Ultimate Time Travel
Books, Movies, TV Shows and Everything Time Travel


Classification: Personal Alternate Reality

 

In The Butterfly Effect we follow the life of Evan Treborn, a kid – later a teenager – with an unusual condition. Occasionally when Evan is highly stressed, he blacks out for several minutes. What this means is that he has no memory of what has happened in these periods. But it’s not as if Evan falls in a coma: during these minutes, Evan does and says things – he just has no recollection of what it is he did.

 

When Evan grows up, he begins suspecting these are repressed memories, and he tries to deal with the emotional scarring by reading his childhood diaries. To his amazement, after reading one specific entry that mentioned a blackout, he finds himself back in time – precisely during the blackout period he has just read about. Even more shocking is the discovery that the actions he makes in the past have can change history: and this has the potential of propagating through time and eventually affecting the present.

 

As Evan later trains himself, by focusing while reading his diaries, he is able to travel to those moments he blacked out as a kid, and make different choices – returning to a world often very different from what he left. This is actually far more dangerous than it sounds: often these moments of high stress (where he blacked out) were pivotal moments in Evan’s life, so a tiny change can have an enormous effect on his entire future [which is precisely the meaning of the term 'The Butterfly Effect', by the way].

 

After becoming comfortable with his new found ability, Evan becomes obsessed with using it for a specific goal: he become determined to save Kayleigh, his childhood sweetheart, from her abusive father. For this he repeatedly journeys back through time.

 

Unlike many somewhat similar movies (i.e. Back to the Future), The Butterfly Effect is a very dark film. Some even may even say it is scary. During the course of the movie Evan travels multiple times, to various periods in his life. I’m going to give somewhat of a spoiler, so please skip this paragraph if you don’t want to read it. The point is, although Even repeatedly tries saving Kayleigh, he just seems to make things worse. Every attempt results in a worse and worse reality. In one version he’s in prison, in another he’s an amputee. But every situation is different – diverse – creative! This is what makes time travel books and movies so compelling – and The Butterfly Effect does a very good job at this.

 

Another thing I liked about the Butterfly Effect is that it is filled with mysteries: since we see things from Evan’s perspective, there are many gaps in the plot which are slowly revealed later in the movie. For example, during one of his first blackouts, Evan is playing with his friends, a very peaceful situation. Suddenly, finding himself after a blackout, Evan and all his friends are running away in terror. We know something terrible has happened. But they refuse to discuss this, even years afterwards. What just happened there? This is a pivotal moment in Evan’s life, we later find out. The plot is very well written in this respect, building mysteries gradually and slowly unraveling their secrets in a satisfying way.

 

Admittedly, when I first heard of The Butterfly Effect I had mixed feelings. The premise sounded superb, but then again, Ashton Kutcher playing a time traveler… I don’t know. But I have to say, Ashton did an admirable job.

 

An additional criticism is that there are quite a lot of holes in the plot. Although I’m really not a stickler when it comes to movie details (suspension of disbelief is required for watching any fictional movie), here the number of plot holes is rather large. Nonetheless, I can’t say it interfered with my enjoyment. Just keep this in mind.

 

In summary: A must for a time travel lover. Although the movie didn’t do that well, and I suspect many people would disagree with the high score I gave it, personally, I loved it. I thought it’s a fantastic and worthy addition to the growing collection of time-traveling movies. Highly recommended! Too bad the sequel was quite lame.

 


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Classification: Alternate Reality

 

In Einstein’s Bridge we are introduced to George Griffen and Roger Coulton, two physicists who attempt to get the SSC (Superconducting Super Collide) up and running in order to discover the elusive Higgs Boson. Once operational, they notice a curious side effect in their experiment: a heavy particle (which they name ‘the Snark’), emerges through a microscopic wormhole – a “Bridge” – created by the collider. This should have been impossible. Even more strangely, this particle emits radioactive pulses in prime number sequences [this is in fact one way we look for Extra Terresterial Intelligence: by sending codes that could not occur in nature randomly, such as the sequence of primes). This can only mean that some kind of extra terrestrial intelligence is behind this: but from where?

