Homage, Genre Crossovers and Theatre
“It is clear that the world is purely parodic, that each thing seen is the parody of another, or is the same thing in deceptive form.”
Homage, Spoofing and Parody
“Time is an illusion”, said Einstein. Well, Albert, tell that to the bank manager on the day the mortgage is due and your overdraft has skyrocketed to infinity and beyond. Yes, nothing wrong with poking fun at experts in Time. Or paying them homage. In TRAVELERS, it seems Stephen Hawking has a particle named after him in the future and Einie of course is the name of Doc Brown’s dog in BACK TO THE FUTURE. And Albert Einstein himself makes a cameo appearance in the SWIDGERS book series.
There’s many a nod to the great Herbert George Wells and his famous book in many Time Tales. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) is in TIME AFTER TIME, he’s there in DOCTOR WHO in the Colin Baker era in Timelash, and Herb even turns up in LOIS AND CLARK: THE NEW ADEVENTURES OF SUPERMAN. The Time Traveller in the original novel of THE TIME MACHINE is never named but the 1960 film calls him George and there’s a brass plate on the time machine that reads H. George Wells. The opening titles of BACK TO THE FUTURE feature many clocks, but as Bob Gale, the screenwriter of the movie, said, “The clocks are either a homage, or rip-off, of the opening of the 1960 movie adaptation of H.G. Wells’s novel TIME MACHINE, which starts with a whole bunch of clocks as well.”
In the Korean time travel series ALICE (AELLISEU), written by Kim Kyu-Won, ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND is a key influence on the series. The Book of Prophecy that the Alice time travel company has searched for turns out to be filled with fantasy-like sketches that are not that dissimilar to some graphic editions of the Lewis Carroll tale. Darker in tone perhaps, but there’s a clear reference to Carroll’s down-the-rabbit-hole classic. Carroll’s books often play with the concept of Time. For example, the world of the Red Queen is incredibly fast (“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”) and the White Queen can remember in reverse (“It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards”). Various science fiction tales make reference to ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND (“You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes”) and, of course, so do Time Tales. Surely it’s not a coincidence that in DONNIE DARK there’s a time defying giant rabbit? Well, a man in a rabbit costume.
BACK TO THE FUTURE, now a classic in its own right, has been subject to homage in the many Time Tales that followed it. In BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, when the Time Machine, itself a telephone box à la DOCTOR WHO, enters another time period, it leaves behind it a ring of fire where it departed, similar to those flaming DeLorean tyre tracks. But this idea is hardly original as THE CLOCK THAT WENT BACKWARD (1881) has the line, “At the same instant a ball of fire, leaving a wake of sulphurous vapour and filling the room with dazzling light, passed over our heads and smote the clock.”
The disappearing family photograph in BACK TO THE FUTURE was referenced in the Kennedy era episode of TIMELESS, where a coin briefly turns from JFK to Nixon when the Time Team are on the verge of failing in their mission, and in the movie SEE YOU YESTERDAY, when the science teacher refers to Time Travel, he adds ‘Great Scott!’ just as Doc Brown always does. FAMILY GUY references BACK TO THE FUTURE and so does DARK. And in MINIONS ‘Professor Flux’ is actually named after the Flux Capacitor.
In AVENGERS: ENDGAME, Tony Stark/Iron Man famously questions Scott Lang’s scheme of Time Travel by saying, “Are you seriously telling me that your plan to save the Universe is based on BACK TO THE FUTURE?” In fact, AVENGERS: ENDGAME makes numerous references to Time Tale movies:
JAMES RHODES: If we can do this, you know, go back in time… why don’t we just find baby Thanos, you know, and…
HULK: Okay, first of all, that’s horrible.
JAMES RHODES: It’s Thanos!
HULK: And secondly, Time doesn’t work that way. Changing the Past doesn’t change the Future.
SCOTT LANG: We go back, get The Stones before Thanos gets them. Thanos doesn’t have The Stones! Problem sold!
CLIVE BARTON: Bingo!
NEBULA: That’s not how it works.
CLIVE BARTON: Well, that’s what I heard.
HULK: Who told you that?
JAMES RHODES: STAR TREK, TERMINATOR, TIMECOP, TIME AFTER TIME…
SCOTT LANG: QUANTUM LEAP?
JAMES RHODES: A WRINKLE IN TIME, SOMEWHERE IN TIME…
SCOTT LANG: HOT TUB TIME MACHINE, BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE. Basically any movie that deals with Time Travel!
SCOTT LANG: DIE HARD? No, that’s not one…
Academics call this referencing to outside narratives within a narrative that has a similar theme or subject matter ‘Inter-Textuality’, but the rest of us just think of it as ‘in-joke’ fun. Anyway, giving a nod to other movies is part of the Marvel Comic style. Inter-Textual references, particularly of television shows from the two eras, are part of the appeal and technique of time travelling LIFE ON MARS set in the 70s and ASHES TO ASHES set in the 80s.
Spoofing, however, is slightly different. When Robert Patrick as the cop T1000 from TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY pops up in WAYNE’S WORLD saying, “Have you seen this boy?” well, that is definitely a spoof. You can just about believe the characters in AVENGERS: ENDGAME have seen all those time travelling films, but a character from another movie appearing in yours, no, that is most definitely spoofing. The key point is that spoofing breaks away from the reality of the movie and says, well, Look, this is just a movie! AUSTIN POWERS: IN THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME is homage and spoofing. It’s homage when its time machine is a swirling black and white humbug tunnel à la the 60s TIME TUNNEL, but it’s definitely spoofing when Mike Myers looks into camera and tells the viewer not to worry too much about time travel logic. Not that these definitions are absolute or even matter that much. It’s all basically having fun.
