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TIME TRAVEL!!! (analyzed and demystified)

April 1st, 2009 by Conor Lastowka · 40 Comments


Tonight’s Lost poked self-aware fun at the conventions of time travel.  Lost’s entry into the time travel-verse has been both baffling and fascinating (Note: My opinion – I have no idea how this season has been received on the internet, and would rather saw off my leg than venture into that hornet’s nest), and tonight’s show reminded me of a website which I consulted extensively during our Star Trek Generations RiffTrax for tips about The Nexus, (mainly the “What the hell?” aspect of it.)

The site is the catchily titled Temporal Anomalies in Popular Time Travel Movies, and it breaks down in academic detail your favorite Time Travel movies. If you’ve ever wondered how many paradoxes were created by Bill & Ted hiding Ted’s dad’s keys, this is the site for you.  It’s the kind of thing that is about 100 times more interesting to read than you would think, so go check it out.  And then maybe the third act of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban will make a bit more sense to you.

Tags: RiffTrax · Time Travel

40 responses so far ↓

  • 1 jenifersf on Apr 1, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    Time travel is something I never, ever think about. However, last week I had a dream that I went back in time to “when Rachel Maddow was an intern” to place a letter about how cool she was going to be into a book she owned. I was also supposed to tell her something about Richard Nixon, but I cannot recall the details. Then I was going to come back to the present and tell her to look in the book for the letter I placed there in the past. (the dream then morphed into cocktails in a hotel room in D.C. and that’s all I remember).

  • 2 blackmyron on Apr 1, 2009 at 10:34 pm

    If Phillip J. Fry has taught us anything about time travel, it’s to stay away from your grandmother, no matter how attractive she is.
    Then again, he did end up becoming the Hero of the Universe because of it, so I’m not sure what the moral is.
    And the site you linked to completely overlooked the Time Travel episode of the Chris Elliot vehicle, “Get a Life”.

  • 3 ShutterBun on Apr 2, 2009 at 12:21 am

    Hmm… minor quibble with the “Back to the Future 1″ piece. It seems to hinge too heavily on the *necessity* of Marty to get his parents to meet & fall in love, when in fact, by doing *nothing* he would have been OK.

    Also, with regard to him dismissing the cinematic device of having Marty “partially disappear” when his future is at stake, stating that his existence is simply a “yes or no” equation, I would submit that many events could be similarly visualized, if their eventual outcomes were (as yet) unknown. Even if, as the author supposes, Marty’s existence was a “yes or no” question, his “faded” appearance could be attributed to a strobe-like effect. (he becomes existent then non-existent faster than the eye can perceive, resulting in a semi-transparent appearance)

    Am I thinking about this too much? Or perhaps not enough? Who knows, but kudos for putting a picture of Mr. McFly himself on your blog, whom I hope to meet in the not too distant future.

  • 4 ShutterBun on Apr 2, 2009 at 12:23 am

    HAHA! “Time Juice” (patent pending) I believe it consisted of a pocket watch, a copy of Time magazine, a postcard of stonehenge, and a precious lock of Michael J. Fox’s hair. Best line: “Your cockfights suck, you bastard!”

  • 5 Erica on Apr 2, 2009 at 3:48 am

    But what about the time travelliest of all time travel fictions, Quantum Leap? I realize his analysis is confined to movies, but still…

  • 6 Earl Fando on Apr 2, 2009 at 5:53 am

    Time travel scenarios are all about the impossiblity of changing the past. Even though someone invariably does it always turns out to have been the thing that was supposed to happen.

    However, that’s just because we all get changed and forget the original outcome, even though it actually happen on some point in the space-time continuum, before it was erased by Scott Bakula or Michael J. Fox.

    Terminator is slightly different because James Cameron lost the thread a bit in film 3 and also because Arnold Schwarzenegger became Governor. Arnold’s political career makes it highly unlikely that machines, even paranoid, sociopaths like SkyNet would choose a well-known politician with a heavy Austrian accent to infiltrate roving bands of post-apocalyptic American rebels. Imagine the conversation:

    Roving Post Apocaplytic American Rebel: “Hey, you look just like Governor Schwarzenegger!”

