#222. Adjusted Timelines

If there’s one theme in fiction that is difficult to do well, it’s time travel. Fortunately, some of the best film franchises have shown us this theme is doable. What brings difficulty to the time travel theme is continuity. When things are being changed in the past, the future is equally affected. We’ve seen from films like Back to the Future (1985) and The Terminator (1984) that traveling to the past can have disastrous consequences unless the main characters fight to maintain the continuity. The interesting aspects of the time travel theme come when a timeline is adjusted to produce a more beneficial outcome. These altered timelines almost insist that traveling to the past is necessary to fix the problems of the future before they even begin. This week’s two films are great examples of time travel being used to adjust a timeline.

Source CodeSource Code
Year: 2011
Rating: PG-13
Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours

One of the “adjusted timeline” forms is that of the repeating loop. This form will continuously run the same sequence of events until a key set of criteria is met, at which point the timeline continues on its now-adjusted path. The best example of this is Groundhog Day (1993), which can then be used to describe similar movies. For instance, Edge of Tomorrow (2014) could be described as “Groundhog D-Day.” The lynchpin of the repeating loop plot is that the main character can make changes to the timeline, but these changes are erased each time the timeline resets. As such, the main character must learn as much as they can in each iteration of the timeline so they can make the necessary changes needed to escape the infinite loop. If anything, the repeating loop form is the most forgiving of the adjusted timeline plots in that it gives the main character multiple tries to arrive at the most optimum timeline.

The repeating loop of Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the last eight minutes of the life of Sean Fentress, a school teacher traveling on a train to Chicago. Captain Stevens was found to be compatible with Fentress and is now a part of the “Source Code” device in an attempt to gather information about a larger terrorist attack about to hit Chicago. With each eight-minute loop, Stevens watches as the train explodes, killing everyone on board. He is helpless to stop the explosion, as the Source Code only allows him to glean information, not change these past events which are already set in stone. However, as he learns from his surroundings and pieces together a plan, Stevens manages to push the limits of the system, saving the people on the train and adjusting his timeline to one that does not confine him to the realm of his imagination.

LooperLooper
Year: 2012
Rating: R
Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours

Unlike the repeating loop form of the adjusted timeline, most time travel stories give their protagonist only one attempt to change the fate of the world. While films like Donnie Darko (2001) and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) (both of which star the aforementioned Source Code actor, Jake Gyllenhaal) do loop back upon themselves, the ability to repeat that loop is limited to a single iteration. That being said, the effects of adjusting the past are often not seen until a return to the future. Very few films examine the small alterations to the timeline in real-time. The Butterfly Effect (2004) came close with repeated trips into the past to change future events. Similarly, About Time (2013) takes this approach in a more comedic sense, but without an immediate result evident to the audience. The one film that has managed to show the realized effects of changing the past as they happen would have to be Looper (2012).

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) earns his living as a hitman known as a “looper.” All he has to do is wait for a target to be sent back in time and shoot said target upon their appearance. His reward for this task is a set of silver bars, delivered with the target. If he were to kill a target with gold bars, he would have just killed himself, the gold bars being payment for the termination of his employment. However, he doesn’t get a chance to use these gold bars, as his future self (Bruce Willis) manages to escape before he is killed. Now it’s up to the younger Joe to make sure his older self does not kill the child who will eventually grow up to become the “Rainmaker,” the usurper of five major crime syndicates who is “closing the loop” of many loopers. As the two singular men find the child, young Joe discovers that the events of his interference will create the Rainmaker in the future. He has only one option to prevent it.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 tweaked timelines

#221. Jake Gyllenhaal

Many actors who started acting at a young age often burn out into obscurity. After a few choice roles exhibiting their youth, they will struggle to land the more serious and adult roles lauded by critics and the Academy. Jake Gyllenhaal is perhaps the exception to this rule. Even though he started acting at the young age of 10, he never became pigeonholed as the “child actor.” Maybe this was due to a limited filmography. Perhaps his early roles quickly removed him from the “child actor” category. Whatever the reason, Gyllenhaal has seemed to quickly rise into some excellent performances, much like fellow child actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Natalie Portman. As he has aged, his acting has only gotten better, as evidenced by his roles in Zodiac (2007), Prisoners (2013), and Nightcrawler (2014). This week’s two films highlight the beginning and later works of Jake Gyllenhaal’s current career.