In LAND OF THE LOST, there’s a space-time vortex that sucks scientist Rick Marshall (Will Ferrell) into a narrative that then sends up Time Travel and those ‘Lost World’ movies of the 60s. GALAXY QUEST – ‘Never give up! Never surrender!’ – has some elements of micky-taking but on the whole it is an affectionate look at television Star-Trekking shows and their fan base. And there is a Time Travel element in GALAXY QUEST when the oddly named ‘Omega 13’ turns out to be a device, like the deus ex machina it is, that sorts out all the plot complexities with a thirteen second backwards Time Jump. FAQ ABOUT TIME TRAVEL too is a warm hearted look at science fiction fans. It’s a comedy that tells a good story and the same time has lots of fun at the expense of all those baffling Time Paradoxes.
In STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, Yoda says to Luke, “Through the Force, things you will see. Other places. The Future… The Past. Old friends long gone.” This is arguably more an example of the psychological phenomenon of Chronesthesia than any mysterious Force, but Yoda does at least acknowledge the possibility of some sort of visionary Time Travel. That said, Time Travel does exist in the STAR WARS World Between Worlds with doors and pathways to the past, present and future, yet even here it is limited to a few who know the Force. But at least we have the LEGO STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL where Rey Skywalker finds a portal which sends her on a journey through time to meet important characters in galactic history. May The Past – and maybe The Future – Be With You!
“How serious can a movie about time-travelling robots be? You want it to be cool and fun.”
“Don’t classify me, read me. I’m a writer, not a genre.”
Time Tales and Genre Crossovers
Poor Polonius got himself into a terrible muddle when he started talking about what we would now call genre with troop of Players visiting Elsinore:
‘The best actors in the world, either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited. Seneca cannot be too heavy, nor Plautus too light. For the law of writ and the liberty, these are the only men.’
It’s perhaps Shakespeare’s joke at the expense of those who try to classify his work, for his tragedies can be funny and his comedies can be dark and menacing. You don’t quite get that sort of cross-over with his contemporaries such as Thomas Middleton, John Webster and Thomas Dekker.
Genre itself is a French word from the early nineteenth century that literally means ‘a kind’. The term came to denote certain types or classes of literature. Of course, genres into which literary works have been grouped, and the criteria for classification, have varied considerably over the years and continue to do so. Divisions and classifications have been around since the days of Plato and Aristotle. In classical Greece, Lyric was seen as anything uttered through the first person (the poems of Sappho, Pindar and Simonides, for example), Epic was where a narrator spoke in the first person and then allowed the character to speak for themselves (the works of Homer, The Odyssey, The Iliad) and then there was Drama where all the characters do the talking for themselves as if they were that person (Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus). However, there are those who would say, No, no, that’s not genre – what that is form. The argument here is that Genre should refer to the content and style not the medium or means of telling or showing. Sometimes then words such as Genre or Medium and Form get mixed up, or are used differently depending on your area of study or expertise. Many creatives, and indeed now critics, prefer to avoid the strictures of Polonius and view genre classifications as somewhat arbitrary, but at the same time acknowledge their convenience when talking about literature or indeed movies. We might be better off with Ludwig’s Wittgenstein’s concept of ‘Family Resemblance’, where each member of the literary family, as it were, shares some resemblance with some of their kin and not others and not necessarily all. With SOMEWHERE IN TIME and THE TERMINATOR, could not really find two movies so different and yet they are both Time Travel Tales. That said, book shops require bookshelves and bookshelves need a sign above telling you what’s there. Plus of course Amazon needs its categories in order to help with those mysterious algorithms of theirs.
A unique advantage of a Time Tale is that it can take on a period style or indeed a genre particular to that era, plus it can imitate other narratives. QUANTUM LEAP in the 80s, time travelled back to the 50s with a distinctly GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM vibe in the episode Good Morning, Peroia about a radio station playing rock’n’roll. And travelling specifically to 1955 in The Color of Truth episode QUANTUM LEAP had a definite DRIVING MISS DAISY feel. Actually, the film DRIVING MISS DAISY actually came out later that year but the play on which it was based was already well known. Then there was the A Little Miracle episode that had more than a coincidentally similarity to Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Occasionally television Time Travel shows seem to be as much about a trip back to a movie or literary classic from a specific time period as the time period itself. This was certainly true for LIFE ON MARS and ASHES TO ASHES. The DOCTOR WHO series often play with genre in this way, with episodes featuring characters such as Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, William Shakespeare and even Wyatt Earp. In the TRAVELERS’ episode The Day Reagan Was Shot, Jiya and Lucy even go by the names Cagney and Lacy, characters of course from the popular 80s cop series CAGNEY AND LACY.
What is important with Genre is familiarity. The new narrative must fulfil the characteristics of the story but in an unexpected way. Tales then that play with genre have to be as inventive as the original stories on which they were based. All that said, it’s important not to get too obsessed with genre or indeed upon which shelf a novel should be put. As one of the readers of the SWIDGERS Time Adventure book series wrote in her review, “One of the things that make the book so original is the mixture of fantasy sci-fi adventure and comedy and you never know what to expect next.” Thinking too rigidly about what a book is can sometimes stop any enjoyment of it. Adults tend sometimes to only like what they know, whereas children are more instinctive, and when they start reading they simply know what they like.
“There is only one genre in fiction, the genre is called book.”
“I tend to think of action movies as exuberant morality plays in which good triumphs over evil”
Time Genre Crossovers – The Action Movie
What is it that makes a great action movie? What are the plot requirements? And what are its essential ingredients? You will find the answers to these questions in the many screenwriting manuals that now weigh down the Creative Writing shelves in bookshops., but forty years ago, at least as far as a Time Tale was concerned, these were questions that wouldn’t have been even worth asking, because before the arrival of THE TERMINATOR in 1984, the Time Travel Action Movie was a rarity. And even if it did exist, it never made money. But then came the blockbuster success of THE TERMINATOR, and now the Time Tale Action Movie Thriller is a genre in its own right.