 

As George and Roger manage to find out, these are messages sent by the Makers, alien beings from an alternate universe with a single goal: make contact with whomever they find and get them to stop doing such experiments.

 

How could this present any danger, George and Roger ask? The problem is that this type of experiment opens a wormhole, which – for contemporary human technology – is virtually useless, but for more advanced civilizations, it is possible to send multiple nanobots that quickly replicate and recreate whatever the aliens wish to create on the other end. Unlike the Makers, who are a friendly civilization, the Hive, a malevolent alien insectoid collective entity living in yet another alternate universe, preys on civilizations that open these wormholes. Once this occurs, quickly the planet is taken over by replicas of the Hive.

 

In order to assist in the preparation (and the necessary political convincing to close such a huge project), the Makers send a representative through the bridge. But is is too late: just a few days after the Maker’s arrival, the Hive discovers the bridge as well and starts sending legions of nanobots through the opening. It looks as if the Earth is doomed. But then, at the last minute, the Maker uses a capability he has not shared until this moment: he sends George and Roger back in time, gives them a few extra abilities (through alien nanotechnology) and asks them to change future events so that the SSC is never built, and thus, the Earth never meets the Hive.

 

Einstein’s Bridge had a very interesting plot, in particular since it combines several concepts in a unique way (aliens, alternate universes, nanotechnology, collective intelligence and time travel). The characters were interesting, and on top of that, the author clearly understands the science involved: this was truly a hard core sci-fi novel. Overall the first half of the book was really quite good.

 

BUT, and this is the first time I’ve ever given such a criticism: the book’s structure was simply bizarre. The weird thing about the book is that it reaches the climax somewhere halfway through the novel. The rest of the plot just.. ties loose ends (no mystery or anything). And then the book ends. Just like that. No twist, no surprise. Nothing. I’ve never read anything like this. Regardless of the plot, this is no way to write a novel! It’s quite a shame, because other than that, the book is really not bad. It just ruins much of the fun.

 

In summary: until the middle of the book, it is really quite good. Later it quickly deteriorates. I’d recommend either getting the book and stopping in the middle (you’ll know when you reach the part). OR come prepared for some frustrating reading. Then again, maybe the book is simply not worth it – this depends on how much the premise intrigues you.

 


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Classification: Plot Device

 

Donnie Darko, the protagonist of the film, is a seventeen year old strange teenager living in Virginia suffering from some serious mental issues (for which he takes medication). Donnie is a social outsider: he has difficulties interacting with his teachers. He is also not very good at making friends. The only person who understands him – at least more than the rest – is his girlfriend, Gretchen.

 

One night, while sleepwalking, Donnie goes outside his house. When he wakes up, he sees a man-sized, horrific looking bunny. The bunny, who calls himself Frank, tells him that in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds, the world will end. The strangeness doesn’t end here: while Donnie is speaking to Frank, an engine falls of a plane and crashes on the roof of Donnie’s house, destroying his room in the process. This bizarre sleepwalking incident saved Donnie’s life!

 

In the next few days, Donnie’s life turns even more surreal than it is. He begins hallucinating about Frank: at first Frank instructs him to vandalize the school mascot. Then he tries to convince Donnie that he can’t get into trouble anymore. Despite taking medications, and even undergoing hypnotherapy, Frank continues appearing to Donnie. Donnie is confused, more so by the fact Frank hints he can see him by usage of Time Travel, thus, making Donnie obsessed with the subject.

 

This is where I stop. I don’t want to say anything anymore, since the rest may spoil the plot.

 

Donnie Darko has one of the most unusual premises I’ve seen. When I first heard of it, I knew I absolutely had to watch it. And it doesn’t disappoint. Although it basically describes the life of one (almost) average teenager in high school: it’s not the average teenage movie by a long shot. Instead, Donnie Darko is a highly atmospheric, gloomy, creepy film, populated with grotesque characters. On top of that, the acting is superb and the soundtrack is exceptional (have you heard Gary Jules’ Mad World?).

