People are strange

Alfred Hitchcock once famously predicted that in the future there would be no more need for movies: audiences would be hooked up to electrodes that would give people jolts of various emotions: suspense, fear, sadness, love. He was wrong. We just started making movies that replicated that process.

We see this most obviously in the big genre staples like action/adventure, thriller and horror. Many of which play like a piano-roll of random key notes with a few cardboard characters to make them seem as if they’re actually about human beings.

It’s an easy trap to fall into when making a slasher movie. But The Strangersis a noble attempt to avoid these pitfalls.

[I’m going to discuss the ending of this movie, so if you haven’t seen it yet…  SPOILERS AHOY!]

The Strangers is not a bad movie. It is, for almost its entirety, the best slasher film you’ve ever seen: wonderfully subtle, chillingly eerie and scary as fuck without resorting to too much ‘BOO!’

One of the problems with setting up a horror movie is that first act of maybe twenty minutes where you have to set up your victims and give them enough humanity so that we care about them surviving the ordeal ahead. If you don’t set them up strongly enough, we don’t care about them. But we want to get to the scary action stuff quickly.

You can go the Teaser route and show the killer in action somewhere else and then cut to the Ordinary World, so we’re waiting for the two to collide. It’s a good technique and it’s used almost universally.

But writer-director Bryan Bertino chooses a different tactic. He gives us an ordinary couple, Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman, but keeps us guessing as to what’s going on between them. They have returned from a wedding party to a remote country home. It appears to be his father’s place, not their own, but this is never explained. The beauty of the opening act is that there is no clumsy info dump to explain everything to us. It’s just this couple and some sort of problem between them that is never fully stated but appears to be a marriage proposal that has been rejected.  The subtlety of it is extraordinary. It’s almost arthouse.

Then comes a knock at the door. It’s a young woman, her face in shadow, asking for someone they don’t know. It’s creepy. She seems a bit weird. She goes. And then the horror begins.

There’s definitely a zeitgeist thing going on here that any Daily Mail reader will recognise. Much like the recent French film Ils (Them),   in which a middle class couple are besieged by intruders from the underclass, these speak to our elemental fear of our homes being terrorised.

I’m not a real aficionado of horror, but we all have a sixth sense for genre. We know at a very deep level what we expect to happen in a certain kind of movie – even if what we expect to happen is the unexpected.

Genres make a pact with the audience. You can bend them and play with them, but you betray them at your peril (or occasionally to bizarre success – but that’s another story).  But it’s clear that where a certain genre has to deliver most is in its ending.

And that’s the only place where this brilliant film falls down.

For the entire movie, this couple are stalked and terrorised by three masked strangers (it’s kind of creepier that two of them are women) in a series of subtle but very chilling set pieces. And all the time your mind is racing: why? Who are they? Do they know the couple? Is the masked man actually Scott Speedman exacting some terrible revenge on this bitch who’s just rejected his marriage proposal? What’s the answer?

But, of course, in the end, there is no answer. It’s utterly random. They are three Manson-esque killers who have chosen this couple to terrorise before driving off to find their next victims.

All of which is fine, except that’s not the ending we’re promised. And we’re not even sure if they have killed the couple at the end despite stabbing them both. Liv Tyler wakes up screaming when she’s discovered in the morning, and Scott Speedman definitely blinks (I’m sure I saw it).

So the credits roll and you sit there thinking ‘Wait. There must be more. There must be some cathartic clue to give me a sense that I’ve been watching a story and not just a sequence of random electrode-delivered scares.’

But the credits roll on and on forever, and the usher stands there waiting for you to leave so he can clean the place. And there is no final scene to give you some meaning.

It’s probably the whole point. But I wish it didn’t feel so much like it was made with a sneer. Because this film, but for its ending, had all the makings of a modern classic.

The turn of the screwball

There was a time when the word ‘screwball’ conjured up a plastic cone of cheap ice cream with a ball of chewing gum at the bottom.  Mine were served to me by Anita, the young woman who once got bollocked by our headmaster for exploiting us kids by parking her ice cream van at the school gates every lunch time. He didn’t know we wanted to be exploited by Anita… and that it was more about her hotpants and pigtails than her ice cream.