    “Governator Model” Terminator: I don’t know vat you are talking about.”

    Roving Post Apocalyptic American Rebel: “Terminator!” (opens fire with bazooka)

    The other main problem with time travel films is when the eras they depict in the future come to pass and there are no flying cars, teleportation, or hover boards. Bummer.

  • 7 DMT on Apr 2, 2009 at 6:03 am

    Lost was interesting last night, and, as usual, I have no idea where they’re going with anything.

    One thought about Jack’s choice not to save Ben:

    If time can be changed, then Jack could have been instrumental in Ben’s redemption, ala: Jack fixes Ben, Ben’s Dad realizes he’s been a jerk and stops abusing Ben, and Ben doesn’t make the choices he made.

    But now, it looks like Ben’s is going to be a part of the others because of Jack’s belief that time can’t be changed, a belief that was mostly influenced by his hatred of future Adult Ben.

    So, is Jack at least partially responsible now for what Ben the child will become? It will be interesting to see how that play’s out.

    Also, Connor, the site you linked to looks very interesting. I could see blowing a lot of time on it.

  • 8 Invisible NanoGhost on Apr 2, 2009 at 7:09 am

    You’re not kidding me. At some time in the future, you read the reviews I wrote just last night for the iRiffs of “Parallax” and “Time and Time Again” (ST:Voyager episodes), and you came back in time just to write this blog entry and annoy me.

    Well it won’t work, I tell you!

  • 9 Ed H on Apr 2, 2009 at 7:16 am

    The important thing to learn, kids, is…
    If an event happens that prompts you to create a time-travel device, you cannot travel in time to change that event, because doing so would undo your invention of the time-travel device, thus preventing yourself from changing it in the first place.

    So…. no matter how much we want to go back in time to help Mike successfully complete his month of eating bacon… we cannot.

    unless… we stole a time machine from someone who was going to invent one regardless of Mike’s tragic failure as a man.

  • 10 Bill Corbett on Apr 2, 2009 at 7:29 am

    Worst “Time Travel” Cheat Ever:

    ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES (1971), which proposes that intelligent talking apes from the future came back in time and had a baby here in the “past,” thereby causing themselves.

    By this logic, ANYTHING could come back in time and cause itself, including sentient salad spinners (that eventually multiply and take over the world, of course… which is where Charlton Heston comes in).

  • 11 Conor Lastowka on Apr 2, 2009 at 7:48 am

    What I find so interesting and hilarious about Time Travel as a whole is that it’s an entirely fictional manmade concept that A) everyone is familiar with and B) has rules and concepts that everyone has an opinion on. The fact that we can discuss with some degree of “certainty”, however tongue in cheek, whether or not you can change the future, become your own grandfather, kill Hitler, etc. is a testament to mankinds great collective imagination, or a sign that you should probably put down the bong.

    My favorite line from the site: “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”

  • 12 Invisible NanoGhost on Apr 2, 2009 at 7:59 am

    Or a spaceship in Doctor Who, which goes back in time, blows up, and is thus the big-bang which starts the entire universe!

  • 13 Bill Corbett on Apr 2, 2009 at 8:05 am

    Because you made fun of killing Hitler? You ARE Hitler.

  • 14 Wesley Stamper on Apr 2, 2009 at 8:24 am

    If that’s a cheat, then the Big Bang itself is a cheat. Reducing the cause of the origin of the universe to a quantum fluctuation does no more to *truly* simplify matters than the explanation that the universe is trapped in an infinity loop. In BOTH scenarios Something came from Nothing.