 

While watching the movie, at first I was hooked by the big mysteries: Is Frank real? And if so, who is he? Why does he look like a large mutated bunny? Will the world really end in 28 days? But the film is memorable for other reasons. Although I don’t normally like surreal movies, Donnie Darko can be said to be a spiritual journey: it’s as if we are going on a journey with Donnie; during the course of the movie, we start to deeply care about the pitfalls he faces and his overall fate. I rarely get this feeling from movies or books (in fact, the only other example I have is of a novel I reviewed, An Exaltation of Larks).

 

The best part is the ending. It’s the kind of emotional yet unpredictable ending that makes you want to watch the whole thing again. Better yet, if the message speaks to you, you are changed by this story. Uplifted by Donnie’s journey.

 

I know some consider Donnie Darko to be highly overrated. Perhaps that may be true. But it is definitely one of my all time favorites. it is also quite hard to understand at times. Some say that to completely understand it, one must watch all the extra scenes in the special edition DVD – a claim I agree with.

 

In summary, Donnie Darko is not a cult movie by accident: it is thought provoking, surreal and beautiful. Unusually bizarre, and yet highly compelling, Donnie Darko is a must for lovers of the genre. That being said, it is likely that many would probably not like the film for these very reasons.

 


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Classification: Personal Alternate Reality

 

In what begins as a typical office movie (i.e. Office Space), we are introduced to Barry Thomas, a lowly officer worker sitting in his cubicle and dreaming of a better future. As we find out, Barry doesn’t really like his job; but he does like fantasizing about Lisa, an attractive, very senior scientist who works for the same firm. Unfortunately Lisa barely even notices Barry; he is so beneath her, on so many levels, that he’s literally insignificant from her perspective.

 

One day, on his way home after finishing work (coincidentally exactly when Lisa finishes her work), Barry witnesses a mysterious gunman driving by. To his shock and horror, the gunman shoots Lisa and kills her on the spot. Immediately afterwards, the gunman disappears. That night Barry goes to a bar and gets really drunk. In a weird turn of events, he somehow gets zapped by a powerful electricity surge – exactly at 12:01am.

 

His very next memory is waking up in his bed, having no clue how he got there. Puzzled, Barry continues with his daily routine. He goes to work, and to his amazement, notices that the day’s events are identical to the events of the day before. Even more bizarrely, no one seems to remember the previous day’s events, including Lisa’s death (which has affected everyone). When he tries to investigate what happened to her, he finds out – to his great shock – that Lisa is not dead at all, and very much alive. But the day’s events repeat themselves perfectly: after finishing work, Lisa gets murdered once again. It is then Barry realizes he somehow has gone back in time and is reliving the previous day’s events.

 

The next day begins, and Barry quickly finds out it’s the same day all over. But this time he refuses to accept this, and begins investigating what is going on. Determined to save Lisa, Barry begins unraveling the mystery, an investigation which leads him to a shady and dangerous conspiracy. However, he has a unique advantage: he can allow himself to do dangerous things, knowing that tomorrow everything will be reset, except for the knowledge he has gained.

 

Will Barry find out what happened? Will he save Lisa? Will he stop this temporal loop? Watch the movie to find out!

 

One of the most appealing aspects of the Time Travel sub-genre, to me, is the witnessing someone’s ability to make different actions, and the effect they have on the final outcome. There aren’t many movies that do that (though it does seem every science fiction show has at least one such episode: Star Trek: The Next Generation, Stargate SG1, etc). 12:01 certainly does an admirable job at this: it offers a good mystery that is slowly unraveled during Barry’s investigation, a fast paced story, and decent acting. Not to mention Jeremy Piven as Barry’s sidekick. Overall, it’s definitely an excellent movie. The only reason I’m not giving it an even higher ranking is the fact that it lacks a certain ‘brilliance’ (which Groundhog’s Day had in my humble opinion). If the film had this – how shall I say – unique twist or a philosophical perspective – it could have become a classic. Then again, maybe all that is missing is Bill Murray in the main part. I don’t know. Unfortunately that is not the case.

