The Edge of Forever" (1967)



This Star Trek episode is not only my favorite Trek show, but leads this list as well.  It's brilliant.  After Dr.McCoy accidentally injects himself with an overdose of cordrazine, he flees the ship in a paranoid state--only to go to the planet below being studied by the Enterprise.  He jumps thru that contraption and--voila!  Changes Earth's history in an instant.  Kirk & Spock have no choice but to follow him back in time to right what he's wronged.  (And as it turns out, what McCoy did was prevent a woman from being killed in 1930--who was destined to die, or lead the country in a 1930s Peace Movement, allowing Nazi Germany to win World War II.)  Whoa!   But waitaminute--Captain Kirk has met & fallen in love with her before finding all this out!



Kirk hints to Edith that there are better days ahead, among the stars

The story worked on so many levels--superior script, imaginative effects, a bittersweet romance & a climax that STILL raises the hairs on my arms everytime I watch it.  And all this from a 1967 television episode?   (And as any Trek fan can tell you, this episode was the first time the Hugo Award was awarded to a televison show--it wouldn't happen again for 25 years.)

So there you have it, my Top Ten List.  There's a few more I would've liked to include--Homer Simpson's broken toaster sending him back in time (where he steps on an insect & changes evolution), or Star Trek: The Next Generation & 'Yesterday's Enterprise',  or Dennis Quaid's 'Frequency'.  All these choices..and I'm ready for more!