October SkyOctober Sky
Year: 1999
Rating: PG
Length: 108 minutes / 1.8 hours

Jake Gyllenhaal first appeared on the big screen in City Slickers (1991). Two years later, after appearing in his father’s film (his father is the director, Stephen Gyllenhaal), A Dangerous Woman (1993), it would be another six years before he truly obtained his breakout role. At the age of 19, October Sky (1999) took the somewhat unknown Jake Gyllenhaal and thrust him into the limelight. And while it was a good performance, his career took an upward turn in the mid-2000s. After starring in The Day After Tomorrow (2004), he obtained his first and (so far) only Oscar nomination for his supporting role in Brokeback Mountain (2005). Partly because of his role in Brokeback Mountain, Gyllenhaal was able to separate himself from his younger roles, thus ensuring he would be given the “adult” parts that have given him so much positive critical attention.

Homer Hickam (Jake Gyllenhaal) has fallen in love with the idea of space. After watching Sputnik 1 fly overhead one crisp, October evening in West Virginia, he decides to make rocketry his hobby and passion. Enlisting the help of his friends, they start building rockets, with limited success. It’s only after they start delving into the science of rocketry and enlisting the help of some of the local coal mine machinists that they begin to see their homemade creations fly into the sky. Unfortunately, Homer’s father, John (Chris Cooper) is not pleased with his son’s distraction, as he wants Homer to follow in his footsteps and work in the coal mine. On the other side, Homer’s mother, Elsie (Natalie Canerday), and the boys’ science teacher, Miss Riley (Laura Dern), have been encouraging their rocket-powered pursuits, eventually pushing the boys to compete in and win a national science fair.

Source CodeSource Code
Year: 2011
Rating: PG-13
Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours

Even though Jake Gyllenhaal has appeared in many serious, dramatic roles, it doesn’t mean he hasn’t had some fun. Sure, taut thrillers like the aforementioned Zodiac, Prisoners, and Nightcrawler showcase his acting ability, but sometimes an audience just needs a fun action or romantic flick. Films like The Day After Tomorrow and Love & Other Drugs (2010) are entertaining, even if they are somewhat critically panned. Source Code (2011) is one of these fun films. Of course, with movies like Donnie Darko (2001), and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) under his belt, Gyllenhaal is certainly no stranger to the concept of time travel. And while Donnie Darko was a more serious role, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time fits right in with the “fun” category, along with Source Code.

The last thing Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) remembers is being deployed to Afghanistan as an Army pilot. This is why he is confused to find himself on a train heading to Chicago. To further the confusion, everyone around him thinks he’s a schoolteacher by the name of Sean Fentress. When the train explodes, he suddenly finds himself in a cold and dark cockpit wherein his only means of communication is through a video screen. On the other end of the screen is Air Force Captain Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga). She knows his true identity of Colter Stevens but tells him he must replay the last eight minutes of Sean Fentress’ life to gather information about a potentially bigger threat to Chicago. Through many iterations, Stevens manages not only to save the day but to change history completely.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 great Gyllenhaal roles

Bacon #: 2 (Prisoners / Wayne Duvall -> Apollo 13 / Kevin Bacon)

#160. “Time Travel”

We all would like to travel to the past. Perhaps we want to fix a problem with the world, or we just want to go back and prevent ourselves from making stupid mistakes. Whatever the reason, we have a desire to relive the past. Similarly, we are obsessed with the future because we can then predict the present. We can also take advantage of advances in technology if we manage to travel forward in time. Even though we all dream of time travel, the fact of the matter is that it is impossible. But what if there was a way to travel through time without physically doing so? What if we could see the future? What if we could influence the past? While there is no way to physically travel through time, some theoretical physics could allow for a few actions that might resemble time travel. This week’s two films examine time travel without actually traveling through time.

Donnie DarkoDonnie Darko
Year: 2001
Rating: R
Length: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours

The idea of a “Reset Button” has been covered in this blog before. While the desire to go back and correct our mistakes can be controllable, like in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010), it can also act outside of our control until we learn a deeper lesson about ourselves, like in Groundhog Day (1993). Occasionally, something that should have happened doesn’t. When this deviation from a predetermined path is created, the world will put its full force toward “fixing the glitch.” In the 2011 film, The Adjustment Bureau, these fixes were performed in real-time to direct the paths of individuals back to their destiny. But what if the new destiny is irreversible? In these instances, the world will rewind and restore itself through the successful execution of the event in question, even if it results in a disaster.