Let’s begin by looking at some Action Movie ‘clichés’. Clichés aren’t necessarily a bad thing, for in any genre there are certain viewer expectations. Besides, clichés are often clichés simply because they’re true. And the Action Movie has a bucket load. For example, the villain usually has a foreign accent (RP English or Received Pronunciation English counts) and won’t die. Then there’s all that jumping through glass windows or tossing a glowing cigarette onto streaming petrol coming from a leaking tank. In the Action Movie, when you steal clothes they always fit (unless it’s a comedy action movie and then they never do) and as you jump onto that motorbike you’ll find the forgetful owner has conveniently left their keys in it for you to use. If your hero has a moment of self doubt it will usually be in a second-rate motel room while staring into the mirror as the rain comes down outside. If the movie is set in London, a red bus will go by or they’ll be a scene in a red telephone box (which nowadays are a rarity). And of course it’s a pet dog for the hero, and pet cat for the villain. Both goodie and baddie are allowed smart one-liners, but the hero’s comebacks are always cleverer and funnier. And ‘Hero’, incidentally, is used here in a non-gendered sense, for in THE TERMINATOR both Kyle and Sarah are joint Heroes.
Yes, the Action Movie has its clichés, but often they are quite entertaining, and with a twist of some sort or new take, they are all quite usable. And we, the audience, quite like ticking them off. With Action Movies it’s not just that people know what they like it’s also that they like what they know. It doesn’t matter that the Action Movie is tosh, what matter is that it’s good tosh. More importantly, clichés, though you could more kindly call then expectations to be fulfilled, are essential aspects of the action movie. So what are they?
The events themselves should take place in an unfamiliar and hostile environment to the protagonist. Bridges must be burnt, metaphorically or literally, so that there is a point of no return with no possibility of going back. If your protagonist is new to this lark, you should take them from Zero to Hero, and if they are seasoned professionals there should be a low moment, the nadir, when they are near death that itself is transformed from Zero to Hero. In an Action Movie there is usually a ticking clock so that whatever needs to be achieved must be done within a finite time period, with usually only there’s only seconds to spare. And the stakes are always high, at least death for you, but better still death for anyone you care about. The hero and the villain should not be evenly matched, for the hero must always be somehow weaker. If the hero is male and there is a girl in the story, then there should be a sex scene. No matter how fast the clock is ticking, there must always be room for that. Oh, and every twenty minutes or so there should be a fight or a chase, and in the end some sort of seemingly unwinnable battle or confrontation. To put all this in one golden takeaway nugget: Don’t ever, ever make it easy for your hero.
So how does THE TERMINATOR stack up to that very prescriptive list of requirements? Pretty good, actually. Burning bridges? Well, in THE TERMINATOR there’s no turning back because for Kyle Reese time travel is a one-way ticket. Unfamiliar environment? Most Time Tales have someone travelling to a different era, so that box is ticked. Ironically for Kyle, in 1984 it is the agents of law enforcement that turn out to be the most hostile to him. Is the villain more powerful than the hero? Er, you bet. The Terminator is a killing machine, Kyle Reese is a vulnerable human being. Yes, a trained soldier, but still flesh and blood not reinforced steel. And Kyle is literally only flesh and blood for he arrives naked and so at risk. THE TERMINATOR of course has joint heroes, Kyle and Sarah, and it’s certainly Zero to Hero for Sarah the waitress who eventually, and alone, destroys the seemingly invincible Terminator. Not that this villain is that easy to wipe out. Truth is, in good Action Movie tradition, he/it just won’t lie down and die. The Terminator certainly seems to be trashed after the explosion of the gas tank, the slow emergence of that skeletal figure from the flames is one of the movie’s most iconic moments. But guess what, there’s more work to do to stop him/it permanently.
The obligatory sex scene between Kyle and Sarah is far from gratuitous from a plot point of view as Kyle has been sent back by John Connor precisely because John Connor knows that Kyle will become his father. What about a ticking clock? Strictly speaking, there is no ticking clock in THE TERMINATOR, or at least not one with flashing digits of a bomb as in the 007 type movie. That said, The Terminator is pretty much indestructible and so it seems it will be just a matter of time before Sarah is killed. But Sarah is a quick learner. In the final confrontation, it is the new born hero Sarah Connors who, close to death herself as the genre rule must have it, ingeniously tempts the villain into a metal pressing unit that is his/its doom. It takes a machine to kill a machine. Or what’s left of it, as it weirdly crawls along.
There are a few predictable clichés in the movie. There’s that jump or being thrown through a glass window moment, the baddie has a foreign accent, a motor bike is taken and yes, the stolen clothes fit, but in other ways THE TERMINATOR is a true original that has been seminal in influencing all those Time Travel Action Movies that have followed, such as DEADPOOL, SOURCE CODE, X-MEN and MEN IN BLACK. Exactly how original the actual story is has been disputed. The writer James Cameron has said that after falling ill with food poisoning he had a bad dream involving a skeletal metal robot emerging from flames and clutching two knives. And that was the movie’s inspiration. However, the plot itself is similar to a 1964 episode of OUTER LIMITES entitled Soldier written by Harlan Ellison. Ellison is said to have loved THE TERMINATOR, but recognised some similarities to his own story and as a result of a few phone calls future releases of THE TERMINATOR had an accreditation reflecting this.
