One of Scott Nybakken’s complaints in our last Debate at Lolita Bar was overuse of time travel, with all the absurdity it tends to introduce.
It’s hard enough keeping track of geek things that are aiming for some sort of tidiness and logic, like Terminator, but when time travel is depicted by people so interested in art and emotion that logic just goes out the window, really kooky things start happening — and I don’t just mean the implausibly convenient fading/unfading photo from Back to the Future, which at least has the excuse of being comedy.
Witness the ludicrous final fate of Ron Silver — not in real life, in which the actor/activist was sadly taken from us just this week, but in the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie TimeCop. The film clearly establishes at the beginning that time travelers are not transformed along with the timestream when they alter the past — but then has the whole climax hinge on the villainous Ron Silver character’s confidence that if he travels to the past and gets blown up there, it won’t matter because the event will alter the timestream, changing the future and him along with it.
To top it off, when a paradox is finally produced, he doesn’t confront himself or vanish into the fourth dimension but instead…turns into green ooze. Yeah, OK. To quote the name of the Kryptonian god of reality fluctuation who I just made up: What-Ev. (One bright note in the morass of TimeCop: the Smithereens’ upbeat cover of “Time Won’t Let Me.”)
Rare examples of convoluted and possibly incoherent but nonetheless satisfying time-gymnastics can be found in (1) the great indie film Primer about yuppie Wall Streeter types inadvertently creating a time machine and (2) Donnie Darko, the latter a case where the aesthetics/psychology works so well that even we nerds walk away content, despite realizing days later that the underlying “Philosophy of Time Travel” at work in the film was so complex that the director actually had to write a book by that title explaining it all.
That film also worked a sort of retroactive magic upon the 1982 Tears for Fears song “Mad World,” since to a lot of people — especially Darko-loving millennials — the haunting, fragile version performed by the composers of the film score probably sounds more like the “real” version of the song than the original does, even though almost anyone asked to name the song’s performer would say Tears for Fears, much as everyone knows the English version of “Der Kommissar” but attributes it to Falco (even though the cover is in fact by After the Fire — not that I begrudge the late Falco being remembered).
But getting back to time travel: I’m keen to see what happens next month when, unless ratings improve, the series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles may end on April 17, I’ve heard (think of that as Judgment Day, two years early…or five years later, or twelve years later, or whatever).
Will they politely clear the decks of the series’ accumulated non-John-Connor characters and set things up for the following month’s Terminator Salvation movie? Will they perhaps even reconcile the series continuity with Terminator 3? Will the nuclear war arrive? Might it even be prevented? Will there be a satisfying ending at all? An “open” ending in case of a renewal of the series?
I’m flexible — I swear — but curious. A simple solution might be some sort of “time” bomb going off (you know, something involving tachyons, like in Watchmen) that returns all the time-displaced cast members to their temporal points of origin. John experiences T3 after all, and then circa 2018 becomes…Christian Bale (as we’ll see on May 22, 2009, of course).
T4 will also introduce new, giant-size Terminators, apparently, but I’m confident Batman will be able to save us from the Transformers, so to speak.
P.S. Nybakken also noted that one audience member that night, his co-worker Jared, is a big fan of Steven Seagal (not to be confused with Jean-Claude Van Damme), who apparently has been quietly churning out about two or three action movies per year lately, sometimes direct to video. The list of titles and one-line plot summaries in Seagal’s Wikipedia entry is amusing.
Here’s another public figure quickly being turned into a cartoonish badass, by the way: Let the hurling begin.
P.P.S. And if sci-fi and fantasy deserves to be parodied, by the way, it’s nice to see Comedy Central doing it with umlauts — and the greatest subtitle in TV history. Next, perhaps they should adapt Bill O’Reilly’s novel (which they’ve already parodied on The Colbert Report).
P.P.P.S. And while I’m noting parodies and the like, I wish the eco-green-ified versions of Schoolhouse Rock noted here by my friend Maura Flynn were a joke — but they aren’t. And another piece of my memory and my culture dies.