Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a very special edition of Time Out. When I first set out to watch at least one time travel movie every week of 2013 to offset the effects of watching Back to the Future every week of 2013, most people responded appropriately by not having sex with me. A few, however, began to question what really counts as time travel (and still refrained from sex with me). Is It’s a Wonderful Life valid because maybe God went back in time and crushed that single George Bailey sperm cell? What the hell is really going on in Lola rennt? How did futuristic transforming robots end up in the middle of the Greco-Persian Wars as depicted in Meet the Spartans?
I’m leaning less “temporal displacement” and more “God is very real and clearly hates us.”
One topic that came up frequently was cryogenic freezing. Or suspended animation. Or… regular freezing, in ice, by accident, somehow. At first, I said no; the fabric of space-time isn’t being tampered with, you’re just sticking a guy in a block of ice and slapping him awake later. But, the more I thought about it, most time travel stories focus on two basic plotlines: altering (or restoring) the past, and the classic Fish Out of Water scenario of visiting another time period. It seems unfair to kick a large number of strangers in strange lands to the curb just because they’d rather not fuck with paradoxes.
Bet you’re wishin’ Doc only messed with freezers right about now, eh, Hole-Hands?
So, just like I did with my article on prophecies, I’m going to set some ground rules here.
- No magic. Fuck magic. That includes getting drunk with a bowling team in the woods, Mr. Van Winkle. And no vampires trapped in coffins or mummy curses or genies stuck in lamps/boomboxes. Ghosts, zombies, and the mannequin from fucking Mannequin need not apply. If the process of tucking you in or waking you up did not involve at least one scientist, intern, Arctic explorer, or kid who knows how to work a heat lamp, sorry, we don’t take your kind here.
- No… other dumb stuff. I really hope I’m imagining that somebody said The Matrix, because that person isn’t my friend any more. No simulations of other time periods, no storing your memories and then booting them up later, no clones of you that have been psycho-calibrated to your mind-stream or whatever. Oh, did somebody ask if Wolverine counts? Living through a bunch of stuff because you’re immortal sort of negates that whole “not understanding how society functions nowadays” thing. Listen: Body. Goes in thing that makes it not age. Is unaware of the passage of time. Comes out. Wakes up. We good?
- The freeze has to be part of the main story arc. Otherwise, we’ll be stuck with countless films about space travel just because they briefly use the process to skip over all the tedious eating, breathing, and pooping that would otherwise occur on a voyage to Planet Wayfaraway. Yes, that cutting room floor stuff about Ripley’s daughter in Aliens sure is poignant, but it doesn’t really affect all the monster-shootin’ that comes later.
So, if we’re all in agreement…
…I’m sorry, I can’t think of a snappy lead-in that doesn’t sound like an “ice” pun from Batman & Robin.
“Cahl me da principuhl, ‘cuz I jahst suspeynded yuhr ahneemaytion!”
The movie: Planet of the Apes (1968)
The fish: Taylor (Charlton Heston), Landon (Robert Gunner), and Dodge (Jeff Burton), three swarthy astronauts on a mind-bogglingly long voyage through space. A fourth fish, Stewart (Dianne Stanley), does not make it out of the pond.
Thank God the woman died. Ugh. She would have been unbearable. Amirite, guys?
The method of leaving the water: Little glass hibernation coffins that keep the astronauts alive as the spacecraft blasts through the cosmos at just a smidge under 299, 792, 458 meters per second.
Keeps dude fresh.
Acclimation to the new environment: I think what makes Apes so brilliant is that it doesn’t just focus on the differences between our world and the titular planet; the similarities are what actually make it a great piece of social satire. Taylor gets to experience the way humans treat animals from the other side, and we get to witness how ape society has the same Inherit the Wind problems with its biological origins as we do. Oh, I didn’t have to tell you about the whole “everybody is a talking gorilla” thing, right? Because of the title?
Wait, they’re talking in English… uh, hey, look at their funny clothes!
The movie does sort of move away from Taylor’s place in the story towards the end, but that’s okay, because, seriously, talking gorillas. Specifically, talking gorillas having heavy-handed conversations about mythological bullshit that we still haven’t gotten beyond as a society. Thankfully, it’s campy enough to keep everything from getting too serious, and it all leads up to the shocking surprise ending that the entire planet is actually a cookbook.