It was all there: the taste of the forbidden, incipient sexual attraction in denial and the chasm between, sprinkled with the hundreds and thousands of absurdity. I was an 11 year-old boy and Anita was a really old woman (possibly in her 20s!) – it was not to be.

It was only later, when I was as ancient as Anita, that I discovered a different kind of screwball: a bunch of romantic comedy satires mainly made in the 1930s. Films like His Girl Friday, Bringing Up Baby, The Awful Truth, Nothing Sacred, My Man Godfrey, The Shop Around The Corner and It Happened One Night.

These are ‘sex comedies without the sex’, of course, but they do several very specific things: they are always about a couple who sublimate loving for fighting, there’s always some kind of social barrier to them being together, they are always about a kooky, chaotic woman who destroys the well-ordered, logical world of an uptight man and makes him more human in the process. And the dialogue is always razor sharp, ultra-witty and delivered at high speed.

Screwball is often confused with romantic comedy, but the two are quite distinct. Screwball is a parody of romcom. Screwball characters fall in love, of course, but they don’t make a big deal out of it: no big speeches, no earnest entreaties, no passionate climaxes. They just admit they’re in love and carry on arguing. Screwball satiriseslove. (Maybe that’s why I’ve always liked it).

This is why When Harry Met Sally is a romcom, not a screwball. It dances around in Screwball’s shoes for a long time, but in the end it kicks them off and goes for the great big earnest climax (I love that film, but I hate that ending). As Wes D. Gehring puts it, ‘The screwball genre always accents the silly over the sentimental.’

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day tries damned hard to dance in Screwball’s shoes. Amy Adams takes her charmingly deluded princess character from Enchanted and turns it all the way up to 11 as Delysia Lafosse, an airhead socialite It Girl stringing three guys along and dreaming of making it big on the stage. Katherine Hepburn and Rosalind Russell would approve.  She is a scat-brained force of nature.

But whereas in a proper screwball, she would be the catalyst for change in others, in this film she is the one who needs to make a fateful decision: to choose true love over career advancement. Katherine Hepburn and Rosalind Russell would definitely not approve.

In fact, while Miss Pettigrew looks like a classic 30s Screwball comedy, it’s not really about a man and a woman fighting in love at all: it’s about two women coming together to change each other’s lives on a single fateful day.

The fact that it veers from the screwball template doesn’t mean it is somehow wrong, or an indication of bad screenwriting. It isn’t. Genres change and adapt and merge. I’m more interested in looking at how it differs from the classic screwball it appears to be at first glance in order to understand the process a bit more.

Blake Snyder‘s Story Types are useful here. All screwballs, along with all romcoms and a great many more genres fall into the Buddy Love story type. But Miss Pettigrew seems to be more of a Fool Triumphant story, with Frances McDormand playing the gauche outsider who accidentally finds herself in a highly superficial world and becomes its master through her natural talent for honesty.

By placing so much emphasis on this strand, the screwball element is diluted. Plus, Miss Pettigrew is anything but satirical about love, even though it likes to dress up in Screwball’s clothes.

This is most obvious in the show-stopping central duet, If I Didn’t Care. Ignoring the fact that no singer in 1939 would have sung it like that without being kicked out of the door and their performance seems to have somehow been beamed in from 20 or 30 years in the future,   this is the moment where the kookiness gives way to heartfelt emotion.

It seems that the only thing up for satire in this film is false love, not true love.

What I said last week about an audience’s need to feel certain emotions is relevant here.      Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day works because, despite all its uncertainty with genre and its atrocious  anachronistic murdering of the music I love, it delivers emotions that an audience wants to feel.

Would it be over-stating things to draw parallels between its Depression-era rags to riches tale of hope and the Credit Crunched market in which it finds itself?

Maybe not.

It’s definitely no Screwball, but it’s fun, sweet and  a pleasant enough diversion.   A bit like the ones Anita used to serve up.

