Hello, friends in time, and welcome to the final month of Time Out, 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. I’ve seen a whole hell of a lot of time travel movies this year, but even watching one or two a week isn’t enough to knock ‘em all out. So, in the last month of 2013, I’m watching at least 31 movies and giving each one a quick paragraph on what I thought of it. How did these specific flicks end up on the bottom of the pile? By fitting at least one of the following criteria: 1) There’s time travel in them, but only in one or two scenes. 2) They were not favorably reviewed by critics and fell into obscurity. 3) They were made for TV, which I haven’t been counting until now. 4) Their legitimacy as time travel stories is questionable. 5) It’s my list and I’ve still seen more time travel movies than you, so ha. Anyway, here’s Week 1.
CONCEIVING ADA (1997)
What should have been a straightforward biopic about the inventor of the first computer algorithm is instead a schlocky sci-fi yarn that can’t see its own stupidity through a thick layer of arthouse pretentiousness. Tilda Swinton plays Ada Lovelace, who is contacted through time by Karen Black via the nineties’ understanding of the Internet, because when you’re honoring someone integral to the development of modern technology, you should definitely include a computer that’s more magical than the one from Weird Science. You won’t get too far in before you start to think of the two or three reasons why there might be time travel in this story, and unfortunately, the least interesting one is the big “mind-blowing” ending. (Also, why is there more than one time travel movie featuring Lord Byron?) Try as they might, even titties, feminism, and a ranting holodeck Timothy Leary can’t save this shit.
Mostly because there’s also a demonic cyber-dog with a human child’s mouth.
THE DAY TIME ENDED (1979)
Okay, the only reason this movie even makes the list is because it’s called The Day Time Ended instead of The Swirly Sparkly Thing Ambiguous Special Effects Fell Out Of. A little girl (Natasha Ryan) finds a glowing green pyramid that prompts random attacks from robots, spaceships, monsters, and literal little green men, but the bullshit opening narration assures us that this is no mere alien invasion; there’s totally time stuff too, you guys. Of course, we have fuck all else to go on, as nothing is explained throughout the remainder of the runtime, even though the characters seem to know what’s happening by the end. Are the monsters prehistoric? Is one of the ships an Earth vessel from the future? I think I saw a World War II bomber, but screw looking for a narrative, this movie’s essentially just a bunch of funky stop-motion visuals that you can put on in the background at a Halloween party.
Oh, good, they managed to outcreep the cyber-dog from the last movie.
LAND OF THE LOST (2009)
Will Ferrell comes in three flavors: Ron Burgundy, Elf, and Forgettable. In Land of the Lost, he plays Dr. Forgettable, a sparsely funny science man who has a theory on how to travel not backward or forward in time, but sideways, which– I can’t pretend to care any more. There’s a scene where stuff from different centuries converges in one place that’s got sort of a MacGyver element to it, but it’s mostly forced pee poop sex jokes forever.
TWICE UPON A YESTERDAY (1998)
Originally released under the also-horrible title The Man With Rain in His Shoes, Twice Upon a Yesterday focuses on a drunken man-child named Victor (Douglas Henshall) who can’t get over a particularly crushing break-up with Sylvia (Lena Headey), which was totally his fault because he cheated on her, but whatever, time travel. He uses the help of two mystical garbage men (Eusebio Lázaro and Gustavo Salmerón) to go back in time and relive his life from just before the split, which is honestly a premise I can’t believe I hadn’t encountered yet in all the time travel movies I’ve seen this year. Unfortunately, it fizzles and dies at the conceptual stage, mostly because none of the characters are particularly engaging or relatable. Despite his sexy Scottish accent and protagonist status, I don’t even see a reason why any woman would stay with Victor. Sorry, dude. Aside from a Twilight Zone twist at the end, it never rises above any other irritating Love in the Nineties movie… yet it’s somehow the best film on this list so far.
