Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison.
In this special Threequel Weekquel Edition, I’ll be looking at the bizarre tendency of film franchises to feature time travel in the third installment, despite the original containing nothing of the sort. Is it a logical next step for each series, or just an attention-grabbing gimmick to draw audiences back in? Do the filmmakers even understand their own rules? And does introducing time travel help the franchise or hurt it?
Warning: As each film this week is part of a series, it’s going to get extra spoiler-y. You’ve been warned.
HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (2004)
PREVIOUSLY ON HARRY POTTER: Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) gets whisked away to a magical wizarding world where everything’s name sounds like a parody of itself. His friends Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) help him solve the mystery of the guy who lives on the back of the other guy. Then the same goddamn movie happens again, but with a snake. Garnish with special effects and whimsy.
WHAT DOES TIME TRAVEL BRING TO THE TABLE? In a universe packed to the brim with magic, it’s kinda just one more thing that wizards know how to do.
Behold the mind-boggling sorcery that is STIRRING COFF– oh, hey, nice foreshadowing.
These kids have witnessed levitation, invisibility, teleportation, transfiguration, possession, therianthropy, anthropomorphism, whatever the big fancy word for soul-suckin’ is, and a metric shitload of mythological creatures. Temporal displacement should feel nice and cozy snuggled in with all that nonsense. You could probably tell Harry there’s a spell to turn his butthole into a cappuccino machine and he wouldn’t even bat an eye.
But he might turn your eye into a bat.
All in all, the time travel is one part of an ever-unraveling mystery, and since these kids are basically the Hogwarts edition of Scooby-Doo, it gives ‘em something to solve.
DO THE FILMMAKERS EVEN UNDERSTAND TIME TRAVEL? I’ve been waiting all year to talk about this movie, because one of the most airtight depictions of time travel is somehow in a magic universe for little kids.
Pictured: a film that takes science fiction concepts seriously.
Much like some people don’t understand how something as goofy as Bill & Ted still checks out, the Time-Turner actually makes a hell of a lot of sense once you realize that it doesn’t work like Back to the Future. Thanks to a real-life wizard named Novikov, the idea of an immutable timeline does away with all those messy paradoxes, and Hermione’s little necklace functions accordingly; a trip into the past was always a part of history.
Unlike Bill & Ted, the target audience for this film isn’t usually baked.
Of course, immutable time travel isn’t entirely free of logical snags, which leads us to the next big question…
DOES TIME TRAVEL DESTROY THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE? “Hey, idiot,” some hypothetical nerd-puncher is saying as he plows a cheerleader. “Time travel is stupid because you can always fix anything. Why not save Dumbledore or stop… the big… things that happen… later?” Okay, whatever, I haven’t seen past Phoenix, but I hear crazy shit goes down.
No, like, crazier than THIS.
Ignoring whatever the hell happens in the books and assuming that the movieverse works on true immutability, guess what? You can’t go back in time if your future self never shows up. It’s as simple as that. If you fall out of a window and are caught by Old You, well, shit, awesome, you’d better remember to go catch yourself in a couple decades. Which you will. Because time travel.
Try and keep up, Ron.
No, I know, this sort of paradox prevention steams a lot of people. I’ve spent days trying to explain that, no, something stops you. We don’t know what yet, but something will stop you from going back in time. Yeah, the whole idea starts to sound pretty unscientific when you send an entire army of chronosoldiers through the time-hole with the explicit goal of Hitler un-born-ification and it just plain doesn’t work… but isn’t anything unscientific right at home in a world of wizardry?
Logicked. I mean, magicked.
The Ministry of Magic trusting a kid with a freaking time machine is kind of bullshit, though.
I’m not a Harry Potter guy, nor am I a magic guy, but I like the time travel in this flick just fine. It’s an eye-catching sequence and the rules will make the kids in the audience think. Also, as random as a lot of things at Hogwarts are, the time travel ties into the plot fairly well, like Hermione’s skepticism over divination or Harry’s desire to know more about his father’s past. You’d be hard-pressed to make me sit down for Harry Potter and the Flambledang of Blappleshitz, but if I overhear twinkly wizard music and a ticking clock in the other room, I usually peek in.
Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.