About Time (and 5 of the best films about time travel)
Having written screenplays for a list of films that includes Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral and Bridget Jones’s Diary, as well as having been in the director’s chair for Love Actually and The Boat That Rocked (later re-named Pirate Radio), when you see a film with Richard Curtis’ name attached to it, you know exactly what to expect. Curtis specialises in a very British type of film: charming, funny, slightly awkward and very middle-class, his films have almost become a genre of their own. For his latest outing though, he’s taken on the subject of time travel. So does this mean he’s kicked the tried-and-tested Curtis formula into touch? Can we expect some kind of Phillip K. Dick / H.G. Wells-inspired dystopian nightmare?
Well, no, not really. In fact, it’s pretty much exactly the way you would imagine a Richard Curtis film about time travel to be: charming, funny, slightly awkward and very middle-class.
Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams and Bill Nighy, the film tells the story of Tim (Gleeson) who, having turned 21, receives some imparted wisdom from his father (Nighy), who explains that the men in their family have the gift of time travel. A sceptical Tim discovers his dad is telling the truth, but in testing out his newly discovered abilities he messes up the timeline of his own life and soon finds himself in a situation where his girlfriend Mary (McAdams) does not recognise him. Tim spends the rest of the film attempting to meet Mary for the first time over and over, until he gets it right and she falls in love with him again.
So, as always with Curtis’ films, the story is less about time travel than it is about love, which is handy, because this is where Curtis excels as a storyteller, but also because the mechanism for time travel in this film is, it has to be said, one of the weakest we’ve ever seen committed to celluloid. (“Go to a dark place, clench your fists, and think about where you want to go.”)
Not that it matters. The time travel thing is really just a device with which to frame the love story that forms the centrepiece of the film and if you’re a fan of the other films Curtis has worked on, you’ll find this light-hearted rom-com very enjoyable and you’ll be able to buy the DVD or Blu-Ray from next Monday.
If you want a proper time travel film though, you’d be better off trying out one of these:
Terry Gilliam’s 1995 film stars Bruce Willis as James Cole, a convict from the year 2035 who is reluctantly sent back in time to discover the origins of a mysterious virus that wiped out 5 billion people in the year 1996. Unfortunately for Cole, their time travel technology is still in its infancy and he ends up in 1990, where he is thrown into a psychiatric facility. There he meets Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt), a rambling lunatic who also happens to be the son of a virus expert, and Cole begins to suspect he may hold the key to finding the gang responsible. An often overlooked film that features one of Pitt’s best ever performances.
Once again starring Bruce Willis, this time as a hitman named Joe, Looper is set in the year 2074, where if the Mafia wants someone whacked, they send the target back thirty years into the past, where someone like Joe picks them off while they are vulnerable. When a crime boss named The Rainmaker assumes control of the mob, he begins to ‘close all the loops’, meaning that Joe is sent back to be assassinated by none other than his younger self. Slick, tense and packed with action, this film is a lot of fun.
Back To The Future
An obvious choice? Yes, fair enough, but who cares when it’s a classic as good as this? It needs no introduction, really, but every kid who watched Michael J. Fox travel forwards to October 21st 2015 left the cinema wanting a hoverboard. With less than two years left for someone to invent one, we’re starting to worry it isn’t going to happen…
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
Amidst all the running jokes, crazy outfits and bad teeth, it’s easy to forget that The Spy Who Shagged Me is actually about time travel. When Dr. Evil finds a way to travel back to the 1960s to hold the world’s governments to ransom, who else but Austin Powers can save the day? Travelling back in time – in a modified VW Beetle, no less – the world’s sexiest secret agent must recover his mojo and defeat Dr. Evil to save the world.
Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel
Directed by Gareth Carrivick and starring Chris O’Dowd, this British comedy features three friends who discover a tear in the fabric of space-time, which just happens to be in their local pub. When one of them is approached by a girl claiming to be from the future, there begins a chain of events that sees them discover that their future selves are dead, and trying to hide from multiple versions of themselves to avoid creating a time paradox, while figuring out who killed them, and why. They only popped in for half a lager and a packet of crisps…