It literally just hit me: he got DUMPED, they work at a DUMP… booooo, fuck you, movie.
SOUTHLAND TALES (2006)
Confession: this is the third time I’ve seen Southland Tales. No human being should ever say that. I first sought out the sophomore effort of Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly because it received such poor reviews, and I made the mistake of watching it alone. When finished, I had to share my pain, so I roped in a few Darko fans the second time around to eat my sadness. I successfully put the film out of my mind for a few years, but deep into the Time Out project, I suddenly remembered: there’s time travel in it. Stupid, spiritual, just-there-to-be-trippy-for-a-couple-of-minutes time travel, but time travel nonetheless. I was so pissed I’d have to swallow this turd burrito a third time that I started unleashing my hatred in the middle of my Detention review, which is not the place for such things, but fuck, this movie. It’s awful. It’s the nuclear bomb of bad movies. This is the movie Dr. Clayton Forrester was waiting for all those years. It is bloated and ugly and paranoid and pretentious and terrible, and yet… important. It’s a reminder that you should never sign on to a movie without reading or understanding the script just because the director once made something critically acclaimed, which several actors in Southland Tales admit to, even in the goddamn special features. Yeah, I watched ‘em. Goddammit, I haven’t even said anything about the plot or the time travel yet. Well, maybe I’ll write a tie-in graphic novel as a prequel to this review. Arrrgh.
Fear this film. I mean it. Run.
THE SPIRIT OF ’76 (1990)
Can I get in one more “fuck Southland Tales“? Thanks. Fuck Southland Tales. Alright. The Spirit of ’76 begins in the year 2176. America is a bit of a dystopian shithole and has just been hit by a magnetic storm that erased all of its historical documents. Three time travelers with jokey dumb future names I hate (played by David Cassidy, Olivia d’Abo, and Geoff Hoyle) are sent back in time to 1776 to find the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The only problem is that they accidentally land in 1976 instead and have no idea it’s the wrong date. I’ll admit, that’s a solid time travel comedy premise and there are a few legitimate laughs, but you know what? I don’t think the movie focused on the right chunk of the story. It should have opened with the travelers returning from 1976, then re-shaping society like the 1970s. There’d be a little mystery for the audience as to why their account of the trip is so weird, you’d see them teaching disco classes to kids or some shit and eventually get it… that could have worked. Instead, they’re stuck in the past rattling off a checklist of seventies references instead of, you know, jokes. (Play along at home! Drinking game, perhaps?) Worst of all, the two airheads showing them around town (Jeff and Steve McDonald “of Redd Kross“) are an unforgivably obvious seventies-style rip-off of Bill & Ted.
Including, yes, a class project featuring people from another time period.
LOST IN SPACE (1998)
Second confession: I loved this movie when I was 13. I had a remote-controlled toy of the robot and a Matt LeBlanc action figure and a T-shirt. Replaying the soundtrack on a loop as a youth is the reason I now go around telling people big beat is an underrated musical genre that’s due for a resurgence. (That and because it is, yo.) But, alas, this movie is not good. And just like the Star Trek franchise, they resorted to time travel when spicing up this dusty old sci-fi show, because space travel just doesn’t get today’s audiences tingly in the sex bits any more. I could delve into everywhere they went wrong turning camp into action cheese, but I’m strictly here on time travel duties, so let me begin by saying that this suckfest actually squandered a pretty cool idea. You see, the Robinson family is sent on a mission to colonize another planet, but when an accident leaves them… the title… they instantly encounter a deserted rescue ship that was specifically looking for them. Huh? They just got lost, like, twelve seconds ago. So, they’ve clearly gone through time, but is it a natural phenomenon? Nope. A future version of one of the brainier kids (hint: he is in danger) has opened a portal from an alternate timeline. I love all of that and wish it was handled better, but unfortunately, it’s padded with badly written daddy issues and goofy shit like this.
31 Days of Time Travel – Week 2
Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.