The Spierig Brothers’ time travel thriller Predestination hits theaters at the end of this week (we’ll have a full review to accompany the release). While we hope many of you go see it, as it’s totally worth a few hours of your life, we think that a lot of people may sit this one out. After all, January can be a rough month at the theater, quality wise. Though the film is being marketed as a time-hopping crime story in the vein of Minority Report and TimeCop, that’s not what you’re going to see. Deliberately paced, continually shifting perspectives, and inherently weird, Predestination feels like a movie that the distributor has no idea how to sell, and as a result we’re afraid that this will fall into a category of films that, while excellent, are totally underappreciated. And in that spirit, we’d like to take the opportunity to explore some of our favorite under-the-radar time travel movies.
Doctor Who returned for its eighth modern season, with Peter Capaldi’s Twelve enjoying a Victorian adventure with his latest companion, Clara Oswin Oswald (Jenna Coleman). And that’s a big part of the appeal of Doctor Who, isn’t it? The idea of getting a guided tour of all of time and space. If the TARDIS suddenly materialized in your living room and the Doctor invited you in, who wouldn’t be tempted to sign on for as long as he’d have you? But if you’re going to travel through time, you want to have good company and you want it to not be an enormous pain in the ass. As you’ll see in this article, that’s not always guaranteed. Sometimes you get a sweet-ass DeLorean, sure…but sometimes you get Ashton Kutcher.
Just in case you’re in the market for a vacation into last week, you’ll definitely want to consider your options. Thankfully we did the legwork for you. Here are our picks for which time travelers would be worth your time, and which ones you’ll want to avoid at all costs.
So I’m kind of cheating this week. The unspoken basic premise of the Giant Freakin’ Queue is that the films I’m watching are there because I haven’t seen them before, or in many years at least. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew it wouldn’t take long for me to bring Shane Carruth’s 2004 head-scratcher Primer into it, because it sinfully still goes unknown in certain circles, and I don’t think that should happen anymore.
The story behind Primer is as nifty as the film itself, only costing a reported $7,000 and filmed on weekends. Carruth wrote, directed, edited, and wrote the score. It won the Grand Jury Prize and the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize at Sundance, and Carruth was set to take on the world. But the next film he directed, Upstream Color, only hit theaters, VOD, DVD, and Blu-ray in the last month. That’s all interesting, but it doesn’t involve the narrative, and nobody gives a shit about the background story of a shitty movie.
Here’s the deal with Primer. A completely fantastical idea, time travel, enters into the everyday world of two engineers, who then get themselves into a complex — though still quite simple, all things considered — web of details that unravels their lives in a way that has very rarely been put to screen before. The proper release of this film would be a back-to-back viewing of the same film, and with a 77-minute runtime, it’t not as if a lot of time would be wasted. And it’s all about time.
I could sit here and talk about Shane Carruth’s Primer until time collapsed on itself, and I haven’t yet had the chance to witness his second film in nearly 10 years, the mesmerizing mind-meld that is Upstream Color. So it’s a good thing this story is about the proposed-but-unmade movie that came between those two films, and since it was never produced, I don’t have to be jealous of anyone else for having seen it.
A recent Wired article chronicles Carruth’s rise from anonymous engineer to cult phenomenon to obscure and non-prolific cult phenomenon. But that’s all been discussed before and elsewhere, and the tidbits he revealed about his long-gestating project A Topiary are just as interesting, frustrating as it is to know that we may never feast our eyes on it. Here’s a description of the film, which even in written form is as polarizing as projects come.
The opening section follows a city worker who becomes obsessed with a recurring starburst pattern he sees hidden everywhere around him, even in traffic grids. He eventually joins with other believers, forming a kaffeeklatsch-cult that’s soon undone by greed and hubris.
The second half follows a group of 10 preteen boys who discover a strange machine that produces small funnels, which in turn can be used to build increasingly agile robotlike creatures. As their creations grow in power and size, the kids’ friendships begin to splinter and they’re forced to confront another group of creature-builders. The movie ends with a massive last-minute reveal, set deep in the cosmos, suggesting that everything we’ve just seen was directed by forces outside the characters’ control.”
If you see Inception this weekend and walk out thinking Christopher Nolan’s dream invasion story is too twisty and confusing, then might I recommend that you absolutely do not watch Primer.
Made in 2004 on a shoestring budget and barely released in theaters, Primer has since gone on to become something of a cult classic among sci-fi fans. The movie involves four friends who accidentally create a time machine. What results is one of the most confusing, complex, strange, and utterly realistic looks at the rigors of time travel ever put to screen. Even after you see it, and love it, you may not be entirely sure what’s going on.
The brilliant folks at xkcd have managed to put together an infograph which tells you all you need to know about the completely crazy narrative of Primer. They’ve created charts, which compare it against the plots of other well known movies, namely: Lord of the Rings, Jurassic Park, Star Wars, and the fairly straightforward classic 12 Angry Men. Here’s how Primer stacks up: