ABOUT TIME: A VOYAGE THROUGH TIME TRAVEL CINEMA | Offscreen
Messages from the future, precognition, the Butterfly Effect, the Grandfather Paradox, time loops, multiverses, wormholes... There seems no end to the variations on the time travelling theme. Yet filmmakers were slow to recognise its dramatic potential. Despite several screen versions of Mark Twain’s novel "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court" (1889) and H.G. Well's novella "The Time Machine" (1895), and time travel being adopted as a recurring device in 60s TV shows such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Star Trek", it remained a marginal phenomenon on the big screen, chiefly confined to experimental or arthouse films ("La Jetée", "Je t'aime, je t'aime", "Idaho Transfer"). But the floodgates finally opened in the 80s blockbuster era with "The Terminator" (1984) and "Back to the Future" (1985), mainstream entertainment that hit the sweet spot between science and fiction. Henceforth, time travel, bolstered by increasingly sophisticated special effects, would be a familiar element in Hollywood's SF arsenal. Offscreen serves up not just crowd-pleasers such as "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure", "Looper" and "Interstellar", but some of the lesser known and alternative examples of the genre, from rip-roaring B-movies such as "Trancers" (1984) to brain-scrambling cult favorites such as "Timecrimes" (2007) and "Triangle" (2009).
THE TIME MACHINE
Rod Taylor travels into a future where the gentle Eloi are menaced by scary Morlocks in this classic adaptation of H.G. Wells’ seminal time travel novella. George Pal’s film waters down the author’s sociopolitical message but compensates with game-changing visuals.
A perfectly cast Arnold Schwarzenegger plays an unstoppable killer robot sent from the future to murder the waitress destined to give birth to humanity’s last best hope in James Cameron’s peerless SF thriller. Crammed with action and great quotes, including "I’ll be back."
BACK TO THE FUTURE
The comic fantasy that put time travel on the mainstream map stars Michael J. Fox as young Marty McFly, who is zapped back into smalltown America of the 50s by his mad scientist friend’s time-travelling DeLorean. Stuffed with smart gags, Oedipal complications, and a nail-biting race against the clock.
THE NAVIGATOR: A MEDIEVAL ODYSSEY
Villagers from 14th century Cumbria fend off the Black Death by casting a holy cross and digging a tunnel – only to emerge into a terrifying big city in 20th century New Zealand. Vincent Ward’s blend of medieval fantasy and time travel confirmed his status as one of cinema’s most visionary directors.
With Earth becoming uninhabitable, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) bids a bittersweet farewell to his children and leads a team of astronauts through a wormhole to a distant galaxy in search of new planets to colonise. But time works in mysterious ways in this ambitious SF spectacular from the director of “Inception”.
Hector spots a woman undressing in the woods behind his house in Nacho Vigalondo’s superb debut, a low-budget SF thriller with no flashy effects but a meticulously worked-out screenplay involving doppelgangers, murder and intersecting timelines. Guaranteed to tax your brain in all the right ways.
Survivors from a capsized yacht seek refuge on an apparently derelict ocean liner, which is when the nightmare really begins in this brilliant SF chiller with a devastating pay-off. Melissa George is superb as a single mother who was trying to take a day off from the stress of caring for her autistic son.
In an ingenious and engrossing lo-tech debut, writer-director-producer-editor-designer-composer Shane Carruth plays one of two nerds confronted by temporal paradoxes and mounting paranoia after they accidentally invent a time-machine in the garage. Scientifically rigorous and extremely mind-boggling.
THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT
In 1943, a US Navy experiment to render its fleet invisible to enemy radar goes pear-shaped, hurling two sailors 41 years into the future. Nancy Allen helps one of them (80s dreamboat Michael Paré) evade the authorities, sort out his "drifting molecules" and save the planet.
When a military experiment goes awry, an average Joe (Luke Wilson) wakes up 500 years in the future to find himself the smartest man in a dumbed-down dystopia. Mike Judge’s SF satire looks more like a documentary every day: big-ass fries, garbage mountains, "Ow, My Balls!" on TV, and a world run by imbeciles.
This movie will be introduced by American cult film specialist Mike Hunchback.
"Jack Deth is back… and he’s never even been here before." Square-jawed Tim Thomerson stars in this smashing B-movie as a future cop who pursues a time-tampering villain back to 80s Los Angeles, where he’s turning folk into zombielike "trancers". Future Oscar-winner Helen Hunt shows Deth the 80s ropes.
TOMORROW I'LL WAKE UP AND SCALD MYSELF WITH TEA
Delightful Czech comedy set in a future that looks exactly like 1977, but with commercialised time travel, anti-ageing pills and an aerosol that turns faces green. Some neo-Nazis decide to go back in time and give Hitler the H-bomb, but their scheme is complicated by identical twins and temporal paradoxes.
BILL AND TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE
Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter play metalheads who use a time machine to bring historical personages (Socrates, Napoleon et al) to present-day California so they can ace their school history test. Also includes air guitar, complicated interaction with future selves, and the great George Carlin.
This film will be introduced by American cult film specialist Mike Hunchback.
BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II
Marty McFly and Doc Brown travel 30 years into the future, muck up their present (1985), and then have to zip back to 1955 to set things straight in this mind-bending sequel. All this, while avoiding their past selves and ensuring that nothing happens to change the plot of the original "Back to the Future"!
Widower Jeff Daniels and his daughter are bemused when a bunch of weird tourists insist on staying in their half-built guest house on the outskirts of a small American town. But where are they from, and why are their passports stamped with April 18, 1906 – the date of the San Francisco earthquake?
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