Crichton's take on time
Monday, July 22, 2013
"Magnus," "The Time Machine" & "Timeline": boffo
What would it be like to time-travel to 4000? Will we find a world like that portrayed in "Magnus," a megalopolis stretching across the North American continent? The wealthier people have a soft and complacent air. Then we have the "gophs" who are less-educated but more hardy. Such speculation about the future of humanity can go in many directions.
A time-travel story gives the author a platform to share his vision of where time is taking us. We can thank the one-of-a-kind H.G. Wells for really establishing this genre. Wells penned his compelling tale in 1895. His novel "The Time Machine" became a movie in 1960. The full name of the movie was "H.G. Wells' The Time Machine."
This story went in quite the different direction from "Magnus, Robot Fighter." Will tech refinement rule or will there be regression? My generation, the boomers, became very familiar with the movie because it got shown on network TV during the '60s. The same can be said of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and "War of the Worlds." Thus we were drawn into the world of sci-fi. Television itself gave us "Star Trek."
The imagination knows no bounds with such stories. George Pal was the Hollywood talent who gave us "The Time Machine" and "War of the Worlds." As a kid I found the "Morlocks" in "The Time Machine" terrifying. I probably needed the light left on in my bedroom for a few nights. The story begins in Victorian England and has Rod Taylor as "H. George Wells" dabbling in time travel. It was Taylor's first lead role in a feature film. His character is part of a social circle of men.
He lays out his thoughts about time travel, discussing time as "the fourth dimension." He demonstrates what he says is a miniature time machine. We soon learn he has the full-size version. The reaction is skeptical with the exception of one friend, David Filby. David has an open mind and seems to represent the kind of friend who simply has faith.
"The Time Machine" won an Oscar for its time-lapse photographic effects. A highlight of this movie, its signature scene perhaps, is the Taylor character looking across the street at a department store mannequin as he travels into the future. The fashions evolve. He makes stops in the years 1917, 1940 and finally 1966 when mankind is besieged by the nuclear threat. Air raid sirens are blaring. People are retreating into shelters. The nuclear holocaust unfolds.
H. George Wells escapes in his machine just in time. The nuclear explosion has resulted in a volcano spewing lava that envelopes the time machine. H. George Wells spins into the future, having to wait for erosion to free him. He emerges in the very distant future, viewing a world that is anything but a megalopolis. No robots to deal with. The atmosphere is primitive. Humans have developed in two directions. The above-ground "Eloi" are passive. They are actually like free-range cattle for the underground "Morlocks."
The lead female character in the movie is wonderfully played by Yvette Mimieux. She is an "Eloi" who becomes connected to the Taylor character. Eventually we learn the Eloi aren't in a dead-end direction. The Taylor character helps them re-awaken survival instincts. One of the most riveting scenes is where a young male Eloi forms a fist, as if he's realizing such an impulse for the first time, and fights back versus a stunned Morlock. We get a hopeful vision about humanity.
George Pal wanted to see a sequel to "The Time Machine." He passed away before it could be produced. Anytime a sequel is contemplated, the original must have been pretty good. Indeed, the time travel concept seems perfect for a "franchise" of movies, the kind of thing Hollywood likes these days. Time travel opens up vistas of storytelling. You can go back in time as well as forward.
Crichton's take on time
The movie "Timeline," made in 2003, might have been the start of a franchise. It had a good start as it was based on a Michael Crichton novel. That would appear to be a blessing, though we learn it was not an automatic blessing. "Timeline" didn't follow in the footsteps of "Jurassic Park." I had already read lukewarm reviews when I attended a showing of "Timeline" in Alexandria.
Having read the book, I was eager to see the movie regardless of how well it had been received. Maybe it was good my expectations were low. I liked the movie and am rather surprised how it was panned by critics. Richard Donner directed "Timeline."
The basic story: Archaeologists are sent back in time to rescue their professor from medieval France in the middle of a battle. Crichton imagines time travel as a process that takes a toll on the human body. This time machine damages DNA and internal organs. You can get by if you don't overuse it. Donner wanted to limit the use of CGI. We see Medieval re-enactors doing battle.
I'm especially fascinated by the "trebuchets" we see in the movie. A trebuchet (pronounced "tre-bu-SHAY") is a siege machine which was used in the Middle Ages. The defenders of a castle shout out "trebuchet!" as the first projectiles get flung. These projectiles can weigh up to 350 pounds and they slam into enemy fortifications at high speeds. Whoa! So effective were they, their usefulness was noted long after gunpowder had been developed. "Timeline" shows the old weaponry most effectively.
The trebuchet is a type of catapult that works by using the energy of a raised counterweight to throw a projectile. A sling has a pouch containing the projectile. The power source is most basic: gravity! Eventually this device gave way to the cannon. These are the kind of tech developments we as a society should frown upon, of course.
Time travel stories can share the moral dilemma of whether to share advanced knowledge or tech with people of long-ago times. The "Star Trek" movie about time travel had this element. So does "Timeline" in which the professor shares about "greek fire." He is being held captive by the English. The French with their catapults are nearing the gates. Greek fire is an incendiary weapon, effective even on water. The East Romans used it in naval battles to great effect.
Eventually the French do win in the siege shown in "Timeline." I found Crichton's book to be very compelling through roughly the first half, which is why I just had to finish it. I found the later portions of the book to be far less effective, as the story seems to descend into a cliche-like ending for a time-travel story. It's almost as if Crichton, who really was a genius, was in a hurry to finish it. Perhaps he was eager to get the movie deal arranged.
As always, Crichton delved into complex science deeply. A focus: quantum technology. He suggested that "time" as we grasp it doesn't really exist and that we're just passing from one dimension into another. There are countless dimensions. He suggested that no one could really change history. That's because the major forces of history are too powerful for a mere individual or two to make any difference. Anyone who tried might be written off as a lunatic.
What kind of world awaits us in the distant future? Is it a primitive type of place, coming about because of catastrophic war that sends us back to the Stone Age? Are we headed to a vast metropolis like "North Am," the backdrop for the fascinating "Magnus, Robot Fighter" comic book? It's hard enough predicting where the stock market will be six months from now. No one could have imagined Facebook in the 1970s.
Where the future takes us, heaven only knows. As for the past, it makes us hang our head about all the wars and suffering, how the Indians were encamped outside Fort Snelling and basically left to die, for example.
Maybe it's best to not know what the future holds.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org