Friday, January 07, 2011

FAQ About Time Travel

This BBC sci-fi (sorry, science fiction) comedy movie somehow completely escaped my notice until I happened to stumble on it while looking someone up on IMDb and the title caught my eye, so I grabbed a copy to watch. Fifteen minutes in, I realized I had to stop and wait to watch it with Siobhan. It's a fairly low budget made-for-TV movie starring Chris Dowd, best known as Roy from The IT Crowd, as a science fiction fan and one of a group of three friends; the others include another fan (and would-be writer), and one who isn't a "nerd" and looks down, in a friendly way, on fandom. The three soon find themselves entangled in a time travel tale while in an English pub.

The movie takes advantage of the fact that Chris's character Ray is a fan to poke fun something that all us fans groan a little at: how, in movie after movie, the characters are always so suspicious of, and uncomprehending of, the idea that time travel, or space travel, or aliens, or magic, or vampires, or whatever the supernatural thing is, can possibly be real. It always seems like the characters in these stories are those very few people who have never even seen Star Trek. We always figure that, if it were us, we'd be properly skeptical but once there was evidence (and we'd know what questions to ask to get it) we'd accept it and move on in a businesslike fashion.

Well, this movie lets us watch exactly that happening. Here's a pair of guys who have just finished writing a letter to Hollywood about how to fix their obsession with crap, which concludes with the requirement, "More Firefly and/or Serenity." Ray constantly corrects people who call it "sci-fi" instead of "SF" or "science/speculative fiction". These are our people. They react like we would. Only we still get those moments of disbelief: this time, it's because Ray figures his friends have set this up for him as a prank or a special treat.

As befits a movie about time travel, you can't really expect that the rules about time travel make sense if looked at too closely. Most notably the central question about time travel, the Faraday Postulate (that time is inelastic: if you went back in time to do something, that something was already in your past before you went back), is played both ways. Often the characters at one point in the film encounter themselves from other points in the film -- either later or earlier -- and yet the ability to change the past is also innate to the premise.

But all this is being played, and played well, for comic effect. What really makes the movie hilarious is how we get to see ourselves in this story. It gets a little slow in spots, but by and large, it keeps you rolling along with it start to finish. The tangle of time travel is nowhere near as unmanageable as Primer but it's enough to keep you making a list in your head of twists that you've yet to see the other side of, until you stop and just laugh along with them all.

I recommend it as some light entertainment for any fan of the genre who doesn't need to take it too seriously.

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