“You maniacs! You substituted margarine for butter! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!”
You know, I’m starting to think that the cryo stuff in this movie doesn’t actually work the way I thought it did as a kid, and the traveling at light speed is actually what causes time to– hey, let’s move on to the sequel that I didn’t see until today.
The movie: Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
The fish: Brent (James Franciscus), an astronaut following the same trajectory as the ship in the first movie to find out what happened. And, of course, another fish dies; this time it’s from the crash instead of a hibernation chamber mishap. We know him only as Skipper (Tod Andrews).
“Rest in peace, buddy. Alright, off to be all Charlton Heston-y.”
The method of leaving the water: I’m going to guess the same as last time? Here We Go Again sequels don’t spend as much time on the background details.
Pretty much all I have to go on here.
Acclimation to the new environment: Okay, seriously, this barely qualifies as a sequel to Planet of the Apes. The premise is that, hey, there was this whole other society of weirdos living underground that you didn’t even know about! Is that how you’re supposed to proceed after a crazy twist in your first installment? With stupid twists?
Drink in how idiotic this looks, then add the fact that they’re at church.
If the first movie presents The Do’s of Writing Satire, Beneath is most definitely the Don’ts. The writers (it goes without saying that they’re not the same ones who worked on the original) clearly had a completely different post-apocalyptic story to tell and simply shoe-horned it in to the Apes franchise. Even as a standalone film, it’s bad. Like, Southland Tales bad, the kind of shitty symbolism that’s either painfully obvious or only means something to the guy who wrote it. (Example: there’s a ladder that makes a weird screeching sound unless you’re touching it. What does it mean?) When you force this slop to coincide with the ape pals we’ve come to know and love, it’s a madhouse.
“Throw in an ape ambush. That totally ties it in!” – The writers.
At least the ending, doubling as a meta statement on Heston’s refusal to be in any more of these damn movies, practically guarantees that there won’t be any more sequels. I mean, unless they worked in time travel or something, OH NO–
The movie: Sleeper (1973)
The fish: Miles Monroe (Woody Allen), a health food restaurant owner from 1973 who, surprise, is very neurotic and riffs on anything in his eyeline for two minutes longer than is necessary.
He’s eating a glove. Ha?
The method of leaving the water: Miles was cryogenically preserved against his will after a botched ulcer operation, only to be thawed out 200 years later in the hopes that his lack of identification will make him an ideal candidate to infiltrate the oppressive future government. The process isn’t elaborated on, but it involves a lot of tin foil.
I think you’re supposed to poke holes in him with a fork.
Acclimation to the new environment: “He’s ranting. We’d better tranquilize him.” This line is spoken by a doctor in an early scene, and depending on your opinion of Woody Allen, you may hope they keep that needle handy. The movie consists of three main types of comedy: Monroe looking at something and crapping out endless zingers about it, slapstick stunts accompanied by Dixieland jazz, and revelations about future technology and customs that mock life in 1973. For me, the societal gags are the funniest, but the majority of the slapstick is tiresome and Allen’s hit-or-miss jokes are followed by lengthy pauses for laughter that become painfully embarrassing when they miss.
“Right? Anybody? This guy knows what I’m talking about. Yeesh.”
I’m not going to pretend like nothing is funny in the film. I certainly laughed a few times, but in an “anything goes” spoof like this, it feels like it’s trying to please everybody. There are times the comedy is so smart that it’s poignant, but then that damn Dixieland music starts up and practically warns you that there’s a slapstick scene approaching. Hear that clarinet? That means it’s Zany Time! Start laughing!
Alright, these two totally crack me up. I’m not a complete grump.
Much like Airplane! or Mel Brooks movies, it’s hard to take Sleeper as a whole rather than a collection of sketches with a basic storyline running through them. Maybe I’m being thrown off by the brilliance of Annie Hall, so when Sleeper begins to approach those same levels of insight on how we live our lives, the switch to unabashed goofiness makes me want the clever commentary on health, sex, drugs, religion, and science back. I have friends who love Sleeper and friends who despise it. Maybe if it were split Superman III-style into a smart movie and a dumb movie, I could come to adore both, but as it stands, it’s not something I find myself rushing to grab off the shelf too often.
The movie: Ghost Warrior (1985)
The fish: Yoshimitsu (Hiroshi Fujioka), a samurai warrior from the sixteenth century.
