Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Hollywood Time Machine -- The Outer Limits

Hollywood Time Machine – The Outer Limits

Time travel has been a staple of Science Fiction from the very beginning, and indeed from even before there was Science Fiction (Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court).  As with many other themes in Science Fiction, it was H.G. Wells who first set the pattern that has been followed by writers and filmmakers alike ever since.  (War Of The Worlds for alien invasions, The Time Machine for time travel, and The Island Of Dr. Moreau for science gone horribly wrong.)

Rod Taylor as H.G. Wells in the 1960 film The Time Machine

Hollywood has embraced time travel with gusto and even a cursory examination of IMDB reveals several hundred feature films and TV series, or episodes, that deal in some way with time travel or time manipulation.  Sometimes time travel takes center stage and is the focus of the story, while in other films it is simply a plot device to get “the fish out of water” and set the plot into motion. 

Often, the struggle in a time travel story is to avoid changing the time line or, having done so inadvertently, trying to put time back onto the original trajectory.  H.G. Wells avoided this issue by sending his protagonist far into the future, however most films delight in going back in time and upsetting the time line.  In some films the hero is trying to stop the villain who is attempting to change the past for his own nefarious ends, though more often than not the hero has taken a seemingly innocuous action that has significant, even disastrous, ramifications.  The most famous of this latter story arc is the Back To The Future film trilogy. 

Marty McFly, in an act of understandable human nature, saves his future father from being hit by an automobile.  However, in saving his father he altered the time line.  That alteration becomes worse in the sequel when the villain, Biff Tannen, discovers the time machine and decides to improve his unhappy lot in life by altering his past.  Once again Marty and Doc Brown work to correct the time line, but it is not until they go even further back in time that they can finally set things to right, almost…

Although Doc Brown and Marty try their best to restore the time line to its original course, their corrections carry with them more distortions.  Back To The Future I-III


There is a theory that views time as a river, and while you might, through your time travel adventures or misadventures, cause ripples in the flow of time, like tossing pebbles or even large rocks into the river, the time current is so strong that it will correct itself and continue to flow on the path it has always followed.  You cannot, in fact, change the time line. 

Perhaps the most humorous take on changing the time line, both by accident and on purpose, was the Simpsons episode, Time And Punishment.  After trying desperately, and failing miserably, to avoid changing the time line, Homer begins changing it with abandon until he returns to a future, much like Marty McFly, that while not exactly the one he left, is close enough for him.

Another theme, sometimes coupled with time travel, is the teleportation of matter.  This concept is perhaps best know from the Star Trek TV series where the Transporter was used because the producers needed to get their characters to/from a planet but did not have the special effects budget necessary for landing the ship every episode.  Occasionally, having a limited budget can result in very imaginative solutions.

Although the new 3D scanners/printers are demonstrating a very simple and rudimentary form of matter transmission, they are a far cry from the transporters used on Star Trek.  These printers are actually more akin to the Tesla transporter, used to great effect, in the film The Prestige, where the original was not transported at all, but an exact duplicate was created at another location. 

David Bowie, as Nikola Tesla, invents a device which can teleport matter to any location, but at a cost, in The Prestige.

Not surprisingly, both time travel and matter teleportation are themes that were explored on the seminal TV series, The Outer Limits.

The Outer Limits – 1963 – 1965   Two Seasons, 49 Episodes

Seven episodes deal either with Time Travel or Time Manipulation.

Season 1
Ep1     The Sixth Finger
Ep2     The Man Who Was Never Born
Ep16   Controlled Experiment
Ep32   The Form Of Things Unknown

Season 2
Ep1     Soldier
Ep5     Demon With A Glass Hand
Ep16   The Premonition

One episode from Season 1 (Ep15 The Mice) deals with the teleportation of matter, the original goal of the students in Geeks In Time, while another (Season 2 Ep3 Behold Eck!) features a tear in the space-time continuum.

 It is indicative of Hollywood’s love affair with time travel that of the 49 episodes of this very influential series, more than 10% of them involve time travel in one form or another.  Two of the episodes star David McCallum as the time traveler while another two were written by Harlan Ellison. These two episodes in particular, Soldier and Demon With A Glass Hand directly inspired the film Terminator, so much so in fact that when Ellison pointed out these similarities he received a monetary settlement from the filmmakers and a title card, giving Ellison story credit, was added to the film.

 The Sixth Finger
Starring David McCallum, sporting make-up by Stan Chambers,
who would go on to receive an Academy Award for his work on
Planet Of The Apes.  McCallum travels forward in time genetically
while remaining physically in the present.

The Man Who Was Never Born
Featuring Martin Landau trying to change his bleak present
by altering the past.

Controlled Experiment
Written as a pilot for a proposed Sci-Fi comedy series, a pair of alien
anthropologists use their technology to manipulate time allowing
them to study more closely the human act of murder.

The Form Of Things Unknown
David McCallum, once again a time traveler, uses his discovery
to bring the dead back to life.  The results are not always as intended.

Written by Harlan Ellison, two soldiers from the distant future
are caught in a time warp and whisked back to 1960’s America
where they continue their battle.

Demon With A Glass Hand 
Also written by Harlan Ellison, alien invaders, seeking to complete
their conquest of Earth, travel into the past to capture the one man
who knows where the entire population of Earth is hiding. 

The Premonition 
An Air Force test pilot and his wife become ‘unstuck in time’ and must
find a way to not only rejoin the time line but also save the life of their daughter
who is destined to die unless the parents can alter the time line.

The Outer Limits is still considered one of the most influential television series ever broadcast.

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