One big difference between THE TERMINATOR and say action adventure series such as TRAVELERS or TIMELESS or the movie TIMELINE (2003) is that THE TERMINATOR has a Hero-Villain dynamic, whereas in the others the dynamic is more that of the Team Mission. The influential expert in this field in the 50s and 60s was of course Alistair MacLean in such action tales as GUNS OF NAVERONE, ICE STATION ZEBRA and WHERE EAGLES DARE. One plot point MacLean always had was the discovery of a spy or saboteur in their midst and interestingly that’s something that you will find in TIMELINE (Sir William De Kere/William Decker), in the TRAVELERS, (Season Three, episode 4-6, when it’s Kyle and Luca from Hall’s own team who are traitors) and even in TIMELESS (where there’s a sub-plot is that Rufus is a spy of sorts).
“SF [Science Fiction] isn’t a genre; SF is a matrix in which genres are embedded, and because the SF field is never going in any one direction at any one time, there is hardly a way to cut it off.”
‘You had me at ‘Hello.’’
Dorothy Boyd in JERRY MAGUIRE
written by Cameron Crowe
Time Genre Crossovers – Romantic Comedy
The term soulmate first appeared in the English language in a letter by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1822, but the idea had been around for a while, since in fact the writings of Plato in classical Greece. In Plato’s Symposium, Aristophanes tells the story of how Zeus feared human beings so much that he split them into two halves. According to Greek mythology, humans originally had four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. They were very powerful and physically perfect creatures, and so Zeus, fearing humans would rise against him, chopped these human beings down the middle, creating male and female counterparts. The body, now cut into two, yearned for its ‘other half’, the half that had been severed. Love is simply the name given by the Greeks for the desire and pursuit of that whole. As a matter of fact, in Greek thought, there were three sexes in nature: man, woman and androgynous, which literally means man-woman in Greek. Men were children of the Sun, women were children of the Earth and androgynous were children of the Moon, born of the merging of the Sun and Earth.
But whatever your sex or gender, binary, non-binary or whatever way you identify your sexual nature, there is a strong romantic tradition that somewhere out there your ‘other half’ will make you complete. And what uniquely Time Tale crossover Romantic Dramas can do is have distances across time as one of the obstacles to be overcome. Or more positively have Time itself lead you to the love of your life.
SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1980), based on the 1975 novel BID TIME RETURN by Richard Matheson, is an Across Time romance, the sort of movie that used to be known as a ‘weepy’. It’s a wonderful story of love and loss. Few like it are made anymore, which is a shame. The plot is simple enough: on the opening night of his new play, a budding young modern playwright is given a watch by an elderly lady saying, “Come back to me.” It means nothing to him, but eight years later, when suffering from writer’s block, the playwright stays in a hotel where the lady, an actress, once performed in 1912. Here he immerses himself in the past, wears old clothes, and essentially hypnotises himself back to 1912 where he meets and falls in love with the woman, now so young, who gave him that watch. When a modern coin breaks the spell, as it were, he returns to the modern world. He discovers he can never go back and so dies of a broken heart. But does meet her once more. In spirit.
THE LAKE HOUSE is a remake of the South Korean film IL MARE. In the American version, the movie starred Keanu Reeves as Alex Wyler and Sandra Bullock as Kate Forster, who fall in love via letters delivered by a mysterious time defying mailbox at the Lake House. “It’s a kind of long-distance relationship,” says Kate to her mother. The distance being of course Time itself, for Kate lives in 2006 and Alex lives in 2004. When this is explained by Kate to her mother, her mother very wisely says, “Just a detail.” Kate is able naturally enough to tell Alex where she was in 2004, and Alex goes to meet her, but the 2004 Kate has no clue who Alex is. The 2006 version of Kate has to figure out a way she can meet the 2006 Alex in the future, that is in Kate’s present day. A time is arranged, but Alex doesn’t show. But there’s a twist. For it turns out Kate realises the man who died in the car accident the day they were meant to meet was Alex, who must have been running to greet her. The only way of stopping this is to send Alex another letter via the mailbox telling him to wait. Could that change his future? In this love story it does. The implication is that Kate lives both of Alex’s timelines and somehow Time chooses the timeline where the letter Kate sent made all the difference. It’s a boy-will-meet-girl-from-the-future, boy-in-the-past-did-lose, boy-in-the-now-finds-girl type of plot. And more or less in that order too.
BERKELEY SQUARE (1926) is a play in three acts by John L. Balderson (in collaboration with J.C. Squire) which has a plot loosely based on a Henry James novel called The Sense of the Past. As a play it is long forgotten now but it was adapted into a movie in 1933 with Leslie Howard, who had starred in the play on Broadway in 1929, and since then it has been remade as I’LL NEVER FORGET YOU (1951), which is also known as THE HOUSE ON THE SQUARE and MAN OF TWO WORLDS. As with SOMEWHERE IN TIME, the plot of BERKELEY SQUARE is relatively straightforward. Peter from our world in 1933 reads from an old diary of an ancestor, also called Peter, and is somehow transported back in time to that period, namely 1784. Peter from 1933 has now replaced Peter from 1784 and this new Peter falls in love with Helen rather than the girl the 1784 Peter had agreed to marry. The 1933 Peter decides it cannot be, for he should not change the past, and so returns to his present in 1933. Here he visit Helen’s grave. On it he reads the epigram, ‘Not in my time, not in your, but in God’s’, the implication being Peter and Helen will be reunited in spirit.
Both SOMEWHERE IN TIME and BERKELEY SQUARE are pure romance, and beautifully done. SOMEWHERE IN TIME in particular has many admirers. That said, such Romantic Dramas are a rarity among Time Tales. However, the more standard Rom-com, or Romantic Comedy, can be found.