Once more with feeling…

It was the sleeper hit of 2007. The little movie that could. The ultra-low budget verite romance about a busker and an immigrant falling in love and making sweet music together. It was shot on the streets of Dublin for $120k and made $9.7 million worldwide, got into every film critic’s Top Ten list, wowed them at Sundance, and pocketed an Oscar for Best Song. Everything about this movie screams massive success. So why do so many people come away from it feeling so frustrated?

[This article discusses the ending of the movie. If you haven’t watched it and don’t want it spoiled, it’s time to stop reading. Come back when you’ve seen it.]

I tried to see Onceat the Edinburgh Film Festival last year, but only just missed out on its screening. Everyone was talking about it, though. I then went and missed it at the cinema too. Maybe I blinked. It came and went at my local multiplex with the unseemly haste of an absolute stinker, which took me by surprise. I’d never seen a bad review of it, but it looked like it had been pulled because no one was bothering    to turn up for it in its first week. What was going on?

It may seem churlish to pick fault with a movie that has made such a massive profit, but when you look at its placing in the worldwide box office and compare it to the movies around it, you start to wonder why it did so badly.

Once sits in roughly the same company as In The Valley of Elah, Rendition and Oncehas exactly the same appeal.

This doesn’t make sense. We’re talking about the feelgood film of the year. Just look at the trailer:

How could you not be beguiled by that?

Well, perhaps the answer is in how the film ends. And here’s the big spoiler: they don’t get together in the end.

Say what? Are you fucking kidding me?

Yep. Straight up. Even though the script has gone to great pains to set up  how inappropriate their other options are for them (he’s still hurting from his ex who went and ‘screwed some other guy’     and she has a husband back home who is too old and has no emotional connection with her), even though she actually tells him ‘I love you’ at one point (in Czech, untranslated and not subtitled), even though we know deep down that these two people, despite their own fears, are perfect for each other… it ends with her husband coming over to live with her, and our wussbag hero buying her the piano she longs for with all his money as he fucks off to London with a smug smile on his fizzog to go and get that old girlfriend back.

Glen Hansard is on record as saying he wouldn’t have spent so much time promoting the movie if they’d had a happy ending forced on them (see good old Wikipedia), and it’s a view supported by the movie critics and a vocal minority of fans. But this is just cutting off  box office nose to spite Hollywood face. It’s what every arthouse film bore bleats about all the time: happy endings aren’t real life; they are just Hollywood bullshit.

Apparently, in the real world, people don’t fall in love and make a commitment to be together even though it flies in the face of all their other irritating responsibilities. It just never happens!

(Right now I’m picturing that rant by Robert McKee in the film Adaptationabout things that happen every fucking day in the real fucking world, and I hope you are too.)

The fact is, you can’t set up a love story like that and then deny the audience the ending you’ve set up for them because you have some ridiculously misguided notion about what doesn’t happen in the real world (actually , you can, and you can even get an Oscar for it, but audiences aren’t fooled by that shit).

What’s happening here is genre betrayal: starting to tell one kind of story, then screwing the audience over with a resolution that bears no relation to it. It’s nothing to do with real life. It’s just bad storytelling.

Onceis a love story till right at the end, when it mugs us with an outbreak of common sense that betrays everything we’ve felt about these characters. And it’s pretty clear that word of mouth got round that the ‘feelgood hit of the year’ may have made movie critics feel good about themselves but wasn’t so feelgood for the rest of us.

The only reason I feel angry about it is because Once is a good film.   I like the two central characters; I love how they can only reveal their true feelings through the songs they sing together; I love the raw power of those songs (the first time they sing Falling Slowly together and the recording of  When Your Mind’s Made Upare absolutely electric moments); I love them so much I feel betrayed by the totally false resolution imposed on them.

It’s not big and it’s not clever.     And, for once, I’m actually welcoming the Hollywood remake.