The disaster that begins Donnie Darko (2001) is that of a jet engine crashing into the bedroom of the titular character. Fortunately for Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal), he was sleepwalking away from his house when the incident happened. Unfortunately, during his walk, he came across a grotesque rabbit by the name of “Frank” who told him that the world will end in 28 days. As Donnie returns to his life as a high school student, Frank tells him to commit various crimes that end up revealing the darker side of many other individuals. At the same time, he has befriended Roberta Sparrow (Patience Cleveland), who wrote the book “The Philosophy of Time Travel.” This philosophy refers to an unstable “Tangent Universe” which can only last a few weeks. Donnie’s current universe is a Tangent Universe, which corrects itself with a vortex that consumes a jet engine and places it in Donnie’s bedroom, except with him now in it.

PaycheckPaycheck
Year: 2003
Rating: PG-13
Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours

Considering how much money is spent on “fortune telling,” we all desire to know what the future holds. From palm reading to horoscopes to crystal balls, all these methods do is give you generalities that could happen to anyone. But what if you could actually see through time? What if a machine was built that could bend time so the future could be observed? This predictive machine could easily be used to prevent tragedies; but, if it were to fall into the wrong hands, could actually be used to create the very tragedies it was meant to prevent. Physics can be an interesting beast sometimes, especially in its theoretical constructs. Black holes and traveling at the speed of light are both ways that physics says we could potentially look into the future. However, as it now stands, the only place where this could happen is in the realm of film.

Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) works as a reverse engineer, but to keep from revealing the secrets he learns during his jobs, he receives a memory wipe at the successful completion of the project. For his time and skills, and the erasure of his memories, Michael receives a large paycheck from the company. However, a new project has emerged that will require a different type of memory wipe, since the project is supposed to last over many years. Once completed, Michael goes to pick up his paycheck, only to receive an envelope with a random assortment of useless items. Feeling like he was robbed, Michael sets forth to figure out where his money is and what he reverse engineered during the last three years. In doing so, he finds the useless items are links to his past and his future and must be used to solve the mystery hidden in his missing memories.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 trippy travels through time

#067. Based on a Game

What is interesting about the video game industry is that it has been evolving towards movies. What once used to be hackneyed and formulaic, video game plots have grown from the standard “defeat the minions, destroy the boss, save the princess” to games with some amount of depth and plot. While this isn’t always the case, the graphical fidelity of some games’ cut scenes rivals the impressive CGI of a summer blockbuster. Even though there have been multiple failures in trying to adapt video games to the big screen (let us please forget Super Mario Bros. (1993) and Double Dragon (1994)), occasionally there comes a movie that takes the settings and characters from a video game and puts them in an arrangement that is at least entertaining to watch, if nothing else. Considering the rate at which certain franchises are being made into films, it’s only a matter of time before we see some truly great adaptations based on some excellent video game franchises. But for now, this week’s two films examine some gems in what can be a disappointing field of video game adaptations.

                                        Prince of Persia: The Sands of TimePrince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Year: 2010
Rating: PG-13
Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours

It would come as no surprise that a film like this would fall under the Jerry Bruckheimer production house, considering the successful adaptation of a Disney park ride into a film trilogy (or quadrilogy, if you want to include the most recent one). However, considering the groundbreaking changes that the original Prince of Persia game made on the industry, it would eventually become a film adaptation based on the merit of its ability to break out of the limitations for platformers at the time of its release. The amount and quality of animation and action in this newly defined genre of the platformer adventure certainly provided a lot of material to work with when adapting something for the silver screen. Of course, the original game left a little to be desired in character design, so the 2010 film adaptation used the “Sands of Time” reboot from 2003.

The eponymous “Prince of Persia” in this film is known as Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is in reality not a prince by his blood lineage, but rather by his adopted right. And yet, this gets Dastan into trouble when the king favors him over his own sons, causing Dastan to be framed for the king’s death. While he’s on the run from those who have wrongfully accused him, he realizes a dagger he had picked up in a raid actually has the magical ability to reverse the flow of time. Unfortunately, by the time he has recognized this, the mystical sand that powers the dagger has run out. In order to clear his name and reveal the true assassin, Dastan must find the source of the Sands of Time and refill the dagger so he can use it to reverse the clock and save the day.

