One popular and recurring theme within science fiction is the concept of time travel. Since HG Wells wrote ‘The Time Machine’ back in 1895 through to even recent years, such as Audrey Niffenegger’s book, ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’, it’s a common thread.
Ray Bradbury – A Sound of Thunder (1952)
Bradbury’s classic short story, first published in 1952 in Collier’s magazine, is one of the best earlier examples of a time line scenario. The story, set in 2055, involves events concerning a hunter called Eckels. The character uses the services of a company’s time travel facilities to go dinosaur-hunting. To say too much more about the nature of the story would spoil its impact, but its a wonderful tale, and no doubt one that has inspired time-travel films, such as ‘Back To The Future’ and ‘The Butterfly Effect’. The story was adapted into a movie in its own right in 2005, starring the oscar-winning talent of Ben Kingsley. However, after the production company went bankrupt, and the subsequent release was delayed, the movie completely tanked. I haven’t seen the film myself, but I should definitely chalk this one up as homework.
As well as an excellent adaptation as a radioplay as part of the ‘Ray Bradbury 13’ series, the story was also made for the late 1980’s TV show, ‘Ray Bradbury Theatre’, but the book remains the strongest telling of the tale.
Doctor Who – City Of Death (1979)
In my opinion, Doctor Who tends to be a bit crap. However, with the vast amount of writing talent and over the years it has been aired, there have been some fantastic storylines. ‘City Of Death’ is one such example. To discuss this, I need to issue a SPOILER ALERT, so be warned! Douglas Adams (of hitch-hikers fame) worked alongside Graham Williams and David Fisher to produce a script involving a time line. The story involves an alien known as ‘Scaroth’ who is marooned on Earth. The Doctor discovers that Scaroth is attempting to create a time machine in order to travel back in time and to prevent the event in which his space ship crashed onto the planet. The twist here is that his crash was the event that kick-started life on planet Earth, and so for Scaroth to turn back the clock would mean the irradication of life on Earth. It’s quite an amusing concept, and one that lead to ‘City of Death’ achieving the highest television ratings for a Doctor Who episode when more than 16 million people tuned in to watch it in 1979. Adams himself was taken with the story to the extent that he reskinned the tale for his book, ‘Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency’.
Source Code (2011)
‘Source Code’ is the second movie to come from British director, Duncan Jones. Jones, aka Zowie Bowie (for reasons of nepotism), continues down the sci-fi path for a second time, after having debuted with the subtle space thriller, ‘Moon’. In these two movies, Jones demonstrates evidence of his retro influences. This being an appreciation for the more cerebral side of science fiction, clearly inspired by the conceptual science fiction films of the 1970’s period. Movies such as ‘Solaris’ and ‘Silent Running’ attained strong back-bones by exploring out-there concepts, and rather than relying on special effects, built their stories around strong central characters exploring surreal themes. The film also benefits from the continuing lineage of recent films, particularly, James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’, also ‘Groundhog Day’ and ‘Deja Vu’.
‘Source Code’ is a strong film, very much because of the depth of the character roles played out by the acting team. Jake Gylenhall plays a satisfying lead role as a helicopter pilot, Captain Colter Stevens, confusingly reassigned to a mysterious counter-terrorism mission on a Chicago commuter train. The fantastic Jeffrey Wright, best known for his appearance as Felix Leiter in the rebooted Bond franchise, portrays a serious-headed government scientist, Dr Rutledge, who appears to be controlling Colter’s whereabouts in time and space. His performance does well to depict a man constantly distracted from the main course of events by an unknown higher agenda. Michelle Monaghan plays a romantic interest, almost a cynical inclusion and possibly shoe-horned into the plot to satisfy the criteria of the movie’s shareholders, seeking to appeal to a wider demographic than the action/sci-fi fans. Interestingly, and counter to what the movie intended, I thought that there was a better chemistry occuring between Colter and his military liaison, Captain Goodwin, portayed by Vera Farmiga. This culminating in a cheeky moment of misunderstanding when Goodwin asks after a moment of flirting, ‘Are you asking me out?’.
The most interesting aspect of the movie is the focus on Colter attempting to figure out the circumstances surrounding how he got from a helicopter mission to what seems to be a secret military time-travel experiment on a doomed train. The action rotates between an apparent simulation of the bomb-laden train, to the military scientific reasearch centre and to Colter who seems to be trapped in some kind of contraption-packed holding cell.
SourceCode = Avatar + GroundhogDay + (0.5 (DejaVu + Speed + (12 * Monkey))) + 5% Cheddar
SourceCode != SilverStreak * TimeCop
An amusing cameo in the film is put in by Scott Bakula, who is the phone voice of Colter’s father. A clear and knowing nod to the time-travel tv show, ‘Quantum Leap’. It’s a movie that holds together very well, and knows what its gameplan is. Where film’s like ‘Inception’ possibly try too hard to push a concept, ‘Source Code’ manages to frame its central theme well, despite the inevitable mild cheddar conclusion.