The geek shall inherit the earth

You know what it’s like with those spam emails. They’re always too good to be true, offering  sure-fire stock tips, extra inches without surgery and really cheap Viagra  (that never arrives). At best you get annoying pop-ups; at worst a dead laptop. You don’t expect them to turn you into an spy.

But that’s what happens to computer geek Chuck Bartowski when he opens an e-mail from   an old college friend now working in (and dying for) the CIA, and it embeds the only remaining copy of the   world’s greatest spy secrets into his brain.

Damn. Doesn’t Norton Anti-Virus cover that?

Action-comedy Chuck launches in the UK this week on Virgin1, which has already brought us the excellent Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles, and so is now a favourite stop on my remote.

One thing that kept gnawing at me was where I’d seen the lead actor before. Took ages to work out it’s Zachary Levi, who played acid-tongued metrosexual Kipp Steadman in Less Than Perfect. This threw me for a while, but I’m over it and no longer expect him to dispense bitchy put-downs to anyone within clawing range. Chuck Bartowski is a different animal altogether: a loveable loser trying to get his life back on track.

He is ably assisted by Oz-babe Yvonne Strahovski, who plays Chuck’s CIA handler/pretend girlfriend, who might have deeper feelings for him… or might have to kill him (but that’s pretend girlfriends for you).

Chuck rides in on a wave of slacker comedies, competing with Reaper (currently showing on E4) and jPod (already cancelled).  What I find interesting about them is not that they are glorified sitcoms about slackers, but how they transcend the slacker premise.

If these were  UK series, it’s highly likely that the concept would extend no further than a bunch of slackers work in a   computer store (Chuck), a bunch of slackers work in a DIY store (Reaper), and a bunch of slackers work for a new media company (jPod).

But in America, where they do these things properly, Chuck is slacker working in a computer store becomes an accidental spy, and Reaper is slacker working in a DIY store discovers his parents sold his soul to the devil and he now has to capture escaped souls and send them back to Hell on behalf of his new demonic boss.

You can see how going that  extra High Concept yard can pay off. Perhaps this is why jPod got cancelled: it doesn’t have anything other than its basic situation to play with and a bunch of quirky characters you don’t really care about.

Having watched the first few episodes of Chuck, I’m finding  it a charming piece of escapist fun and I’m firmly along for the ride, so it’s good to know it’s already been picked up for a second season.

Okay, I admit it, I wanted to be a spy when I grew up.

The Greatest Time Travel Stories

We all have those genres  in which we’ll watch anything just because it’s that genre, and my particular generic addiction is time travel stories, of which there are some great movies and novels and some utterly cheesy ones. I don’t care. I consume them all like a crackhead, even when they fail miserably.

Touchstone-season-1-BOX-SET-copy-500My obsession with this genre led me to writing my own time travel fiction series, Touchstone, so to research the genre I’ve watched a lot of old movies and delved into a great many novels, just to see how other writers handle it.

So here’s my list of favourites.

Andy’s Anachronisms (nothing to do with me) is an interesting site that attempts to categorise the different types of time travel story, so I’ll use his labels (even though some of the stories are very slippery and could belong in more than one).

Standard Time Travel   (where characters are transported into the future/past instantaneously)

The Time Tunnel (1966-7)
No one who grew up watching TV in the 70s can forget this Irwin Allen produced drama in which two  scientists who look like catalogue models are ‘lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages’ when Project Tic-Toc  goes terribly wrong… which means they end up in history’s most exciting places just before imminent disaster: the Titanic, the Alamo, Krakatoa, Pearl Harbour, Little Bighorn… you get the idea. [ Titles + Trailer ]

Timeslip (1970)
I also grew up on this children’s TV series from the 70s, with its bewildering criss-crossing between past, present and future via a force field in an abandoned military base. I watched it all again on DVD recently and it hasn’t aged well, but its concepts were years ahead of its time (longevity drugs, global warming, cloning) and I can still remember the terror I felt when that woman in the ice station prematurely aged.

