The time has come for time-traveling cinema
05:00 AM, Nov 10, 2013
Scientists and film historians can agree that time-travel movies continue to expand at unprecedented rates.
This is clear from the current crop of movies flying into the multiplexes starting with writer-director Richard Curtis’s romantic comedy About Time, featuring an eccentric British family whose adult males find the ability to revisit their past life. (The movie expanded nationwide Friday.)
Moviegoers already are enjoying the seasonally appropriate animated film Free Birds (which opened to $16 million last weekend) featuring a sci-fi first time-traveling turkeys.
“No matter the premise, it remains a timeless concept for movie storytelling, if you can forgive the pun,” says film historian Leonard Maltin. “In spite of all the technological advances that we’ve seen, we can’t seem to pull time travel off. So it never seems to wear out its welcome in film.”
Which is a good thing, since early 2014 will feature an even bigger slate of universe-bending films.The trailer for Mr. Peabody & Sherman (due March 7) was released with Free Birds. The animated film features a genius talking dog who builds a WABAC (pronounced ‘Way Back’) machine to teach his adopted human son about history firsthand.
Also due in spring is the next chapter of the most absurd time-traveling premise, the still-unnamed sequel to 2010’s surprise box office hit Hot Tub Time Machine. The crew (Craig Robinson and Rob Corddry, minus John Cusack who is taking a hot-tub sabbatical) try to go back in time again, but accidentally head to the future in their unorthodox, but highly chlorinated, vessel.
Almanac (Feb. 28) features a group of teens who discover a secret plan to build a time machine. Even the mutants of the X-Men franchise are getting into the action, with X-Men: Days of Future Past ( May 23). And that’s just the first half of the year.
What’s bringing on the fourth-dimension love? Maltin chalks it up to something in Hollywood’s drinking water and the need for movie escapism. And it’s perfectly logical from a scientific point of view.
“The concept is just so tempting and pure wishful thinking,” says educator Bill Nye, aka “The Science Guy,” who knocks down the scientific reality of the feat. “But if I could go back in time there would be some old girlfriends I’d love to interact with, mistakes and some fender benders I’d avoid. And, of course, there’s changing the course of history.”
It’s the change-in-history angle that has resonated in time-travel classics such as 1984’s The Terminator, 1995’s Twelve Monkeys, and even in Future Past, where the elder mutant generation, including Charles Xavier (played by Patrick Stewart in the early franchise films) will warn his younger self (played by James McAvoy in X-Men: First Class ) about a major historical event in the hopes of preventing world destruction.
The change in history’s (and the main) course serves as the center of Free Birds. Turkeys (voiced by Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson) travel back to the first Thanksgiving to get their own kind off the menu.
“It’s so ridiculous and so fitting, so why not turkey?” asks screenwriter/director Jimmy Hayward, who calls the film a “sci-fi buddy flick rather than a vegetarian message movie.”
“But let’s face it, they are traveling back to save their own species,” he says.
The recent spate of time-traveling has created a specialty for actress Rachel McAdams, who has been married to one era-hopper (The Time Traveler’s Wife in 2009) and engaged to another (Midnight in Paris in 2011).
So it was only natural that Curtis would ask McAdams to star as his time-traveling main character’s true love in About Time.
“I thought for sure she’d say no,” says Curtis. “But the people who enjoyed the other films will realize it’s Time Travel 3 for Rachel McAdams. If we do another film, I’ll make sure it’s her that finally gets to jump around in time.”