Modern romantic comedies usually work in this way. A and B are together (or A would like to be with B). B in this scenario is usually very good looking and seemingly perfect. But there’s C to add to the equation. C maybe a friend or someone new that comes along. C is often more quirky or sometimes emotionally damaged. And never as perfect or good looking as B. Eventually, however, A come to realise that though they thought they were in love with B, they discover that it is C they want to be with. B usually magnanimously accepts this and so it is A and C who ride off into the sunset. You’ll find this basic formula in such films as SLEEPLESS IN SEATLE, WHEN HARRY MET SALLY and even THE SOUND OF MUSIC.
Time Tales of course add a fantasy twist to this basic rom-com template. In WHEN WE FIRST MET, it is Noah (Adam Devine) who longs for Avery (Alexandra Daddario), but Avery is engaged to Ethan (Robbie Amell) and Carrie (Shelly Henning) is the friend in the background. On a night out, Noah discovers a magical photo booth that can take him back to the day he and Avery first met and so he decides to travels back in time to make sure it is he, Noah, that Avery falls for and not Ethan. Noah doesn’t succeed at first, so he goes back to the photo booth and tries again. After many disastrous attempts, Noah is eventually successful. He finds himself married to Avery but unhappy because he hates his rich life and besides Avery is discovered to be having an affair with Ethan anyway. Noah discovers Destiny doesn’t like things being changed. It’s very obdurate. That why it’s called Destiny. But during these repeated days, Noah has been thinking of Carrie and realises that it is Carrie who he truly loves. Once this is understood, everything turns out all right.
SLIDING DOORS is a popular Time Tale with a similar theme, though it is presented in a slightly different way. In SLIDING DOORS, there is not a time machine, just a chance moment on the London underground as doors close. But in this story, even if chance seems to work against you, Destiny will eventually find a way for you and the person are meant to be with to come together. Circumstances may change, the sliding door may close too early, but take comfort in the belief that your Destiny will remain open for you until you will find your love.
THE KNIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS is more an old fashioned romance that uses the oldest movie formula of boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl. Only the getting and the losing are done in different centuries. THE KNIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS is a movie that’s easy on the eye and not too demanding on the brain either. It’s a festive story concerning a medieval Knight from 1334 who is magically sent to contemporary Ohio by an Old Crone. And it is here of course where our knight falls in love with a modern maiden. It’s a fish-out-of-water story with predictable jokes about aeroplanes that look like “flying steel dragons” and that television in the corner is a “magic box that makes merry”. But the movie does have its charms. Of course, he, the Knight, eventually returns to his own time back in 1334 but once back he realises his one true love is actually living in Ohio in the twenty-first century. The Old Crone takes pity on him and returns the Knight to his modern maiden. And verily, I say unto you, they all lived happily ever after.
What is ultimately important with any genre is familiarity. The new story, even if a hybrid, must fulfil the characteristics of the said genre but do it in an unexpected way. And the Time Tale genre crossover clearly offers such possibilities. Other Romantic Comedies that have a Time Tale element include THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS, SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED, PALM SPRINGS and MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. There are also a couple more Romantic Dramas, namely KATE AND LEOPOLD and JOURNEYMAN, but compared to say the Action Movie crossover, Time Romances remain relatively rare.
‘They say when you meet the love of your life, time stops, and that’s true. What they don’t tell you is that when it starts up again, it moves extra fast to catch up.”
Senior Ed Bloom in BIG FISH
screenplay by John August based on the novel by Daniel Wallace
“Veritatem dies aperit”
(“Time reveals the truth.”)
Time Genre Crossovers – Crime and Detective Fiction
The Time Tale is an adaptable genre that can lend itself to other genres, notably Crime Fiction. There is the ‘Fugitive Narrative’, for example TIME TRAX, TRANCERS (sometimes called FUTURE COP) and MIRAI SENTAI TIMERANGER, where Time Criminals are tracked and pursued, and the television series CONTINUUM. In DAY BREAK, Detective Brett Hopper is framed for the murder of the Assistant District Attorney, Alberto Garza and so in this particular version of the Fugitive Narrative the man on the run is the innocent here. Brett, however, has a trick up his sleeve, for he is able to relive each day in a Time Loop and so uncover clues as to the real killer and so hopefully clear his name.
Apart from the Fugitive Narrative there is also the more traditional ‘Detective Story’ but with a Time element added. In Anthony Horowitz’s CRIME TRAVELLER (1997) for example, Jeff Slade (Michael French) uses a time machine to witness crimes in the past but later solve them in the present. The television series FREQUENCY, based on Dennis Quaid film, has a police detective who discovers she is able to communicate with her father via a radio ham, despite the fact he died in 1996, and in the movie DON’T LET GO, Jack Radcliff (David Oyelowo) receives a phone call from the past from his murdered niece that ultimately leads him to preventing her untimely death.
NEW AMSTERDAM has the twist that John Amsterdam (Nikolai Coster-Waldau) is a homicide detective who is immortal and in fact 400 hundred years old and therefore able to use his knowledge acquired across time in solving murders. The movie TIME AFTER TIME, from the 1979 novel by Karl Alexander, features H.G. Wells himself travelling in time to the 1970s in search of Jack the Ripper. REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947) is a curious tale where Sheila Page kills her husband on New Year’s Eve but then wishes she could relive 1946 and avoid the mistakes that led to his death. But Fate proves to be more tricky than she expected and her husband is still killed, only under different circumstances. The film was remade as TURN BACK THE CLOCK in 1989. Not that remaking actually changed the outcome, either.
“The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it.”
“Horror is not a genre, it is an emotion.”