Time and Again (1970)
Jack Finney’s novel has a disillusioned illustrator recruited for a secret government project training subjects to hypnotise themselves into the past. Si Morley starts to successfully visit 1882 New York and becomes involved in a squalid blackmail plot and the Great Park Row Fire. The wealth of detail is overwhelming and sometimes too much, but it’s gripping and the illustrations are a nice, if unusual, touch.

Time After Time (1979)
HG Wells (Malcolm McDowell) has built a real working time machine in his cellar and is about to demonstrate it when Jack the Ripper, one of his dinner guests, uses it to escape the police. If only my dinner parties were that exciting. Thinking he’s unleashed a monster on ‘utopia’, Wells travels to 1979 New York in order to track  down the Whitechapel murderer… and fall in love with Mary Steenburgen in the process. Who wouldn’t? She’s gorgeous!

Somewhere in Time (1980)
There are so many reasons to hate this: I’m not a Christopher Reeve fan, I hate everything Jane Seymour’s ever been in, and it’s absolutely corny and should be a disaster on so many levels. But it works and it’s beautiful. Reeve is convincing as the playwright willing himself back in time to romance the actress whose aged self urged him to ‘Come back to me’. And Jane Seymour gives the performance of her life without ever once acting. Her face is glacial and we’re as hynotised by it as Reeve is.

The Black and Blue Lamp (1988)
A single drama by Arthur Ellis that I caught one night on BBC2, not expecting much, and after an hour thought I’d seen the best black comedy in TV history. Tom Riley, the villain who murders PC George Dixon in classic 40s film The Blue Lamp, is arrested and, due to some unexplained temporal error, ends up in an episode of The Filth, a gritty 1990s cop show. At the same time the 1990s Riley, a foul-mouthed modern killer, ends up in the 1940s police cell being offered a cup of tea and a bun. What ensues is comedy genius. You can’t get it on DVD or VHS so it only exists as part of a Listener review and a lengthy article from the Illustrated Gazette.

Goodnight Sweetheart (1993-9)
Marks and Gran’s time travel bigamist sitcom, in which Nicholas Lyndhurst discovers a portal back to wartime London and flits between then and 90s Britain, was always hugely popular but critically underrated. Its 58 episodes were endlessly inventive and pushed the boundaries of the genre (there was even a multiple selves outbreak at one point) but were always funny.
Gary: My wives exist in different temporal aspects of a four-dimensional space-time continuum.
Ron: Typical bigamist’s excuse.

The Terminator (1984 – 2003)
A killer robot from the future is sent back to murder the mother of our future rebel leader. The first movie is faultless. The second made it look amateurish. The third and fourth parts remain entertaining as long as they keep John Connor’s emotions to the fore, but were largely outclassed by the brilliant TV series: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Utterly brilliant on every level.

Back to the Future (1985 – 1990)
It’s impossible to talk about time travel movies without mentioning this trilogy, even though it doesn’t excite me like most others. But it’s fun and clever and the second one is far and away the best, whatever anyone says, purely because it  stretches the imagination so much and involves Marty going back in time to avoid himself going back in time from the previous movie.

12 Monkeys (1995)
It’s fashionable to slag this off and I have no idea why. Bruce Willis is great as the future convict sent back to gather information on the virus that wiped out humanity. Right from the start there is no hope of anything ever being changed for the better and the denouement plays out with a terrible inevitability.
[ Trailer ]

Deja Vu (2006)
A nice twist on the genre as boffins devise an Einstein-Rosen bridge that can view anything in New Orleans precisely four days and six hours ago, and draft in ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) to prevent a terrorist attack. Naturally, he falls in love with the dead girl he’s tracking and, naturally, sends himself back in time to rescue her. The sequence where he drives through daylight streets chasing the suspect who’s driving home at night four days ago has got to be the most mind-bending car chase ever filmed. [ Trailer ]

Life on Mars (2006 – 2007)
Rejected by almost every drama commissioning editor in British TV over a nine year period and an instant hit once it aired, this time-travel-meets-police-procedural genre mash-up got it so right. British drama is afraid of sci-fi. British drama is afraid of high-concept. But this story of a modern by-the-book policeman who is suddenly transported to 1973 and the squad of a tough, rule-bending, old school copper managed to be everything that its more left field ‘serious’ competition aspired to be: gritty, moving and relevant.

