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Time Travel in the Movies

by Douglas Chapman


Perhaps George Pal's finest film, this limited-budget 1960 adaptation of H. G. Wells's novel features Rod Taylor as H. "George" Wells, the inventor of an ornate time machine with which he travels to the future through a succession of wars. Eventually he finds that the human race splits into the bovine Eloi and the monstrous Morlocks who eat them. The movie's special effects, which include time-lapse and stop-motion photography, won an Oscar™, and all aspects of production and design combine into an unforgettable experience. The same cannot be said for its 2002 remake, which marshalled a large budget to less effect.


Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) debuted as a director with this adventurous and scary romance in which the young Victorian writer H. G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) pursues Jack the Ripper (David Warner) into 1979 San Francisco, where the latter's violent tendencies easily blend in. Once there, Wells encounters a bank teller (Mary Steenbergen) with whom he falls in love. He must forestall a future in which she dies at the Ripper's hands.


Six dwarves, accompanied by a British schoolboy, use time portals to travel through Earth's history — and beyond — to steal anything they can. Sean Connery portrays Agamemnon, John Cleese plays Robin Hood and Ralph Richardson is the Supreme Being ("I'm not entirely dim") whose portal map the thieves have taken. This surreal creation of scripter-director Terry Gilliam combines epic scope with characters who tend to think small, except for Evil (David Warner) who has high-tech plans for a new creation.


Christopher Reeve uses will power to travel back to 1910, where he falls in love with a noted actress (Jane Seymour). This 1980 film explores time paradoxes, the changes time brings on, and a love aided by time itself. The non-technological time travel theories presented in Jack Finney's classic book Time and Again influenced scripter Richard Matheson's novel Bid Time Return upon which this movie is based.


This 1964 opus stars Preston Foster as the leader of a group of scientists who accidentally construct a time portal. They travel to a post-apocalyptic future in which nuclear survivors, besieged by mutants and androids, try to build a spaceship to carry them off-planet. Sci-fi veteran Ib Melchior wrote and directed this low-budget but imaginative opus.


James Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and the crew of the erstwhile starship Enterprise use a captured Klingon spaceship to speed back through time to 1986 San Francisco so they can save the whales, and thus rescue future Earth. Nimoy directed a script co-written by Nicholas Meyer, with amusing variations on his Time After Time shtick. This remains the best of the Star Trek™ features.


The Doctor, whose name is not "Who," has careened through most of space and time — and all media — in a machine that looks like a police box. He did so during the show's 26-year BBC-TV run, two theatrical films, a one-off 1996 television movie, and the present BBC Wales revival and has, in the process, utilized most of the extant ideas about time travel. He was and is a two-hearted alien (from the planet Gallifrey) with a Treklike knack for solving any world's problems, and he periodically transforms appearance and personality. His portrayers since his debut in 1963 have included William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant who, respectively, have been cantankerous, clownish, dandified, Bohemian, Edwardian, egomaniacal, professorial, sensitive, manic, and cheeky.


Robert Zemeckis, pre-Forrest Gump, directed this trilogy, in which the character played by Michael J. Fox, using a souped-up DeLorean, discovers about time paradoxes through personal experience. In the first of the trilogy, he has to be matchmaker to his parents so that he will be born. The second in the series takes his adventures into the future, and the third into the old West. Part III also features another one-of-a-kind machine: a time train. The cast of all three films includes Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson and Thomas F. Wilson.

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