Douglas E. Winter
Time Genre Crossovers – Supernatural and Horror
HAPPY DEATH DAY is set on Tree Gelbman’s birthday, the day she gets murdered – hence the film’s title. But this day, in proper Bill Murray fashion, Tree is able to relive again and again. The problem for Tree is her mystery killer takes no chances and even if she escapes the knife in the alleyway, her murderer is there waiting for her in the bedroom. Many unhappy returns indeed. HAPPY DEATH DAY is a ‘slasher’ movie come romantic comedy come Time Tale. Like Phil the Bill Murray character in GROUNDHOG DAY, Tree goes through various stages, including denial and anger, but, like Phil, eventually she decides to assist people along on their life journey, including helping one guy accept that he’s gay and healing the rift with her own father. And to the slasher-comedy-time mix you can add Redemption Story. There are some terrific final twists that are truly inventive and the film ends with a nod to the film that clearly inspired it when in a coffee shop Tree tells new friend Carter Davis that she’s never seen GROUNDHOG DAY. Perhaps not, but she has lived it, bless her.
SALVAGE (2006) is also a Time Loop horror, but here the Loop is some sort of eternal punishment where it is revealed everyone in the horror tale is really dead. The ‘dead all along’ twist is a popular trope in horror, notably CARNIVAL OF SOULS, THE OTHERS, and SIXTH SENSE, plus of course there’s Clint Eastwood’s PALE RIDER, the classic 1944 movie BETWEEN TWO WORLDS and the vengeful and violent POINT BLANK.
TRU CALLING combines Time, Crime and the Supernatural. In the show, Eliza Dushku as Tru Davies, is a twenty-two year old medical student working in a morgue. One night, a corpse ‘awakes’ and asks Tru to prevent her untimely death for, it is revealed, Tru has the power to relive the previous day. The fish-out-of-water series LIFE ON MARS and ASHES TO ASHES also have a distinctly Supernatural element, as does the Time Loop horror movie TRIANGLE.
WARLOCK (1985) combines the supernatural with a criminal-on the-run plot when the Devil sends a murderous seventeenth century warlock (Julian Sands) into twentieth century Los Angeles in order to escape justice, only for a witch-hunter (Richard E. Grant) to follow him through the time portal. The warlock’s only weakness is salt and carefully set up in the narrative is a handy saline solution and it is this that eventually leads to the warlock bursting into flames.
Not that all supernatural tales needs special effects. The Max Beerbohm short story ENOCH SOAMES, for example, written in 1919 and set in the 1890s, is a curious tale of an unsuccessful writer, Enoch Soames, who makes a Faustian pact with the Devil that involves a trip 100 years into the future to see if he will have become a famous author. All Enoch finds in the British Museum Reading Room is a reference to an ‘Enoch Soames’, a failed writer, who became the subject of a short story about a time travelling failed writer written by Max Beerbohm. Well, that rubbing it in a bit.
“From even the greatest of horrors irony is seldom absent.”
“Westerns have often been considered the ugly stepchild of genre writing…”
Johnny D. Boggs
Time Genre Crossovers – The Western
In BACK TO THE FUTURE III, director Robert Zemeckis has great fun with the Western. Marty’s arrival in 1885 was shot in Monument Valley, he calls himself ‘Clint Eastwood’ (who consented to the use of his name and was said to be pleased with the reference), other actors in the film include the John Wayne stock company regular Harry Carey Jr. who appears in the saloon, plus Dub Taylor and Pat Buttram. It’s a shame though there wasn’t a real time machine to allow the return of wonderful Walter Brennan. These genre ‘in jokes’ are intended for those in the know. Just like the names of Doc’s children, Jules and Verne.
TIME STALKERS S (1987), a television movie written by Brian Clemens also had a distinct Wild West vibe. Dr. Scott McKenzie (William Devane), is a college professor and fan of the Old West. When McKenzie enlarges some old photographs, he notices one of the gunslingers, named Cole (Klaus Kinski), carrying a .357 Magnum from the 1980s and becomes convinced that this Cole is a time traveller. Eventually McKenzie tracks him down, but Cole flees back in time to July 11, 1886. McKenzie follows him there, and in a one-on-one duel, kills him.
A mirror image of this might be said to be OUTLAWS, a television series about five cowboys from the 1880s who, as a result of a freak lightning strike (always a useful catalyst event in a Time Tale), find themselves in 1986. With no way to get back home, the men use their skills to start a detective agency in order to make a living. Well, a man’s gotta do what man’s gotta do.
“The Wild West didn’t have much in the way of forensics; when you saw the bullet hole you’d say, ‘That’s prob’ly what kilt ‘im.”
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Allegory or Satire – The Road Not Taken
There were three major televisions series in the late 2010s which were Time Tales, namely DARK, TIMELESS and TRAVELERS. TIMELESS was pure action adventure, with a good dollop of comedy thrown in. DARK on the other hand took the allegorical road and went the whole hog with an apocalyptic fable heavy on Miltonian philosophising. TRAVELERS perhaps could have taken the DARK route and gone for religious allegory or even become a political and cultural satire, but on the whole it stayed on the path of psychological action thriller.
The potential for satire was there in that the premise of the series was Time Travel based on computer programming technology with a secret society controlling events. The technology involved sending information in the form of a coherent energy across space-time to an exact position by means of a billion zettaflops of processing power. All this was then unpack into a biological unit. But that biological unit was a human being.
TRAVELERS is a technological world of overwriting and supplanting, of quantum frames that have passed the sentient threshold that makes all the decisions, of implanted comms inside heads and rogue programs that threaten life. There is much talk of things such as a multi-homed asymmetrical crypto interfaces, rootkit viruses and strings of hexadecimal code. People are programmable by interacting with numbers, symbols and letter jumping about on a screen, but these ‘updates’, “delivered like a movie” as the tech geek Philip puts it, can also kill. And Messengers, nearly always children, are simply referred to as “convertible wetware program.” Welcome to the 21st, indeed.
