Time Travel In Movies

Time travel movies are awesome…when they do it right.

I just watched Project Almanac the other day. It was a decent movie but I was struck at how many other older movies did what Almanac tried to do, only better.

It’s a found footage movie. I like those, but you have to do it right. Good examples would be Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, and Chronicle. These three films took the found footage aspect seriously. Project Almanac does not. There are scenes where there’s no way you could hear the characters without a boom mike in the background. There are other scenes that have no reason to be filmed by someone with a camera, or simply can’t be filmed with a camera in the way it was done. It uses the found footage angle as a gimmick, not a basis for storytelling.

It’s also a time travel movie. Again, those can be great, but a time travel movie MUST adhere to A) logic and B) its own rules. Sadly, it does neither, and when time travel movies get the mechanics right, that’s when it becomes interesting. There’s a scene where a kid goes 24 hours back in time to pass a chemistry presentation. He gets his buddies to get his past self to skip the class, and his future self sneaks in and does his presentation. He screws it up though, so after going back to the present, he decides to go back in time to the presentation again and try again.

The movie shows him doing the exact same thing; getting his friends to get his past self to not go to the class, and then his future self goes right in and does the presentation again, for the third time. But this is wrong. What would have really happened is that his future self would have to contend with two duplicates: his past self and his first future self (himself being the “second” future self).

The best time travel movie ever made is an independent film called Primer. If you’ve never seen it, you need to. Like, right now. It deals with this duplicate problem. If you keep going back in time over and over again to the same point in time, you’re going to create a new duplicate of yourself every time you do it. In Primer, this is done accurately and impressively. Its a very complicated movie but it handles time travel scientifically. I strongly recommend the movie, especially if you’re smart.

The premise of Project Almanac is that the more often you go back in time to fix things, the more you screw things up and make things worse. A fun premise, but another movie, Butterfly Effect, already dealt with this premise in a much more interesting way. In that movie, Ashton Kutcher is able to send his consciousness back in time whenever he draws a picture from an event in his past. He goes back, tries to change something to make it better in the future, returns to the present, and finds things totally screwed up. He goes back to fix things again, comes back, and things are even worse. Butterfly Effect is a great movie (even though Ashton Kutcher’s in it) though it’s extremely dark, more so than a movie like Seven.

If you have a strong stomach for very dark stories and vile characters, Butterfly Effect is a great time travel movie. Just be very sure you watch the directors cut with the director’s cut ending. The movie was released with several endings (since the one the director wanted was “too dark”) but you don’t want to watch that movie unless you see it with the director’s cut “dark” ending; it changes the entire movie for the worse if you don’t.

You should reach beyond the standard time travel movies like the Terminator films and the Back to the Future films (both of which are good movie franchises). Primer and Butterfly Effect…watch them if you haven’t yet.

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