Max PayneMax Payne
Year: 2008
Rating: R
Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours

The “shoot ’em up” style of video game has been around for a while. And though even Doom has had its day on the big screen, the real trick of bringing a video game to the movies is in how you adapt it. For something senseless with minimal plot, a story usually has to be contrived for an audience (as the passive participant) to fully enjoy the film. Yet, sometimes the opposite is true. In the case of Max Payne (2008), the plot of the game was used as a starting point for the characters and setting, but not necessarily for the plot of the film as a whole. It is important for adaptations to be able to stand by themselves without the need for previous knowledge of the source material. In fact, sometimes knowing where a movie came from could ruin it for those expecting something else.

The movie starts off (a la Sunset Blvd. (1950)) with Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg) sinking to the cold, icy depths of a river bottom, giving a preface to the end of the film. The audience is then transported back one week to see how the plot unfolds. Max Payne is a cop who works in the Cold Case division of the New York Police Department, trying to find his family’s killer. The few people who get close to him are mysteriously killed, prompting the sister of one of the victims, Mona Sax (Mila Kunis), to join forces with Payne and dole out vengeance on both their parts. Investigating the deaths leads Max to the pharmaceutical company where his wife used to work. It is here where we start to unfold the untold story of “Valkyr,” a surprisingly addictive substance wreaking havoc on the streets of New York that Max is trying to clean. And yet, what events leads to him being drowned, and can he get out of it?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 video game adaptations

#066. The Reset Button

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

This famous quote by George Santayana sums up a very poignant idea: if we don’t learn from our mistakes or the mistakes of others, we are doomed to the same fate. How often do we long for that second chance? The opportunity to right our wrongs and fix our mistakes is perhaps why time travel is so popular as a theme. And while hindsight is always 20/20, the only way we can correct a fatal error is if we are in a video game. Unfortunately, real life is much less forgiving. However, movies are not real life. As a result, some films have explored the idea of going back in time and re-experiencing something again. A “Reset Button,” if you will. While some of these “Reset Buttons” can be controlled and used by the protagonist, some are out of their control as a way to induce character growth. This week’s two films look at what happens with a “Reset Button” at your disposal.

Groundhog DayGroundhog Day
Year: 1993
Rating: PG
Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours

What if you just had the worst day of your life, would you want to repeat it? I know most of us would answer with an emphatic, “No.” However, what if that day was a learning experience? Something that would change your life forever? Still “No”? OK, I’ll be the first to admit that reliving failures is not fun, but in the long run, they are good for personal development and growth. Now, the only reason anyone would subject themselves to a day repeated over and over again is probably because they are so oblivious to their faults that it takes a while for them to realize what needs to change. Of course, the flip side is that, if you find yourself trapped in a never-ending loop of February 2nds, you can do pretty much anything you want, since you don’t know if February 3rd even exists anymore.

Phil (Bill Murray) has a personality that often rubs others the wrong way. After being assigned the annual puff piece on Groundhog Day for the fourth year in a row, he’s pretty much had it. When he begrudgingly finishes the news segment and goes to bed, he figures he’s done with it. Until he wakes up and finds that he needs to do it all again because it’s still February 2nd. After the initial frustration, he tries to use the knowledge of the day to his advantage. When that fails, he becomes depressed and tries to exit the loop by suicide. After multiple successful deaths, he figures that doesn’t work either. Finally, he concludes that, if he’s trapped in that one day, he might as well use it to his advantage and do all the things he’s never had time real.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of TimePrince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Year: 2010
Rating: PG-13
Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours

The origins of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) are directly from the realm of video games. In 1989, Prince of Persia was released as a computer game which featured a multitude of somewhat gruesome deaths, all of which would reset your character to an earlier part of the level. With this standard video game structure, one could become very frustrated when trying to get past guillotines or spikes, while always dying at the same points and being forced to replay the level again. In the 2000s, the series was rebooted with “The Sands of Time” added, still maintaining the “Reset Button” dynamic. As a result of the entire series’ success and influence on video games, it was eventually turned into a movie in 2010, under the title of the millennial reboot.

In a realm often covered with sand, Persia can be unforgiving to anyone who would drop their guard for even a moment. As an adopted prince, Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) did his best to fit in with royalty, but could never shake his orphaned origins. This is why he is on the run after being accused of his adopted father’s death. However, two discoveries have changed his fate. One is meeting Tamina (Gemma Arterton), a princess who has noticed that Dastan now holds the second discovery: a dagger that can reverse the flow of time. While Dastan is on the run, he aims to prove his innocence and to uncover the real killer of his father. Fortunately, the mystical dagger filled with magical sand is the key to unraveling the mystery and restoring Dastan to his princely position.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2+ chances