The method of leaving the water: Yosh, having just witnessed his wife’s murder, is hit with an arrow and falls into an icy lake. 400 years later, he’s found frozen in a cave and revived at the California Institute of Cryosurgical Research in Los Angeles, which is staffed by doctors who take this kind of shit very seriously.
Also, it involves a laser show for some reason.
Acclimation to the new environment: When I saw the poster for Ghost Warrior, I assumed Yoshimitsu’s little ice block would float to L.A. on its own, thaw out, and he’d be up and hacking away at street thugs like feudal Japan’s answer to John Shaft. And yet, I’m surprised to say that this movie gives a fairly accurate portrayal of how one might unfreeze a samurai. They perform blood transfusions, they cut open his chest and operate on his heart, they monitor him over the course of several days… none of the magic melting that happens in *ahem* some other cryo flicks. Hell, even introducing him into our society is handled sensibly, by starting him off in familiar surroundings and calling in an expert on Japanese history (Janet Julian). It’s everything you’d do if you found a shogun popsicle, right up until the part where they earn his trust by giving him his swords back.
“Thank God, he’s just an intern. Throw him on the pile.”
Don’t worry, that nurse dude was totally a bad guy. He tried to steal Yoshimitsu’s swords and they showed him checking out the historian’s butt earlier. Boo! Kill that guy! Once the Yoshmeister makes his escape, it’s time to fuck up some drug dealers and pimps, right? Again, no, at least not right away. He mostly just wanders the streets of California. Every so often he pokes something he doesn’t understand. It’s only when he sees some hoodlums roughing up a harmless old man that his warrior instincts kick in.
Hilariously, I should add.
There isn’t much of a story after that. Yoshimitsu is hellbent on avenging his wife’s death, but the fact that her killer has been dead for 400 years gives him a case of justice blue balls. His street vigilantism has him on the cops’ radar, so the rest of the film is pretty much just him on the run from the fuzz. It’s not terribly compelling, but I have to bump up my respect for the film a little bit solely because it’s far more reserved and realistic than the over-the-top cheesefest I expected. Except… I kind of still wanted the cheese. Hmm.
The movie: Captain America (1990)
The fish: Steve Rogers, some ‘roided up dickface who gets strapped to a Nazi rocket on his very first mission.
I can practically hear the sad Charlie Brown music.
The method of leaving the water: The aforementioned Nazi rocket with the aforementioned ‘roided up dickface strapped to it crashes in Alaska in 1943. In 1993, a bunch of generic snow-hiking guys take the ice block of failure back to their relay station. The warmth melts it a tiny bit, then Steve punches the ice into submission and just walks the fuck out.
“Welp, I’m off to discover new ways to get captured. Peace.”
Acclimation to the new environment: Um, can somebody tell me why the freezing part was necessary without using the phrase “it happened in the comic book”? For the story they were trying to tell here, I don’t see anything it really adds to Steve’s arc. They do have a scene where he meets up with his ’40s girlfriend (Kim Gillingham) and she’s all old and unbangable now, but since they didn’t flesh out her character beyond “Steve kissed her that one time,” I found myself lacking shits to give.
“I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.” – A message from Captain America’s flaccid penis.
I know I’m about to scream ways to fix this story at a movie that’s already been redone, but hell, you don’t even have to follow the Avengers model of keeping his first set of adventures in the 1940s. If you really need all that Nazi stuff in his backstory, why not start with Cap getting thawed and establish his past as a hero with exposition and flashbacks? You could even drop the freezing. That’s totally possible. I know fanboys are yelling, but come on, Marvel had a Golden Age hero they wanted to bring back and fudged it with magic ice. This is a movie adaptation, and I say Steve could have been updated to a ’90s guy who takes ’90s muscle drugs. Oh, we just gotta keep that freezing shit? Fine. Enjoy. Have fun with some dink who goes on one mission, gets launched to fucking Alaska, then wanders around freaking out over how many things are made in Germany and Japan.
You call that a bathing suit?! *BOI-OI-OING!*
Everything else about this movie is just as stupid, but I’m strictly here to talk about the time displacement, so we’ll have to leave it at that.
BUT SERIOUSLY, HIS ONLY SUPERPOWER IS PRETENDING TO BE CARSICK–
LATER THIS WEEK:
The Cryo Game (Part 2 of 2)
Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.