 

Lacey shared an interesting anecdote with me about 12:01. Apparently, it used to be a series of 15 minute television movies on Showtime (probably) that later evolved to this movie. I never heard of this – shame, probably could have been really good.

 

In summary, 12:01 is a highly entertaining, fun action/sci-fi movie. Definitely recommended.

 


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Classification: Alternate Reality

 

A Sound of Thunder is the movie version of Ray Bradbury’s famous short story. This short story is responsible for the term “the butterfly effect”… and now that I’ve told you that, you can probably guess the movie’s entire plot. The movie version is slightly different from the short story, though the basic idea is the same.

 

A couple of decades from now, in 2055, a company perfects a technology that enables sending people back in time. Primarily intending the technology to be used for money making, they offer a tourist package to wealthy people: pay a hefty fee, and go back with a tour guide on a great dinosaur hunting adventure.

 

As a side note, one can’t help but wonder why the inventors of this technology simply cannot go back a few days and – oh, I don’t know – buy lottery tickets that with the winning numbers (which are already known in the present). Nonetheless, this is generally a legitimate premise.

 

Back to the plot: there are two types of risks for the company. The first is that someone may get hurt: dinosaurs are exceptionally dangerous creatures, and even with a highly trained team, something can still go wrong. The second is subtler: during a trip to the past, there is a risk that something may be changed that will propagate through time and affect the present in catastrophic ways.

 

In order to ward off this dangerous possibility, the company has a very specific set of rules on how the tourists and personnel should act: they are only allowed to walk on a designated path, which is heavily monitored by the security personnel. Furthermore, they are only allowed to shoot a specific dinosaur that is already known to have died in the near future. Thus, they believe the timeline would be preserved.

 

But something goes wrong: when a tyrannosaurus rex fails to die, a client panics and leaves the approved path. Fortunately, the security team takes over and nothing bad happens. Everyone then quickly returns to the present, and are relieved to see all is as it should be. Phew!

 

But not long afterwards certain things begin to change… and not just once, but multiple times. A careful investigation finds that when the client went off the path, he accidentally stepped on a prehistoric butterfly-like creature, which is found, dead, on the tourist’s shoe. Apparently, this started a cascade of events that has enormous ramifications on the present. I won’t spoil the rest – you’ll have to see the movie to find out!

 

Bradbury’s short story is a classic, in particular since it illustrates a subtle point very well. In the story, someone accidentally steps on a butterfly, and when he returns everything is completely different – the entire society is transformed. In my opinion, this is really how the story should be told. However, since translating this story into film will only take 20-25 minutes, the movie drags the point much, much longer.

 

Even worse, the movie turns this rather imaginative premise to an action/horror movie… and not even a good one! Although the acting was not bad, the plot dragged way too long, the effects weren’t that good, and – well – it wasn’t that interesting! I don’t intend to spoil the movie, but the final scene was unintentionally comical (it was probably supposed to be horrific!). Really gave me a good laugh.

 

In summary, an okay action/sci-fi movie, if you have nothing else to do. Otherwise, skip it.

 


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shortcutintime

Classification: Personal Alternate Reality

 

One day, Josh Winkler, an artist residing in the small town of Euclid Heights, Illinois, discovers by accident that one particular shortcut takes him 15 minutes into the past. Soon the entire town talks about him. He becomes the local joke and his Wife’s practice (she’s a doctor) suffers.

 

Not much later, Constance Morceau, a 15 year old who claims to be from the year 1908, appears in town and has no idea how to get back to her time. Things becomes even more complicated when Josh’s 15 year old daughter, Penny, vanishes. By going through microfilm in the library, he discovers she accidentally traveled to the year 1918 and had died there.

 

Determined to rescue his daughter, Josh successfully travels to the year 1918 by finding the right shortcut. Once he returns to the present, he discovers that his life has dramatically changed. He realizes the only way to fix it would be to go back in once time again and set things right.

