On television that same year, Scott Bakula starred in "Quantum Leap" (1989), a time travel series that still has a strong cult following to this day. In each episode, Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) enters a different body in a different time period and must solve some puzzle, set some event right, before he can move on. Each time his goal is to get back home. Dean Stockwell co-stars as his "spiritual guide," an observer who can appear in phantom form to give Sam helpful advice.
By this time, there were enough time travelers to make necessary a Timecop (1994). Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as the Time Enforcement member who must stop a crooked politician (Ron Silver) from altering history and gaining power. It's pretty typical Van Damme nonsense, but okay if you turn off your brain.
BBC comedian Rowan Atkinson even got into the act, reviving his wonderfully loathesome character Blackadder for Blackadder Back & Forth (1999). In it, he and his pathetic sidekick Baldrick (Tony Robinson) bounce around from time to time with no regard to the space-time continuum, blatantly changing history whenever they see fit.
That same year, San Francisco underground filmmaker Craig Baldwin made the unusual, fascinating Spectres of the Spectrum, a complicated tale comprised of found as well as new footage. Set in 2007, a man named Yogi and his daughter Boo Boo must travel back in time to save the world from being erased... sort of.
Time Travel Today
In the 21st century, time travel has become far more subtle and creative than merely entering a time machine and punching a button.
Richard Kelly's cult phenomenon Donnie Darko [or the alternative Director's Cut] (2001) features one of the most complex time-travel/alternate reality plots ever conceived, and yet to try and explain it would ruin the thrust of the movie. Even without it, this mysterious, engaging story of an outcast high-schooler (Jake Gyllenhaal) who sleepwalks and has visions of a demonic rabbit is one of the most remarkable debuts of recent years.
Speaking of outcast teens, don't think Harry Potter gets away without some time traveling. In Alfonso Cuaron's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) -- still the best of the series -- Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) is able to attend two classes simultaneously by using a time-travel device and going back just one hour. Who better than the fastidious, studious Hermione to be careful about breaking the time continuum? Later in the film, she and Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) use the device together to save the day.
In The Butterfly Effect (2004), Evan Treborn (Ashton Kutcher) suffers weird blackouts as a child. Later, he's able to revisit the blank spots and even change the events that happen within. Unfortunately, every time he does, he wakes up in a new reality. Sadly, this great idea quickly fills up with logic holes and dives toward an increasingly stupid, action-oriented ending.
Shane Carruth's indie Primer (2004) is far superior on less than a fraction of the budget. The plot involves a couple of young brainiac inventors whose talk is so complicated that they can really only understand each other. Their work on a new kind of refrigeration system has inadvertently uncovered the secret of time travel. By building a coffin-like box, the duo can trip forward 24 or 48 hours and snatch some stock market readings or other handy tidbits. The catch is that they must check into a hotel for the down time so as not to run into their doubles and change the course of history. Of course, the more jumps they make the more complicated things get. It can be difficult to comprehend the highly technical dialogue, but the 78-minute running time and the film's lethal intelligence welcome and encourage multiple viewings.
John Maybury's interesting The Jacket (2005) tries to follow on these recent examples, but only partially succeeds. Adrien Brody stars as a Gulf War vet who is shot by a young boy when he hesitates to shoot first. A year later, he has physically healed, but his memory hasn't. Staying in a barbaric asylum, doctors occasionally lock him in a drawer as an extreme form of psychotherapy. While inside, he finds he can transport into the future, to 2007, where he learns that he died later in 1993. He must find out how, so as to prevent his own death. Fortunately, he meets a future girl, Jackie (Keira Knightley), who believes him and helps him. (Ryan Phillippe starred in a very similar film, The I Inside, two years earlier.)
File under "J" for The Jacket
More Time (Travelers):
Adapted from Kurt Vonnegut's novel, Slaughterhouse-Five (1972), "Billie Pilgrim has come unstuck in time," living different lives in different time periods simultaneously. In Ivan Vasilevich: Back to the Future (1973), two modern-day bunglers are transported to the 16th century, swapping places with Ivan the Terrible. In My Science Project (1985), a failing teenager discovers a glowing crystal at a missile base and inadvertently unlocks a weird time tunnel; dinosaurs, gladiators and other creatures suddenly walk the earth again. In the horror sequel Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1992) characters travel through various points in history, interacting with famous fictional characters.
Finally, in the charming made-for-TV movie, The Love Letter (1998), Scotty Corrigan (Campbell Scott) finds an old letter in a Civil War-era desk. He writes back and receives a reply from Elizabeth Whitcomb (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a woman long dead. Despite their obvious issues, the two begin falling in love.
And coming in the summer of 2006 is the very similar The Lake House, which is based on a 2000 Korean film, Il Mare. In both films, a woman writes a letter to a man staying in a house by a lake. When the man replies, his letter is dated two years earlier, well before she ever contacted him.
Hey, anything's possible if you have enough time.
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