Given I only have 130,000 words or so to work with for Time Travel on Screen I’ve had to exclude a number of things. Movies with just a minor bit of time travel (Galaxyquest, the Chris Reeves original Superman) get bumped to the appendix, for instance. Lots of foreign movies outside the core countries (USA, UK, Japan, and as a practical point Canada because there’s so much Canadian TV). Nevertheless, I can’t deny that some of the things I’m excluding have a lot in common with the ones I am covering.
•Cryonic suspension. This has much the same effect as time travel to the future: it plunks someone down in a weird alien environment where they don’t know anyone, they’re removed from all personal ties and references and they have to start over—though unlike most time travelers, there’s never a way home. Consider, for example, Cleopatra 2525: a stripper goes into the hospital, ends up in cryosleep and wakes up 500 years later to a world where humanity lives underground to escape the killer machines dominating the surface (all rights to cover image with current holder). The result isn’t that different from The Time Machine except that Cleopatra’s not in control of where she ends up (and there are plenty of time travelers—Beneath the Planet of the Apes‘ astronauts, for instance—for whom that’s true).
But it isn’t time travel as most people would define it (though Netflix counts it, judging by the movies in the Time Travel list), involving an actual shortcut through the fourth dimension. The same applies to reaching the future through light-speed time-dilation, or being magically trapped in faerie for what seems like a day and a night.
•Ghost stories are another genre that has some similarities. A ghost that returns a century after their death can simply be a dangerous or tragic force. But if the story focuses on the ghost and their personality, it can show how they’re having to deal with a world they’ve never made, or how they remember things from a time long past. While I’m including Portrait of Jennie as a time-travel film, I wouldn’t say someone who thinks Jennifer Jones is a ghost is flat out wrong.
The same not-quite-time travel thinking applies to reincarnation as well (though I will be including a couple of movies that combine reincarnation and time travel both, such as The Undead).
•Movies about precognition overlap with films about time travelers from the future coming back to warn us of doom (e.g. Against Will) or a film like Time After Time, where the protagonists visit the near future and learn Mary Steenburgen is doomed to die. And it can raise some of the same issues such as whether the timeline is fixed or changeable. But it ain’t time travel, though stories where someone sends a message from the future do (to my mind) straddle the border (e.g., the TV series Early Edition in which the protagonist finds he’s getting tomorrow’s newspaper delivered today).
And then there are oddball movies such as Project X (1968), which I watched this week under the mistaken memory that it was, in fact, time travel. It’s closer to a Star Trek: The Next Generation holodeck story: 22nd century American spy Christopher George has had to wipe his own memory to prevent the bad guys (the “Sinoese”) interrogating him. Now he’s back home and his bosses need to get through his mindblock and see what he’s learned. This involves a scientist making George think he’s a hoodlum on the run in the 1960s, hunted by the cops, to build up enough emotional intensity to break the block. I will give it points for being interesting, and the scenes set in George’s flashbacks — directed by Hanna-Barbera and partly designed by comics artist Alex Toth—are way better than most. However it doesn’t quite work—the spy story is too close to a conventional 20th century thriller and the 20th century parts are more a distraction than anything else. Still, it’s watchable, and even better, I don’t have to add to my word count to include it.