Present Man in Future
Our fourth time phase offers all kinds of mystery as we leave everything familiar behind and join the protagonist on a voyage into the future, where anything can happen. Traveling into the past, we at least have some idea what to expect. Not so anymore. As discussed before, one of the easiest ways to get to the future is by being frozen, or sent into a state of "suspended animation," as happens to Buck Rogers in the ultra-cheesy Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979).
Oddly most of the films made in this strain are either low-budget efforts or camp classics. The key entry is, of course, Planet of the Apes (1968) and its sequels, though further explanation would ruin that film for newcomers. Viewers of all ages and backgrounds are encouraged to avoid Tim Burton's 2001 remake, a disaster by any standards. Many of the best futuristic stories, like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner, start in the future and stay there, with no time travel involved.
But there's Edgar G. Ulmer's ultra-cheap Beyond the Time Barrier (1960), the story of a test pilot who accidentally flies a new rocket into the future, where he is treated as a spy and a prisoner. Since the men of the future are sterile, he is made to procreate with the royal daughters. Ulmer, the famous "B"-movie auteur, filmed this one back-to-back with a sci-fi film called The Amazing Transparent Man.
Freejack (1992) was a serious dud, and, strangely, Anthony Hopkins' first film after his big Oscar win for The Silence of the Lambs. Emilio Estevez plays an auto racer who is transported by a bounty hunter (Mick Jagger!) into the future a nanosecond before he crashes. An evil corporation wishes to sell his body to an ailing, wealthy customer, but he escapes. He encounters his fiancée (Rene Russo) now fifteen years older and working for the bad guys.
Not every time travel story is so cut-and-dried. Sometimes characters get to like the idea of time traveling itself rather than reaching any particular destination. Of course, these well-traveled jumpers have a higher chance of wrecking the very delicate time continuum and changing history as we know it.
One example is Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys (1995), in which our hero James Cole (Bruce Willis) lives one year in the future, in 1996, where a horrible plague has hit mankind. He travels back to the year 1990 looking for ways to help the remaining humans survive, but stumbles upon a plan to actually prevent the outbreak. Unfortunately, he's been mistaken for a lunatic and thrown in an asylum. Brad Pitt received an Oscar nomination for his performance as a crazed inmate, and Madeleine Stowe plays Willis's love interest, meeting him in 1990 and again in 1996.
Gilliam's film was inspired by Chris Marker's great short film La Jetée (1962), which was comprised entirely of photographs and narration. In it, a man undergoes a chemical-induced time travel and travels into the past to try and find some way to save mankind after a nuclear war. In an utterly bizarre and unforgettable ending, a memory from his childhood comes back to haunt him.
Gilliam was already familiar with time jumping, having made the wonderful Time Bandits (1981), about a bunch of little people who work for the Supreme Being, building the universe and all its parts. Out of greed, they steal a map charting all the holes in time, hoping they can make a fortune by stealing things and escaping through time. They wind up in the bedroom of little Kevin (Craig Warnock) and take him along for the ride, journeying to the times of Napoleon (Ian Holm), Robin Hood (John Cleese), King Agamemnon (Sean Connery) and into a mythical land of ogres. An Evil Genius (David Warner), as well as the Supreme Being (Ralph Richardson), try to stop them. Many of the little people (including Kenny Baker) had played various roles in the Star Wars films. Michael Palin (who co-wrote the script) and Shelley Duvall play unfortunate lovers who re-appear in each time zone. The film's special effects have dated a bit, but its unfettered energy, Monty Python-ish humor and imagination still have the power to enchant.
There must have been something about the 1980s that inspired such escapism. Later in the decade, time travel was placed in the hands of a couple of brain-dead California rockers in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989). Given a phone booth time machine, they travel all over history, collecting major figures for their high school report. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter made the characters likable and, "whoa," popularized all kinds of "bogus" surf-speak. In an equally funny sequel, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991), a futuristic villain sends evil Bill and Ted robots back to the present to destroy them and re-route future events.
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