 

Like many other time travel novels, A Shortcut in Time attempts to examine how our life is affected by seemingly small choices – how a small change may have great repercussions. Although the topic is handled quite well, and the book had some good writing, I thought it was boring, even tiresome. Particularly towards the second part of the book, reading it felt like a chore: the subplot of Constance could have been omitted and the book would’ve suffered no loss. All in all, there wasn’t anything particularly bad about the novel or the writing (unlike other books I’ve reviewed here) – but there were few positives as well.

 

As a side note, I know some people have criticized the novel’s choice of time travel mechanism, i.e. finding the right ’shortcut’ in a small town can take people to other periods in time. Even though I agree that this is a silly mode of transportation, I don’t particularly mind it. In my opinion, this is a perfect example where suspension of disbelief is required.

 

In summary, this is a generally weak and unmemorable novel. I’d recommend it only to people who must get their hands on every time travel story. If I recall correctly, this is actually the novel the made me decide to be more selective with my choices of time travel novels. Until this point I literally read everything I was able to obtain. No more: there are too many novels, and we have to be selective.

 


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bestimetravel

Classification: Anthology

 

This is an excellent collection of 18 short time travel stories. It includes work by some of the greatest sci-fi authors such as Larry Niven, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, and Robert Silverberg. Most of these short stories are fairly light, and none is a masterpiece, though some are quite good. My favorites include:

 

A Sounds of Thunder: Ray Bradbury’s famous short story (there’s even a movie!) tells the tale of a wealthy man gone on a time travel trip to hunt dinosaurs in which he accidentally steps on a butterfly. Once he returns to the present, everything is different. This is, by the way, the origin of the ‘Butterfly Effect’ theory. A classic.

 

Rainbird: tells the story of an accomplished inventor who goes back in time to teach himself the lessons he has accumulated during his life, so that he would reach even greater heights. But not always things go as planned. Possibly the best story in the collection.

 

Death Ship: Three astronauts are trapped in a scary temporal loop. Excellent.

 

Timetipping: Jack Dann’s excellent story describes a world in which everyone can time travel (or ‘Timetip’) in, except for the protagonist, Paley Litwak. Weird but amusing.

 

This is certainly a very good collection that all Time Travel lovers will like – even though I don’t think it qualifies for the title “The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century”…

 


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timeships

Classification: Past and Future Time Travel

 

The Time Ships is the unofficial sequel to H.G. Wells’ famous novel, The Time machine.

 

Written more than a century after the original was published, The Time Ships directly continues where The Time Machine stops: The Time Traveler goes back to the year 802,701 to save his Eloi friend, Weena, from the bestial Morlocks. But the plot does not stop there: the Time Traveler continues his journey through time, visiting the year 1939 (the future from his perspective – remember, his present is 1891!), his own past (the year 1873: where he meets his younger self), the deep past (50 million BC!), an alternate reality of 1891, the far future again, and back and forth.

 

This book is a celebration for any time travel lover: the protagonist travels to the far future and the distant past, back and forth and back and forth, each trip being very different from the other, and yet all trips are highly imaginative and very original. Furthermore, it successfully captures the style and the ‘feeling of wonder’ created by the original – no simple feat! The only difference being that The Time Machine is hard-core science fiction (unlike the original), and as such, uses modern concepts and goes much more deeply into the underlying quantum physics than the original. This does not conflict with the story, but in fact greatly enhances the plot. To be fair, H.G. Wells couldn’t have written anything about quantum physics or Dyson Spheres in the 19th century without using a time machine himself!

 

In summary: fantastic! Certainly a must for lovers of the genre. I’m quite confident H.G. Wells himself would’ve liked the novel, and would’ve been proud to call it a sequel to his own work.

 


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replay

 

Classification: Personal Alternate Reality

 

Replay is one of the greatest books I have ever read. Maybe even my favorite book. I’ll try to make sure my review does it justice.

 

Jeff Winston is a rather unsuccessful journalist, living an unhappy life with his wife Linda. Not longer after he turns 43, in October 1988, Jeff suffers a major heart attack – one he does not survive. But instead of finding himself in the afterlife, Jeff finds himself back in 1963, in his 18 year old body. Quickly, Jeff begins enjoying his youth again (it is as the saying goes: “Wisdom is wasted on the youth”). More importantly, he realizes he has 25 years of future knowledge: personal decisions that went wrong, major political and economical events, knowledge of companies that became big and companies that did not survive the times. Armed with this invaluable knowledge, Jeff is able to become a very wealthy person in his early 20s.