  • 15 evanthered on Apr 2, 2009 at 8:38 am

    Read David Lewis. He’s a well-known metaphysician (as metaphysicians go) who wrote about the philosophy of time travel. I’m no expert on the subject of pop culture time travel, but from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t seem like anyone’s fictional approach makes nearly as much sense as his account of what could or could not happen if time travel were possible. It seems like Lost is trying to capture his point with the whole “whatever happened, happened” thing, but they queer the deal as soon as they reject strict determinism in favor of the “course correction” fatalism of Ms. Hawking. But I suppose that might serve their narrative better anyway.

  • 16 Bill Corbett on Apr 2, 2009 at 8:42 am

    Wesley Stamper clearly does not follow APE LAW.

  • 17 Dan Noutko-Kennedy on Apr 2, 2009 at 9:01 am

    Physicist Billy Preston posited the theory that Nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothin’.

  • 18 Erica on Apr 2, 2009 at 9:03 am

    Henri Bergson, “An Introduction to Metaphysics” – when does past become past, when does present stop and future start? This post will further support my suggestion for William Faulkner as the New Obsession in the other blogging post thingy.

  • 19 Darth Chimay on Apr 2, 2009 at 9:34 am

    There is one movie missing from that list… Carrot Top’s Chairman of the Board. Granted, the “time travel” aspect of it mostly has to do with me wishing I could travel back in time to prevent myself from seeing it, but still…

  • 20 Mark Carmel on Apr 2, 2009 at 9:46 am

    Donny Darco is my favorite time travel flick. If you’re interested in such movies you should check it out.

  • 21 Serpent O-R on Apr 2, 2009 at 9:48 am

    I have a time machine… But I can’t change the past with it, just fast-forward to the future.

    I can only use it once per day, twice if drunk, to teleport a couple hours into the future. It’s fun but disorienting and leaves me groggy after the trip.

    I tried to escape its lovely lure, but apparently the field it generates permeated outward and now encompasses anything I go to sleep on…

  • 22 Earl Fando on Apr 2, 2009 at 9:54 am

    That reminds me of the Bill and Ted scene where they theorize (I mean that loosely – bear with me, it is Bill and Ted we’re thinking of) that they could go back in time and leave a tape recording of themselves. the moment they consider the possiblity, the tape recording begins. Yet, we never see them actually go back and place it there.

    Are we to believe they actually remembered to do this? Of course they didn’t. They could barely remember that the hot young chick living in Bill’s house was his stepmother.

    So they thought of it and it happened anyway, meaning that time travel gives people the ability to create outcomes from parallel universes in this universe.

    Imagine this in the hands of Trump, O’Donnell, Oprah, Professional Wrestling, etc. and you can understand my horror.

  • 23 Earl Fando on Apr 2, 2009 at 9:55 am

    Is your time machine light, but full-bodied, with great flavor?

  • 24 Ann Peek on Apr 2, 2009 at 11:28 am

    Anyone who watches Red Dwarf will know that Dave Lister is his own father, with his ‘girlfriend/love of his life”, granted-from an alternated dimension – as his mother. Makes my head hurt just thinking about it. All this so he can be the last man alive, 3 million and some-odd years in space and hang out with an evolved (yet stupid) cat, a neurotic android, a senile computer and the hologram of his dead room mate (who he hated when he was alive!) Plus, he was a test-tube baby, so he didn’t even get to get lucky. :( Poor smeghead.

  • 25 Invisible NanoGhost on Apr 2, 2009 at 11:53 am

    He used to be the leader of the Third Reich, but he didn’t like the outcome so he went back in time and talked Hilter into running for office.

  • 26 Constantine on Apr 2, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Way to go Bill. You broke Conor’s spirit.

    He will never use the intertubehighwaywebs again. Maybe not even the internet.

  • 27 Remmie Barrow on Apr 2, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    I try not to think too much about time-traveland the physics involved in it…otherwise I would go cross-eyed.

  • 28 Lord Bob on Apr 2, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    Okay, if this website can make the third act of Prisoner of Azkaban make sense, I’m afraid it passes Wikipedia as our modern font of all knowledge.

