Tag: back_to_the_future

Why time travel is impossible

If one were to extrude the space-time continuum along a fifth dimension, and define existence as the limit at infinity along this dimension, then any time travel would be unstable and would never persist until infinity. Whatever effect a future event had on the past would alter time to prevent the future even from ever taking place (this is along the extruded dimension so that is “possible” to alter time).

Even if the effect is only to displace a few electrons, it will change circumstances ever so slightly. As you proceed along the extruded dimension till infinity, circumstantial changes accumulate until at some point the effect of those changes changes future circumstances enough that the time travel doesn’t occur. At that point the discontinuity in space-time collapses.

This thought experiment demonstrates how there could be instabilities in existence. Even if you discount the fifth dimension, the fact remains that the time travel would have to have exactly the effect on the past that produces the circumstances that led to the time travel taking place. If even a small circumstance differs from that that time travel cannot exist. It would be like balancing a perfect ball on the tip of a perfectly sharp needle in a perfect gravitational field, and having it still be there at the end of time. If the ball is 1/googol off center, it’ll eventually topple.

So it is possible, though exceedingly unlikely, that time travel could occur. The possibility of a free will in the time loop is almost certain to be enough of a disturbance to prevent the time loop from ever happening.

While I’m on the subject, let me share a pet peeve about portrayal of time travel in movies. For the most part I can’t stand time travel in movies. With time travel there’s an inherent lack of drama (if at first you don’t succeed, you can just go back in time to prevent your own failure). Also, the logical effects of time travel don’t lend themselves to escalation or payoff. Moviemakers deal with these difficulties with artificial time travel rules. This allows dramatic tension and explains the effects of time travel, but such rules invariably cause logical inconsistencies.

Logical inconsistencies are not a deal breaker in and of themselves; there’s something called suspension of disbelief that moviemakers can expect to a degree from the audience. But when the movie tries to explain these articifial rules, it only creates more and more inconsistencies. The more it tries to exlpain the rules, the more inconsistent it gets, until the story is nothing but a confusing mess, and that pisses me off.

Therefore, here are my rules for creating a time travel movie that doesn’t suck:

  1. Keep dramatic devices to a minimum.
  2. Whenever a plot device is used to create dramatic tension, just use it. Don’t explain it; don’t talk about; and don’t address its logial flaws. Just state the rule and be done with it.
  3. Don’t explain, talk about, or even acknowledge any issues with time travel that aren’t necessary to create drama.

Here are some movies that handled time travel well.

Back to the Future

Back to the Future’s plot device was that Marty changed history, and if he didn’t change it back he’d disappear within the week. Lots of logical loose ends here. Why didn’t Marty disappear the instant he bumped into his dad? Why does it take week? Why does Marty go back to the “new” future? What happened to the Marty from the new future? Does Marty have memories of things that happened to the new Marty? If he doesn’t, maybe he slowly acquires them over a week? Does he also lose memories of the old future over the week? Etc. Etc. Etc.

The movie handles all these questions and logical loose ends perfectly: by ignoring them.

The Terminator

Another delightfully straightforward plot. The movie created dramatic tension by ignoring the fact that Kyle’s presense meant that Sarah Connor must have survived (otherwise who would have given him the picture so that he would volunteer to go back?). It also ignored the issue of what the robots expected to happen if the Terminator should succeed. Does history instantly change the moment they send it back, and if it doesn’t change it must have meant they failed?

These questions simply weren’t addressed, and it was the better for it.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

There was a pretty bad plot device (“the clock in San Dimas is always running”: Bill and Ted weren’t able for some reason to travel back in time to do their history report). That was actually too much tension; later in the movie they got around this rule by planning to go back in time after their report to hide things they’d need.

But that’s it: it was kept to a minimum. Bill and Ted never wondered why they had to deliver their report at a certain time according to their own watches (assuming Ted had managed to remember to wind it), or anything else like that.

Furthermore, no attention was paid to the effect on history. Drama over whether Napoleon got back to France wasn’t necessary; there was already enough of a story with their history report. So the movie wisely disregarded it altogether.

And now for some movies that didn’t do it well.

Back to the Future 2 and 3

These movies addressed (at some point) all those artificial rules the first movie ignored. And the result was, well, Back to the Future 2 and 3.

Terminator 2 and 3

These movies addressed (at some point) all those artificial rules the first movie ignored.

T2 was all right since it was a well done movie in many other ways. It must still be given credit for not raising the issue of where the technology came from. But things got out of hand enough to annoy me.

T3 it got way out of hand, and it was a big reason why it sucked so bad, but I suspect it would have sucked even without all that time travel loonieness.

Why movie scores these days annoy me

It seems to me that more and more directors (especially but not exclusively in high-budget blockbuster-type movies) are using the score to bully you into feeling a certain way, when they should be using the score enhance the mood that the picture and story give you.

For example, to force you to have a “grand” feeling, the director will choose music played by an orchestra, emphasizing the strong instruments (trumpets and timponis), playing fortissimo at a slow tempo and using lots of major fifths; on top of that he’ll crank the volume up to 11. It’s so loud and forceful that it pretty much makes anything happening on the screen irrelevant. The characters on the screen could be walking down a tunnel to certain death, sleeping, playing in the grass, or having sex, it doesn’t matter: you will feel grand because of the score.

You know what, I don’t need a fascist director using the score to shove emotion down my throat. You want me to feel a certain way? How about using the story to do that? Use the score to enhance the feeling, not create it.

One movie that really irked me was the recent Narnia film. Take the scene where Lucy finds herself in this magical, serene, snowy land for the first time. Now, if I were choosing the music for this scene, I’d have an empty-souding score using maybe piccolos and chimes, no percussion, and maybe with a violin playing something ominous silently. That would convey curiosity, wonder, serenity, and a bit of danger.

What did Narnia have? A bunch of trumpets playing fortissimo. Yeah, real serene. There was absolutely no reason for any sort of grand feeling at the point in the story. But guess what? That’s what the score conveyed: grandness. Guess what else? That’s how you actually felt because it was overbearing and it didn’t really matter that the picture and story conveyed something totally different.

Another thing: scores are way too cliche. Ever notice how every battle scene these days has a choir singing in 3/4 time? I mean, come on, do something original.

I confess I haven’t seen many high-budget blockbusters lately, but I do know that in the past not every blockbuster had obnoxious scores.

A good example I can think of is Back to the Future. That movie knew that not every scene needed a loud, obnoxious score; in fact, the little ring of the chimes when something weird happened was better than any orchestrated piece of music could have done. And where the score did get intense, it was enhancing the intensity of the story. You could turn the sound off and still feel the urgency as Michael J. Fox was rushing to catch the bolt of lightning. The score wasn’t creating the excitement.

Lots of successful high-budget movies in the past seemed to get by without fascist scores. Ghostbusters. It had music that was either ominous or light to set the mood, but nothing obnoxious.

Go back further. The Godfather. After Vito got shot, was there some orchestra wailing out a depression-filled dirge when we saw the family grieving? No! It wasn’t needed: the camera did more than enough there. The music was sad but not overbearingly sad.

Further still. Casablanca. The night after Ilsa came back, we see Rick upset and drinking. The music? It was just Sam playing If Time Goes By. If Casablanca were made today, it would be depressing wailing song with lots of violas and French horns.

So why does it seem like so many big movies these days have obnoxious scores? I don’t know, but I don’t like it.

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