 

Until this point, there is not much of a difference between this and many other books and movies. It now changes.

 

Determined to avoid the mistakes he’s made before, and remembering the day, time and location where he originally met Linda, his wife, Jeff decides to do it right this time. Butterflies in his stomach, he goes to meet Linda again. Imagine his surprise when after introducing himself, Linda brushes him off quite rudely. Turns out that the new version of Jeff, wealthy and probably more confident than his original young self, does not appeal to Linda. Jeff continues trying to woo Linda for a while (he still remembers where she lives), but to no avail. He eventually accepts this fate, marries a different woman, and learns to enjoy his comfortable new life.

 

The year 1988 encroaches, and Jeff is 43 year again. He begins to worry something may happen. He routinely works out to make sure he’s in good shape, and makes sure a team of doctors supervise him. They assure him: he’s in perfect health and faces no imminent heart attack.

 

But they are wrong. At exactly the same moment, Jeff suffers yet another (from his mental perspective) heart attack. He dies. Again. And finds himself, once again, in the year 1963, in his 18 year old body.

 

What does he do? I won’t reveal the answer to that, but I will say that this is not the last time Jeff dies and is reborn. Each time he makes different choices that affect both himself and the world in general. Each time he lives life differently. He continues a romance he originally abandoned. He tries warning the world of looming disasters – and gets in trouble with the CIA (who think he has terrorist connections). He tries finding other people like himself. He tries to create the ultimate piece of entertainment by recruiting famous actors and directors (George Lucas, Steven Spielberg) years before they got famous. Until the end – which I won’t reveal.

 

Replay has a great story, very memorable characters, and is highly thought provoking. Although Replay appears to be a rather simple novel on the surface, it is much more profound than that, as it asks major questions: Is life about accumulating wealth and personal belongings? Is life about being with one’s family? Is life about trying new adventures? Is life simply about going through one’s mundane daily routine? What does it mean for a person to have all of his achievements vanish: whether they be wealth, creations of art, fame or even family.

 

Since these are questions we all have to deal with, Replay provides what can only be summarized as a spiritual journey. I believe this is precisely the reason Replay became such a successful novel: because it deals with – possibly – the biggest question of all: What is the meaning of life?

 

Years ago, I used to read Replay every couple of months. Although I no longer do that, even now, some two decades afterwards, Replay still feels to me like one of those books that changed something in me. That made me question my core values. Despite the great story, the surprising twists and turns, and the outstanding characters – I don’t think there can be any higher complement for a book – and an author – than that. Replay is one of my all time favorite books. It is as good as it gets.

 


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primer

 

Classification: Personal Alternate Reality

 

I’ve heard a lot about Primer and was excited when I finally got the chance to see the film. Primer is very unusual, even for a Time Travel story. In Primer, four engineers attempt to create a machine in their garage in order to sell the technology. However, they get more than they’ve bargained for: a side effect of the machine means it can effectively be used as a time machine. At first the guys attempt to use it to make money using the stock market, but later on they begin using it for other purposes, like attempting to prevent a maniac from getting to a party.

 

All in all, the film was interesting but I can’t say I enjoyed it. First, the story is filled with technical jargon. In fact, the first 10 minutes are nothing but technical jargon. It’s not really hard to understand but it is as interesting as watching someone make a tax report. Furthermore, about halfway through the movie, the plot becomes so confusing that is practically impossible to understand what is going on.

 

One quote I saw in Wikipedia summarizes it very well: “anybody who claims [to] fully understand what’s going on in Primer after seeing it just once is either a savant or a liar.”

 

My summary: make your own decision. I don’t think this movie is worth it, but maybe I need to see it more than once to make a final decision. That being said, I have no plans whatsoever to watch it again.

 


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Time Travel Movies