Here at FRC, we hope those of you who are observing a religious holiday this weekend are doing so surrounded by people you love, sharing your faith in your beliefs and in one another. For everyone else, we came up with something for you to watch while you sit alone in your apartment eating Spaghetti-Os from a can. Because we love science fiction, movies no one watched, and terrible puns, the gang got together and picked out some of our favorite time-travel movies that we felt were underrated or never got the recognition they deserved. So slather some lamb’s blood on the door, set your boiled eggs to cool, and join us for the first annual Front Row Central Passed-Over Past-Over.
Ashley’s Pick: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a (very loose) sequel to a 1967 novel of the same name, and won numerous awards in its home country before it was licensed and released in English in 2008. As the title indicates, the movie is about a girl who leaps through time, but beyond that, it’s hard to state specifically what The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is about. Growing up, falling in love, unintended consequences, trying to do right by the ones we love, the serendipity inherent in the human condition; really, what isn’t this movie about? It’s sometimes described as a “coming of age” film, but the film is much more poignant than that description evokes. Much of the movie is bittersweet, capturing that keen line between the little joys and regrets of day-to-day life; it’ll keep you thinking (and feeling) well after the credits have rolled. It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s earnest, and of course, it has a clever little sci-fi bent to it that ties it all neatly together. Like many Japanese anime films that don’t have the weight of Miyazaki’s name behind them, you may not even have heard of this movie, but it’s a great one to watch on a quiet evening with someone you care about.
Marty’s Pick: Meet The Robinsons (2007)
Heavy studio changes can be hard on a film production and often lead to a lesser product. Disney’s time-travel comedy Meet the Robinsons had the misfortune of being caught up in the great Disney-Pixar merger halfway through production. This led to approximately 60% of the film being rewritten and remade at the request of newly appointed animation studio head John Lasseter, turning it into an irreverent farce and throwing it into theaters as soon as they could. (This strategy worked before for The Emperor’s New Groove, so why not?) Unfortunately, Robinsons never quite gained the cult following that Groove did, which is a shame because it is a fun, silly, and sweet little movie.
Meet The Robinsons treats its time-travel device as a means to an end, not really caring about “hard sci-fi” concepts like paradoxes unless it suits the plot. Instead, the time machine is used as an excuse to place us in a bright and shiny aesthetic similar to what 1950’s sci-fi thought the year 2000 would be. (Disney even mocks its own “Tomorrowland” ideas in the film.) Once there, the film plows through jokes, sight gags, parodies, and puns at a Saturday-Morning-Cartoon pace. All of this is wrapped around a sentimental story about the need to find a place to belong and the drive to keep advancing forward in whatever it is you do. More than anything, it’s a film that paints the future as something to be hopeful about and look forward to, which is exactly the way people, especially children, should feel about it.
Joe’s Pick: Futurama: Bender’s Big Score (TV/DVD, 2007)
Futurama is no stranger to goofing around with time travel, and it’s also been known to tug at the heartstrings from time to time. For my money, the show has never done either better than in its first direct-to-video feature. After an extended meta-joke about the show coming back from the dead (wink), the Planet Express crew discovers the code for conjuring a time portal tattooed on Fry’s ass. (“It was bound to be somewhere,” he says.) A band of nudist aliens reprogram Bender and send the robot back in time to steal history’s greatest relics. They then order Bender to terminate Fry, who uses the code to escape back to his own time. There, Fry must evade Bender and come to terms with the fact that he might never see Leela again. When Futurama earned a third life for itself on Comedy Central, Bender’s Big Score and its three DTV sequels were chopped up, rebranded as Season 5 and seemingly swept under the rug. (Though Netflix lists them as season 6, for some reason.) The films may have been produced with syndication in mind, but Bender’s Big Score manages to stand on its own as a coherent feature-length adventure. It provides a genuinely touching story for Fry, whose return home finds him filling the Leela-shaped hole in his heart with the companionship of a lonely narwhal. To keep the proceedings light, though, the film makes liberal use of time paradoxes, doomed doppelgangers and a dozen series retcons purely for the hell of it.
Jordan’s Pick: Valley of the Gwangi (1969)
For a film centered around cowboys fighting dinosaurs, it seems appropriate that Jim O’Connolly’s Weird West epic The Valley of Gwangi came out in 1969. Audiences had finally accepted that Hollywood’s Golden Age had come to a close, yet the gritty, visceral realism of New Hollywood had only just begun its incipient takeover. Shortly after this film’s release, Richard Carlson would turn to television, Gila Golan would leave Hollywood entirely, Ray Harryhausen would endure a long unemployment, and the Weird West as a film genre would sink into a relative lull for two decades. Gwangi’s plot parallels the circumstances of its existence. The characters—even the monsters—all struggle with their attenuating relevance amidst the inexorable march of time and the temptation to avoid change.As the last gasp of a dying era, The Valley of Gwangi makes for a wonderful cross-section of 1960s Hollywood at its strangest. The film deals with the staff of a struggling Wild West show venturing into a valley left untouched by time or evolution in order to snag a specimen that could potentially revive their careers. O’Connolly depicts the escalating lunacy with a straight face—a horse the size of a cat; a drunken paleontologist bandying about scientific theories that only Sarah Palin would believe; a Romani tribe who decry the valley as cursed; uniformly purple dinosaurs; a duel between a tyrannosaur and an elephant. The film culminates in a third act that feels exactly like an Americanization of Shōwa-era Godzilla. Ray Harryhausen’s effects shine in particular; his stop-motion monsters look somehow majestic and endearingly corny at the same time. The film reminds us—in its own odd way—that just because the past no longer exists doesn’t mean we should forget about it.
Libby’s Pick: Blackadder Back and Forth (1999, TV)
Blackadder Goes Forth had one of the most emotionally devastating finales in television history, but ten years later, Rowan Atkinson, Richard Curtis and Ben Elton got the band back together for one final Blackadder romp. On the eve of the new millennium, Lord Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) discovers that the time machine his dim-witted servant Baldrick (Tony Robinson) built actually works. There’s just one problem – Baldrick forgot to write the date on the dials, leaving the two of them wandering aimlessly throughout time – kicking Shakespeare (Colin Firth), killing dinosaurs with stinky underpants and harassing an overly-brash Robin Hood (the late Rik Mayall). But true to form, Baldrick has a cunning plan to get them home, and Blackadder has a plan to make history work in his favor.
Ten years didn’t dull Atkinson, Curtis and Elton’s scriptwriting wit, and although it’s a predictable tale to anyone who’s familiar with the characters, this predictability works in Blackadder’s favor. It’s like seeing old friends and retelling familiar jokes, a warm and silly way to pass 33 minutes. I, for one, would be fine with Blackadder ruling the universe, cunning plans and all.Liked This? Share It!