But this techno nightmare doesn’t end there, for the Travelers inside those biological units – people to you and me – can be ‘overwritten’ – that is killed – via mobile phones if they break the rules. In the final episode, Traveler 001, the villain of the series uploads his consciousness to the ILSA computer, goes on-line and, via the Internet, is now everywhere. That’s the moment the Mission Team realise their mission, told over three series, has failed. It’s easy to see how ILSA, now omnipresent and omnipotent, could have channelled its inner HAL. ILSA did oddly enough have a HAL like Red Eye in one episode but it was short lived. The series could have become a satire on the nature of technology and our near life and death dependence on it, but ultimately chose not to.
As with the movie DÉJÀ VU, TRAVELERS was heavy on surveillance. In fact, TRAVELERS went much further and looked at issues around encryption, conspiracy theories and the deep web. There’s even a character called Rockwell, not that dissimilar to ‘Roswell’ the by-word for conspiracy theory in America. But for something to be a true Satire it would have needed to take a distinct moral position on that which it is satirising. But again TRAVELERS, perhaps rightly, never quite went that far. And the same could be said for its allegorical theological potential.
The premise of TRAVELERS is that The Director, a sentient Artificial Intelligence who, like God, knows the future because He exists in it, His role being to decide which is the best path. As Philip the historian says, “The Director has to thread a needle on billions of possibilities happening to billions of people in a billion different places all over the world. If it seems hard to understand the steps that lead to a particular outcome, it’s because it’s literally for any of us to understand that.” This is a Director then that is an entity who can transfer souls into biological husks and overwrite them if they misbehave. This Director is a Utilitarian God of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill whose only priority is The Greater Good. If Good is the right word, for the directions of The Director raise that ancient philosophical question, Is it Good because God does it, or does God do it because it is Good?
There was even that long speech of Vincent Ingram’s at the end of the second season. “For two thousand years,” says Traveler 0001, “Mankind believed that God was created in His image, guiding our lives, hearing our prayers. But when those prayers weren’t answered, they just chalked it up to His divine will. But then Mankind created the power to build God, a machine even more powerful than any human mind could ever be. The Fate of our existence just handed to an AI with the ability to monitor each and every shifting time line, while we blindly obey its orders, with the belief that salvation will come. The problem isn’t the fact that we believed in God – ”And here Simon interrupts saying, “It’s that we didn’t believe in ourselves.” That speech of Vincent’s could have been written by Richard Dawkins – well, perhaps with a little help from Mary Shelly. Vincent Ingram, Traveler 0001, then adds the line that’s so very American as it was inspired by that iconic movie of American culture, THE WIZARD OF OZ. “It’s time,” he says, “to pull back the curtain and take control of the present to fight for our future.”
If The Director is a God, then He is one that can make mistakes, as the Historian Philip admits. But isn’t the real problem that this is a machine and not a human being. This is the point The Faction repeatedly make. Yet they cannot exactly take the moral high ground, for they, unlike The Director, are willing to take over human life that was not historically meant to die.
The potential for some sort of religious allegorical along the lines of DARK is clearly there, but not ultimately developed. And again, probably rightly so. Perhaps it is better simply to have these ideas quietly bubbling under, rather than making them the focus of the series. That said, it is the allegorical nature of DARK that makes it a television masterpiece. TRAVELERS is great television, it’s just that with a little bit more refection and thought it could have been true gold.
“Satire is a lesson, parody is a game.”
“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you”
Theatre and Musicals
Most of the examples so far have come from novels, movies or television series. With the exception of BEREKELEY SQUARE, theatre dramas have been noticeable by their absence. There is the 1781 play ANNO 7603 written by the Norwegian born playwright Johan Herman Wessel, but this is seen more as a historical curiosity than anything else. The plot is simple enough. Julie and Leander are a couple interested in male and female gender roles and so a fairy takes them into the future to see how gender roles have change. In that future, the year 7603 AD of the title, they discover it is only women now who fight in battle. Having seen this, the couple decide to stick to the primary gender roles society has given them. You can see why it’s never likely to be performed on stage.
There are of course several J.B. Priestley plays that explore Time. AN INSPECTOR CALLS, a play that primarily examines differences in social class and the inequalities of the class system, is a sort of Time Loop Tale. In the play (and later in a film adapted from the play) a police Inspector investigating the death of a working girl, calls in at a wealthy and respectable family home where all those who are present had some connection with her that may or may not in some way have led to her death. The Inspector is ultimately revealed to be a fraud and as a result the family believe the death of the girl to be an invention also. Not surprisingly there is much relief all round. Only the play ends with the twist that there has been a dead girl found and a police Inspector is on his way to interview the family. And there’s your Time Loop. AN INSPECTOR CALLS is essentially a political drama about the English class divide and how an individual can affect the life of another, even if unaware of it and indifferent to it.
In DANGEROUS CORNER, also by J.B. Priestley, Robert and Freda Caplan are entertaining guests at their country retreat when a chance remark ignites a series of devastating revelations, uncovering a tangle of clandestine relationships and dark secrets, the disclosures of which have tragic consequences. The play ends with time slipping back to the beginning of the evening and that chance remark not being made, thus the secrets remain hidden and the ‘dangerous corner’ of the title is avoided. Another ‘Time Loop’ story but on this occasion it has a ‘Re-do’ end. Except, of course, this is a play and the audience has already been witness to all the incriminating revelations.
