Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies


An Old Friend
Temporal Anomalies in Popular Time Travel Movies

For example, it is not possible to return to the past without changing the past in some way; nor is it possible to change the future based on information from the future. Doctor Who realized early on that changes to history were hazardous, and avoided them assiduously. Movies built on a time travel theme frequently become dissatisfying when the thread of time is closely examined. In Millennium, once the era in which the time machine exists is destroyed, aren't all of those rescued survivors returned to their own times? In The Twelve Monkeys, doesn't it appear that the disaster which the main character was to prevent would not have happened had he not interfered? In Timecop, would any of that have happened had it not happened? Even the venerable StarTrek has created numerous anomalies which it has failed to resolve. Pasts which are dependent upon futures dependent upon those pasts should make us cringe. However, from time to time something works. This web page will attempt to examine some of the best examples of these, beginning with:

Terminator, the two-part Schwarzenegger thriller, finds a way to reconcile both films into a complete story, and suggests a possible continuation. The addendum answers a letter from a reader.

Back to the Future is presented in three parts, making sense of the first, but finding many problems with the second and third.

Millennium, a well-written time travel story that makes a few mistakes but overall does better than the more popular ones.

Star Trek begins with an introductory page discussing time travel in the Star Trek universe, and then looks at the three films which attack the subject. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home has a lot of scientific problems, but succeeds where it counts. Star Trek Generations falls apart at every turn. And Star Trek: First Contact goes a long way to redeeming the series.

12 Monkeys is far and away the most popular time travel movie page on this site--mostly from people who are trying to understand it. One issue crops up enough in letters that it's been discussed in an addendum to the page.

Flight of the Navigator may be a Disney film, but it's also a well-told time travel movie which looks at the other side of the timeline, the world that exists before the time traveler changes it.

Army of Darkness may be a horror film, and it may be a comedy, but it's also a magical bit of time travel with a few twists of its own.

Lost in Space proved to be disappointing, attempting much and crashing miserably.

Peggy Sue Got Married was requested by a reader. This magical bit of fluff, if taken as time travel, has a few hiccoughs in it, but presents some interesting ideas.

Bill & Ted's stories may be fun romps, but they are also thought-provoking time problems. Their Excellent Adventure gives us a fascinating look at planning to travel from the future to the past to solve problems in the present, and the Bogus Journey takes these ideas further.

Frequency is a story in which information, not people, travels in time; but the results are just as complicated.

There are dozens of interpretations of the time travel in Planet of the Apes; this one makes sense of the details.

Time travel is often used to bring lovers together, and in Kate and Leopold the century is crossed so a modern advertising executive can become a duchess.

Again love is the driving force behind the time travel in this cult classic, Somewhere in Time--but does it work?

H. G. Wells gave us time travel with The Time Machine; and while this 2001 retelling is less faithful to the book than Gomer to Hosea, it provides an interesting lesson in the mistakes you can make.

A lot of people have asked about Minority Report. I've concluded that it is not a time travel movie--but I've analyzed it anyway, showing why it doesn't work under any theory of time, and providing a theory of psychic prediction which, with a few reconstructions, makes it all come out as it appears on the screen.

I'd not heard of Happy Accidents until someone dropped me a note asking about it, and the next day I saw it at the video store. It suffers from unnecessary vulgarity and a constant assault against religion, but how does it do as a time travel film? Let's say it's interesting, and you can read all about it when you get to the page.

This is a first for the site: one of the regular readers has taken the time to contribute an analysis of an old time travel movie I'd seen but not yet analyzed. With thanks and credit to John A1nut, here is his analysis of The Final Countdown, demonstrating a solid grasp of the application of the theory and doing some brilliant reconstruction of the original timeline which must have existed prior to the events portrayed in the film.

Another much-requested analysis appears for Donnie Darko, a film that proved considerably easier to unravel than the consternation of viewers had suggested, although it requires the acceptance of several supernatural elements quite apart from the unexplained temporal rift.

There is now a page of other films, movies of which I am aware are time travel films but have not yet treated here. Preliminary comments on each are given. I attempt to update it, adding films as I become aware of them and removing them as pages are created for them, but some films will probably stay on that list for quite some time. Currently mentioned there, and briefly addressed in one way or another, you will find:

* Time After Time
* Time Bandits
* The Langoliers
* Time Cop
* Clockstoppers
* The Time Machine
* Groundhog Day
* 12:01
* The Philadelphia Experiment
* Disney's The Kid
* Black Knight
* Just Visiting
* My Science Project
* Run, Lola, Run
* La Jette
* Primer
* Butterfly Effect
* Lake House
* Premonition
* Next
* Timeline
* Bender's Big Score
* The Last Mimzy