The consequences of time travel can be very serious, affecting not only the traveller but their entire universe (we all know what nearly happens when Marty McFly accidentally becomes the object of affection for his own mother). With such an enormous scope for storytellers to explore, it is no surprise that filmmakers return again and again to this thought provoking sub-genre of science-fiction.
Dir: Shane Carruth
Shane Carruth’s debut feature left audiences utterly perplexed but incredibly impressed – if you are able to fully comprehend the timeline of this very ambitious story on first viewing then it would be fair to say you are either a mathematical genius or bending the truth. That’s not to say that Primer cannot be enjoyed on a first watch – I fell in love with it instantly – but its intricate storyline rewards patient viewers, with an elaborate plot that becomes clearer on repeat viewings.
Whereas a lot of time travel films use this central idea as a backdrop to visit other genres such as action, comedy or even horror, Primer rests firmly in the realm of science-fiction, imagining a world where time travel becomes a reality for four engineers, and exploring the enormity of their discovery in a very realistic way. There are no explosions or laughs in this low-budget feature, but if you are looking for intellectual intrigue, Primer will inevitably leave your mind reeling.
Time Bandits (1981)
Dir: Terry Gilliam
The first of Terry Gilliam’s ‘Imagination Trilogy’ (followed by Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen), Time Bandits follows the adventures of a young boy who joins a troupe of time-travelling dwarfs as they journey through time on a quest to steal important relics from the past. Their travels lead them to encounters with Robin Hood, Napoleon Bonaparte, and to the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness where they must confront Evil, who is desperate to reclaim the time-travelling map they have stolen from him.
Far from being just a children’s fantasy film, Time Bandits has a surprisingly dark tone, which is brought to life with stunning costumes and the usual fantastical set design one comes to expect from a film directed by a member of Monty Python. Bleak endings are rare in films aimed primarily at a young audience, but Gilliam handles it in such a way that the absurdity of these events are more comic than upsetting, making this a fine journey into the imagination of a very creative individual.
La Jetée (1962)
Dir: Chris Marker
Imagining a post-apocalyptic future in the wake of World War III, La Jetée focuses on a prisoner who is sent back and forth in time to prevent humanity from exhausting their food supplies and to find a cure to the pestilences that ravage the survivors. This remarkable short French film from 1962 was the main influence for another Terry Gilliam film, Twelve Monkeys (1995); whilst similar in storyline, Chris Marker depicts his visionary journey through time using black and white stills and a foreboding voiceover, which provides an ominous subtlety not present in Gilliam’s adaptation.
One of the most beautiful and memorable scenes within the film is the one shot that shows actual movement; we see a woman stirring awake next to her lover, and this offers audiences a brief respite from the implied horrors of the future, while emphasising the dreamlike nature of this extraordinary story. The subject of time-travel is rarely a thing of beauty, but Marker’s artistic approach to portraying this cautionary tale means that the haunting imagery is likely to leave an indelible impression on all who experience it.
Dir: Matthew Avant
Found footage and faux documentary films have become extremely popular with filmmakers, mainly due to low production costs, but audiences and critics are understandably growing tired of this over-saturated genre. Look deep enough, though, and you will still stumble upon some hidden gems, with Lunopolis being one of the most under-rated and ambitious time travel films of recent years.
When two budding documentary filmmakers uncover a conspiracy involving the moon, time travel, and a powerfully corrupt secret organisation, they are forced to run in order to protect their lives and a very important artefact that comes into their possession. Avoiding the usual clichés of the genre, Lunopolis has a satisfying denouement to an intelligent time travel puzzle, a low-budget charm that works in its favour and compelling performances from unknown actors, and it is a great shame that it never managed to find its audience.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
Dir: Stephen Herek
When two idiotic high-school students are faced with the prospect of their band Wyld Stallyns being separated if they flunk their latest history assignment and Ted is sent off to military school, they are forced to rely on the assistance of a strange man from the future, Rufus, and his time machine – a telephone box – to secure the grades they need to pass. Unbeknownst to our unlikely heroes, their music will become the foundation of future society, and Rufus takes the hopeless pair on a trip through time where they enlist an eclectic mix of historical figures such as Socrates, Genghis Khan, and Beethoven, who are bought back to the present day to help the slackers pass their assignment.
A standout sequence involving the historical characters being unleashed on a present day shopping mall takes the fish-out-of-water scenario to a whole new level when cultural differences and language barriers give rise to a whole host of unforgettable shenanigans, all set to a thumping rock soundtrack. That Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves are in talks to return as Bill & Ted for a second sequel, 25 years after the release of their Excellent Adventure, confirms that this cult classic definitely left its mark on history.
Dir: Nacho Vigalondo
This Spanish thriller explores the dangerous possibilities of time-travel when a curious man discovers a time machine and ends up accidentally transporting himself an hour back into the past. Here he encounters other versions of himself and is forced take drastic measures in order to ensure his survival.
Much akin to Primer, Timecrimes posits a plausible notion of time-travel by taking a logical standpoint when dealing with the intricacies of such an idea, and this adds gravitas to the predicament our protagonist finds himself in. Viewers of a more sensitive nature should approach with caution as Timecrimes doesn’t shy away from displaying the sometimes violent consequences of fooling around with time, but this only adds to the film’s realism and will undoubtedly leave you on the edge of the seat as the parts of the puzzle slowly come together in this superb thriller.