There is a play by Alan Ayckbourn called COMMUNICATING DOORS which is an out-and-out time-travelling thriller set in a hotel where the action moves through time from 1974 to 2014. The central character, Poupée, must save herself from the murderous Julian by preventing the murders of Reece’s two wives. Good eventually triumphs over evil. And in this story, as often with Ayckbourn, it’s women more than men that are the true agents of change. Ayckbourn’s 2020 play THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, set during the pandemic has Rob, now an out-of-work actor due to the lockdown, looking over the garden hedge and seeing Lily, a 1940s mother whose husband is serving in the war abroad. That is the Second World War. By means of a space-time anomaly Rob is able to visit Lily and the play explores juxtaposition of a world of blackouts and 1942 wartime London with the world of social distancing restrictions due to COVID.
There is in the considerable Alan Ayckbourn cannon dramas which are known as the ‘Chance Plays’. Here the playwright explores the nature of chance and the ‘Butterfly Effect’, where, metaphorically, a single domino falling causes more and more to fall, and where bigger ones then follow. One example of this is INTIMATE EXCHANGES, a play with a single opening scene but sixteen distinct endings depending on whether or not a character chooses to smoke a cigarette. In another play called SISTERLY FEELINGS there were four possible permutations of the story, yet the final scene is always the same regardless of the choices made. All very interesting, but an obvious point to make is that the audience in the theatre, unless they came to see these plays every night, would only ever seeing one play, with one Timeline. Surly if you are writing a drama about chance, it would be best to witness the different results that chance brought about? Otherwise, what’s the point?
There are other well-known plays that tinker as it were with Time. J.B. Priestly’s TIME AND THE CONWAYS swaps around Act Three with Act Two, so we witness the failed futures of the Conway family before their life ambitions are set out. There is also Tom Stoppard’s ARCADIA where different Time Periods are seen in parallel, allowing the drama to explore the themes of past and present, order and disorder and certainly and uncertainty. Then there’s the George Furth and Stephen Sondheim musical MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG (based on a play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart) which tells the life story of its composer backwards (in the play it’s a writer) and so becomes an evening of fascinating Dramatic Irony. Parallel time and the backwards time narrative make these Time Tales in a way, but clearly they are not Time Travel dramas. For that we must look to BERKELEY SQUARE.
The 1926 play BERKELEY SQUARE, a drama in three acts by John L. Balderson (in collaboration with J.C. Squire) which has a plot loosely based on a Henry James novel called The Sense of the Past, is most definitely a Time Travel Tale. The play has been remade into a movie on various occasions and it is now these which are the better known. There is the classic 1933 Leslie Howard film BERKELEY SQUARE (Leslie Howard had starred in the play on Broadway in 1929), I’LL NEVER FORGET YOU (1951), which was also called THE HOUSE ON THE SQUARE and MAN OF TWO WORLDS, depending on the country in which it was released. The plot is relatively simple. Peter from our time reads from an old diary of an ancestor and is somehow transported to that period. Here Peter falls in love with Helen, but decides it cannot be and so he returns to the present. Back in our time, Peter visits Helen’s grave and finds written on it the epigram, ‘Not in my time, not in your, but in God’s’, the implication being Peter and Helen will one day be reunited in spirit. The philosophy of Time here is that of the Block Universe, where Past, Present and Future have, as it were, their own existence that never truly ends. It’s the philosophy of Time as the metaphorical flowing river:
“Suppose you are in a boat, sailing down a winding stream. You watch the banks as they pass you. You went by a grove of maple trees, upstream. But you can’t see them now, so you saw them in the past, didn’t you? You’re watching a field of clover now; it’s before your eyes at this moment, in the present. But you don’t know yet what’s around the bend in the stream ahead of you; there may be wonderful things, but you can’t see them until you get round in the bend, in the future, can you?”
That phrase ‘you can’t see them until you get round in the bend’ suggests that the future is already there. It’s as if it’s already in existence, which is at the heart of the Block Universe philosophy.
Theatre of course does explore many of the themes of Time Tale stories in what you could call ‘Memory Plays’. Samuel Becket’s NOT I and KRAPP’S LAST TAPE both have in different ways characters who are trapped in the past. There are of course many flashback plays that are essentially going on in the mind of one of the characters, notably Arthur Miller’s DEATH OF A SALESMAN where for Willy Loman, Time Past and Time Present seem to come and go freely.
There are several musicals of Time Tales such as PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED, BACK TO THE FUTURE and A CONNETICUT YANKEE but these are adaptations of films or short stories. Theatre itself rarely seems to originate Time Tales as such. There are a couple of exceptions. The musical BRIGADOON is about an enchanted Scottish village that appears for only one day every 100 years and the Leoš Janáček opera THE EXCURSIONS OF MR. BROUČEK TO THE MOON AND TO THE 15TH CENTURY. The later is based on two Svatopluk Čech novels, PRAVÝ VÝLET PANA BROUČKA DO MĚSÍCE (THE TRUE EXCURSION OF MR. BROUČEK TO THE MOON) written in 1888 and NOVÝ EPOCHÁLNÍ VÝLET PANA BROUČKA, TENTOKRÁTE DO XV STOLETÍ (THE EPOCH-MAKING EXCURSION OF MR. BROUČEK, THIS TIME TO THE 15TH CENTURY) written in 1889.
There are no doubt practical reasons why theatre rarely tackles Time Tales, after all Time Travel would often double the set and costume budget. Perhaps though the main reason is that Memory Plays do the job of exploring the consequences of past actions very well within the form and unlimited possibilities that theatre offers. The theatre space when all is said and done is a very adaptable world, for it can go anywhere, be anything, and the cast within it can become anyone.
“Time travel was once considered scientific heresy, and I used to avoid talking about it for fear of being labelled a ‘crank.’”