I love a good old-fashioned time travel flick. There is of course the Back to the Future trilogy. You’ve got wonderful Terry Gilliam gems like Time Bandits and 12 Monkeys. You even have great movie romances that tackle the subject such as Time After Time and the heartbreaking Christopher Reeve vehicle, Somewhere in Time. I find that I most appreciate the movies with multiple time jumps. They usually involve someone trying to fix a wrong only to create a new timeline where everything is all catawampus. Then they try to fix that and so on. You get the point. It’s often referred to as the butterfly effect. So, it’s only fitting that I begin this list of perhaps lesser known or under-appreciated time travel movies with…
This is a nice little sci-fi thriller that should not be lumped in with its inferior direct-to-video sequels which to their credit don’t star the at times grating Ashton Kutcher who is at his well-behaved best in the 2004 original. Kutcher plays a collegian prone to frequent blackouts in times of stress. His was a troubled childhood filled with abuse both sexual and psychological. While reading his journal entries from his youth, he discovers that he can send his mind back in time to occupy his past body. He realizes these little mental jaunts through time are the source of his blackouts and he decides, that like Sam Beckett, he will put right those things that once went wrong. Oh that it were that easy. His actions, of course, have unforeseen consequences. It’s a little shoddy. It’s definitely trashy. But if you just like a pure time travel yarn, you could do a hell of a lot worse.
James Belushi is Frank who, along with his co-dependent girlfriend, picks up a stranded motorist on a lonely road in Nevada or New Mexico (I don’t remember which…maybe Arizona?) Anyway, the grateful motorist, a psychiatrist by trade (played by the fetching Kylie Travis), quickly recognizes the signs of an abusive relationship and realizes Frank is not such a good guy. She decides to bail at the next gas station but bears witness to a shocking act of violence by Frank. She takes off on foot through the desert with Frank in hot pursuit to eliminate her. She stumbles onto a research facility where a lonely scientist is studying time travel. She explains her situation. He offers to send her back so she can save the lives previously taken. The carnage continues as everything she tries to fix the situation results in more death and more jumps back in time. Finally, she decides to take control and confront Frank directly.
The UK brings us this trippy little tale that loops back in on itself multiple times before a devastating conclusion. Melissa George plays Jess, a single mom with an autistic son. She’s more than happy for the opportunity to get away for a while on a boating trip with some friends after dropping the kiddo off at school. They hit a strange electrical storm on the open waters which disrupts their communications and capsizes the boat. The survivors come across a bizarrely empty cruise ship and desperately search for a way to contact the coast guard. They quickly realize they are not alone as a masked assailant begins stalking and killing them one by one. Jess soon discovers that she is in a never-ending time loop and decides that she will do whatever she must to break the cycle and return to her son. There’s some really clever stuff and striking images in this one. To say much more would be to spoil the fun.
Filmed in Dallas, TX in 2004 on a budget of $7,000, writer/director/star Shane Carruth delivers perhaps the smartest time travel film one is ever likely to see. The simple plot is that a pair of scientists stumble across the key to time travel. As most people would, they decide to make money by using advance knowledge of the stock market. Then they decide to play. And that’s when things get ugly. It can all get a bit confusing considering Carruth made the choice to use actual technical jargon as opposed to spelling out the science for the viewer. Since its release the film’s cult status has grown. There are web pages devoted to tracking the many alternate time lines that are created by the protagonists multiple trips back. There’s a scene near the beginning of the third act that will blow your mind and make you doubt everything you’ve seen prior. This is truly a film that rewards multiple viewings.
Written and directed by Spanish wunderkind Nacho Vigalondo, this is quite possibly the perfect little small-scale time travel movie. Hector lives with his wife in the Spanish countryside in a house they are renovating. One pleasant afternoon while she is off shopping, his spies with his binoculars a comely young lady undressing in the woods just beyond his property. Being a dude, he goes to check it out only to be attacked by a pink bandaged man. He flees the scene and breaks into a nearby building. An intercom bursts to life instructing him to hide in a large mechanical device. When he emerges from the machine, a scientist is waiting and informs him that he has gone back several hours in time. Hector then sets out a mission with, against and back again in time to discover the truth behind the man who attacked him. Ultimately, a great sacrifice must be made to protect the one he loves.
Writing about all these movies makes me want to watch them all over again. If only I had the time. Wait a minute. Maybe, just maybe…