  • 29 blackmyron on Apr 2, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    As someone who got a Physics degree in college, I was always deluged with questions from friends about time travel and invariably dissapointed them with my answers – usually I just ended with “Look, we gave you nukes and lasers, what more do you want?”
    Finally I would just tell them the lab had time travel experiments but we weren’t allowed to discuss them.

  • 30 Brooke on Apr 2, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    I’m not entirely sure you can say Smeghead on here…

  • 31 Margoo on Apr 2, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    But it’s from the Harry Potter series, so does it have to make sense?

    Can’t we just say “It’s MAGIC!” and call it a day?

  • 32 Earl Fando on Apr 3, 2009 at 5:49 am

    So that explains the little mustache.

  • 33 AJ on Apr 3, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    Nerver mind analysing it all to death, if someone can actually time travel can you please just go foward to tomorrow afternoon and tell me which horse wins the Grand National so I can bet on it!

    Thanks in advance! :D

  • 34 is on Apr 3, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    for a truly enjoyable story on time travel, check out, “All You Zombies”
    fun stuff

  • 35 Ann Peek on Apr 3, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    I think it’s all right as long as you don’t tell people what it means.

  • 36 Brooke on Apr 6, 2009 at 10:09 am

    Ha! not a problem!

  • 37 Wilbo on Apr 14, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Most movies handle time travel all wrong. There are only two ways for time travel to work. One time line or multiple time lines.

    If there is only one time line, then nothing could be changed no matter how hard you tried. Everything would be predestined. Otherwise any time travel at all would change things, just by the traveler showing up in the past. The traveler showing up in the past would be a historical fact whether anyone noticed it or not. If it’s not a fact when the time traveler left then things are already different as soon as they arrive and the time they come from doesn’t exist. If they go to the future, there would have to be predestination, just for there to be a future to go to. If there were not predestination in a single time line where people were time traveling, every time someone time traveled would result in a grandfather paradox because history would be changed because of the arrival of the time traveler.

    If there were multiple time lines, you would still run into the same issues within each time line, but you would be able to travel to another time line and so things could change from the time traveler’s perspective, but not for the actual time line. While it may seem like the time traveler is changing things, they really arn’t. If they are stuck in the new time line it may seem like things have changed, but only for the time traveler. Their original time line just keeps going on as per usual but without them.

    Confused yet? Point is, Back to the Future couldn’t have happened because even with his parents getting together things changed. So if we assume a new time line from Marty’s perspective, why would he have been disappearing? This time line has no effect on the one he came from, so it shouldn’t impact him. If he is from the future of that time line, and there was no predestination, then no amount of damage control could save him. The future he came from does not exist anymore, even when he goes “back to the future,” it’s no longer the same world he left. Why would he and Dr. Brown be the only things not changed? And for some reason he still has the memories of the previous version of time. He could be erased but his memory couldn’t be changed? And what about the other version he saw going to the past? Why didn’t he change anything?

    Unfortunately, most movies follow the Back to the Future Model. Trek does it all the time, in both movies and their tv series. It makes no logical sense when really examined. But then again, what aspects of movies or tv do?

    Sad as it is to say the most reasonable representation of time travel in a movie would have to be Bill and Ted’s Excellent Journey. There were no changes made to anything, time travel was just used as a plot device to give different settings and characters. In fact, predestination was even used in regards to Ted’s dad’s keys.

    Of course another problem with time travel in movies is the idea that you can’t touch you’re future or past self. Co existing with them doesn’t seem to be a problem, but touching is? Usually the explanation has to do with the same matter in too close proximity or some crap, but simple aging means that they arn’t the same matter anymore anyway. Besides, if you want to go into matter issues, what about matter and energy being constant in the universe? Any time traveler would up the matter content of the universe and throw it all out of whack if it’s not a meant to be predestination type thing where the universe takes the new matter into account.

    In short, time travel is total crap unless it already happened. Thank you and good night.