I Hate Time Travel Movies

With the exception of TERMINATOR and TERMINATOR 2, I’m sick and tired of time travel plots. The latest big budget flick I’ve seen that relied on a time-changing gimmick was PRINCE OF PERSIA. Problem is when the “Sands of Time” magic dagger is used to go back to the first act break into Act Two, it basically negates everything that happens afterward — so you’ve just wasted an hour watching developments that had no consequence since it was all for naught after the hero prevents the future from happening!

In effect, the emotional investment is similar to playing a video game. If you know there are multiple outcomes, and your characters can come back to life in different scenarios, there’s not much at stake. You just hit reset and start over.

The fallacy of time travel plots though is that if you eliminate one “bad” antagonist or event, that the tragic outcome will be averted. But how can you be sure the alternative scenario wouldn’t be worse? Take Hitler, for example. Let’s say his mother had a miscarriage or he was aborted before being born. You can’t assume someone else wouldn’t have come along to start WWII or begin a movement to exterminate Jews or some other race.

In daily life, we already do a certain amount of time travel. I’ve become so used to watching TV shows on DVR that I sometimes only half-watch what’s on, then rewind it if something catches my interest while fast forwarding through things I don’t care about. This has carried over to how I half-listen to radio. I wind up missing stuff I was interested in, then want to hit a “rewind” button on my radio to play back what I missed. Except I can’t. Sometimes I even tune out my wife when she’s talking because I’m preoccupied with worries that usually pertain to tomorrow, instead of being here in the “now.”

Actually, there is another time travel movie series that I do like: PLANET OF THE APES. It works because in the original movie, the twist isn’t revealed until the end when we see the half-buried Statue of Liberty, which tells us the human astronaut has returned to earth in the distant future. It’s just brilliant. Recently, there was a 2-hour show about how the movie evolved from a book into a film that spawned unplanned sequels and finally a short-lived TV series. Rod Serling of TWILIGHT ZONE fame worked on the first draft. It’s pretty ingenious too how they came up with sequel plots. Unfortunately, I can’t recall the name of the show — “Beyond the Planet of the Apes” maybe? If only I could go back in time and retrieve it from my DVR…

Time travel in TV series turns me off too. Take Lost. Man, I loved the first two seasons. I kept wondering, how in the hell are they gonna explain all those cool WTF moments in the first few episodes? They hinted that there might be scientific reality-based explanations that would eventually be revealed. But the second it became apparent that there was going to be time shifting crap — even a mechanical “wheel” to change time’s course ! — I just lost all interest. The quasi-mystical “good” versus “evil” back story seemed like a giant cop-out. This year’s attempt to replicate Lost was NBC’s The Event, and after 15 minutes of jumping back and forth in time, I was already shaking my head in frustration.

I dunno. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and with less time left in front of me, I don’t want to spend it fantasizing about going back and trying to change the past or jumping forward to a future where I’d already be obsolete. I want stories and movies that make me feel glad to be alive right now. But few of us are content with what we have. We dream of bigger achievements and success, and keep thinking about what might be if the stars align just so. Life rarely lives up to the grandeur of expectations in our personal time travel scenarios, however. It’s not a video game with a reset button or magic dagger to undo what has been done.

It reminds me of a line I read somewhere years ago: Hope is forever stealing away the little time we have left.

I don’t know who wrote that, but I know what he meant.

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