PAH (Personal Alternate History) 

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
The grandaddy of all PAH adventures. Anyone who dismisses this as sentimental goo clearly has never bothered to watch the Pottersville sequence, where the dark heart of America is laid bare and George Bailey sees how catastrophic a world in which he’d never been born really is. And if you don’t care about Zuzu’s petals, your life has no meaning.

Sliding Doors (1998)
Gwyneth Paltrow’s life takes two radically different paths based on whether she does or doesn’t catch her tube and get home early to discover her boyfriend sin bed with another woman.   It’s rare to find a British movie that’s this confident with genre, particularly a double genre hybrid like this, and it’s a great script by Peter Howitt that resolves both alternate realities with a neat twist.

Run Lola Run (1998)
The three alternate realities don’t quite make sense if you look closely, as the distractions and obstacles on Lola’s runs don’t actually seem to affect things, but it’s hard not to love the sheer energy of a film that  delivered a defibrillating shock of energy to a German cinema that had flatlined years before.

The Butterfly Effect (2004)
Or ‘Dude. Where’s My Arms?’ as I  prefer to call it. Ashton Kutcher finds that his adolescent journals propel him back in time to his childhood blackouts (if only teenage diaries were really that useful), where he tries to fix the effects of his meddling, each time with some disastrous result for him or his friends. The ‘Manhattan’ ending (rather than the alternate ’embryo’ ending) is a piece of poetry.

A Life Interrupted, from The 4400 season 2   (2005)
This little known TV series about returned alien abductees with special powers was blown out of the water by the first season of Heroes, but carried on for four quietly impressive seasons like the little engine that could. In this Emmy-worthy episode, written by Ira Steven Behr, NTAC investigator Tom wakes up to a world where the 4400 never happened, his troubled son is happy and he’s also married to a rocket-fit Italian chick called Alana. As personal alternate histories go, he’s landed a beaut. It takes him eight years to find out how to get back to his old crappy life. But wouldn’t you just stay?

Rip Van Winkel  (a person frozen in time awakes to find themself in the future)

In truth, this particular sub-genre doesn’t really interest me. Idiocracy  (2006) was a recent example, and a decent comedy, and we have Enchanted in cinemas this Xmas, but they don’t really possess the same emotional power as the other examples.

Alternate Universe (multiple universes or multiple selves from parallel worlds)

The Man Who Folded Himself (1973)
There aren’t many of these around, but this novel by David Gerrold, although it starts off with the most crass of premises (a time travelling belt?), evolves into a bewildering meditation on time and identity as Daniel’s increasingly narcissistic selves multiply and cross-cut. Sex with yourself? How about an orgy? Don’t tell me you wouldn’t as well.

Fatherland (1992)
Robert Harris’s bestselling thriller wonders what 1964 Berlin would look like if Hitler had won the war. But it’s not merely skillful alternate universe-rendering, as impressive as that is here; it’s a tense thriller about Xavier March, a low level detective investigating the death of a high-ranking war hero (or old nazi in our world) and a political scandal that concerns Nazi officials who attended a meeting at Wannsee in 1942. What could have been on the agenda?

Temporal Phenomenom  (anomolies such as time loops and other storytelling devices that involve some manipulation of time)

This is the most interesting area of time travel drama for me. These tend to concern individuals who experience timeslips. It’s obvious that the whole idea of involuntary time travel as some kind of medical abnormality (Chrono-Displacement, if you will) is fast becoming a modern preoccupation.

Time and the Conways (1937)
One of several stage plays by JB Priestley that explored his fascination with  theories of time (An Inspector Calls is the most famous).  This play explores JW Dunne‘s theory of simultaneous time, and concerns the bitter future awaiting the Conway family, as glimpsed in premonition by the heroine Kay during a fateful birthday party. There was a BBC adaptation in 1985 but it has never been released on DVD.

Replay (1987)
In this novel by Ken Grimwood, Jeff Winston dies of a heart attack and finds himself catapulted back into his teenage body with all his adult memories intact, to live his life again with the ability to avoid all his previous mistakes. Each ‘replay’ manages to be engrossing in its own way, but he re-emerges into life always at a later date than before (so his lives are getting worryingly shorter), until the novel’s mid-point, when he discovers a woman who is experiencing the exact same phenomenon. They become lovers desperately trying to find each other through the years, both aware, ironically, that time is running out for them. A cult classic that transcends the genre. Beautiful.

Groundhog Day (1993)
Bill Murray’s finest hour as the cynical TV reporter who finds himself reliving the same day over and over again. The premise is fantastic and deftly handled, and it’s so right that no explanation for the time glitch is given. A great comedy that raises profound philosophical questions, which is what Hollywood is supposed to be incapable of. The script is so  good even Andie McDowall can’t ruin it.

12.01 (1993)
A TV movie that came out the same year as Groundhog Day and disappeared without a trace. There are many similarities, even though the cause of the time loop is explained rationally. It’s not quite as genius as Groundhog Day, but it’s charming and funny and even moving in places. Criminally underrated.

The Fermata (1994)
Nicholson Baker’s sci-fi-meets-posh-porn novel is about a lowly office temp, Arno Strine, who has the ability to stop time with a click of his fingers, during which pause (or fermata) he can get work done or, more often, remove women’s underwear and write lengthy pieces of erotica for them. His descriptions of life in the ‘Fold’ are beautifully tender.

The Time-Traveler’s Wife (2004)
Published 17 years after Replay and very similar in tone, if not  form, Audrey Niffenegger’s novel hit the best sellers list in 2004. An unconventional love story about a Chicago librarian with a genetic disorder (Chrono-Displacement) that causes him to time travel when he is stressed. This one crossed over because it’s just as much romance as it is sci-fi. [see my article on the film and the Tragic Love Story genre].

The Lake House (2006)
Adapted from the South Korean film, Il Mare (2000), this is a mindbender with a heart, as the chronologically-crossed lovers romance each other through a gap of two years by way of letters left in a shared mail box. Sandra Bullock invests the film with an overwhelming air of melancholy with a career best performance and David Auburn’s script is a Gordian knot of near misses and half chances. It really is quite special.

Blink (2007)
Ironic that the Greatest Dr Who Episode Ever hardly features the titular time traveller. Steven Moffat’s ‘Dr lite’ episode is all about creepy ‘quantum locked’ statues that feed off our energy and can catapult us back in time with a touch. Moffat plays the time travel game like an expert and there are some head spinning moebius strip moments, not least of which is the superb DVD easter eggs contrivance. A modern masterpiece and the best thing on UK telly all year. Just don’t blink. Ever.

Journeyman (2007)
Yet another example of Chrono-Displacement. Kevin McKidd stars as a journalist in San Francisco who finds himself flung back to earlier parts of his life (luckily, he can arrive wearing his clothes and any objects he has about his person, unlike Henry in The Time-Traveler’s Wife who has to go naked and minus the fillings in his teeth). His jaunts seem to centre around a person he needs to help, Quantum Leap style, so they aren’t merely random. This promising series was dropped by NBC after 13 episodes despite a fan campaign to save it. They haven’t even put it out on DVD, although it is available to view on Hulu.  See my longer review here… [ Trailer ]

For an exhaustive listing of time travel movies and TV shows, have a look at The Big List.

And if you’ve enjoyed this look at all things time travel, check out my Touchstone time travel saga.

The first book – Touchstone (1. The Sins of the Fathers) is available free in ebook. In the first part, Touchstone (1. The Sins of the Fathers) , a pair of mismatched History students, Rachel and Danny, find themselves catapulted back to 1912 Birmingham and become involved in a dangerous mission to prevent the murder of teenage girl, Amy Parker. They quickly discover that their city’s dark past is a gritty world of real danger where every action has an unforeseen consequence that can ripple through generations.