For a movie with aliens but almost no action and no villain, Arrival manages to be engaging – this alone is no small feat. Stories that invent their own languages with a certain level of complexity tend to be exceptionally good, such as The Lord of the Rings and Star Trek, Arrival is no exception. The alien language in Arrival even forms a visual representation of the alien perspective of something important with no start and end. This brilliant idea, together with the emotional core and the emotional payoff at the end makes this movie successful. It will go down in history as one of the most important sci-fi dramas.
When two people never meet and you can feel their love, you’re watching a successful love story. When a successful love story is complemented by gorgeous scenes of country side and realistic modern city that look even better than the real thing, you’re watching a beautiful love story. When a beautiful love story also has sufficient humor, and comes with a suspenseful climax that involves a larger-than-life event, you’re watching an awesome love story. When an awesome love story combines traditional culture, mysticism and sci-fi elements, I can only think of one adjective: Perfect.
This is Your Name. / Kimi no Na wa. It starts with a boy and a girl switching bodies randomly when a comet is approaching.
Note: This movie reminds me of Il Mare (2000) and The Lake House (2006). I actually watched Lake House after this. While Lake House is a fine remake of Il Mare, their most important elements are already in this movie, I’ll say this movie is distinctly superior (even though this may not be a fair comparison).
SPOILER – Your Name. / Kimi no Na wa. Explained
The boy and the girl are on different timelines, with a difference of three years. When they switch bodies, they also travel back and forth in time unknowingly. (One of few things Il Mare / The Lake House did better is that the protagonists discover the time difference early on, whereas in this movie this is delayed in order to be presented as a twist – some people may find this to be very slightly unreasonable.)
He cannot see the comet because it approached three years ago in her timeline. When he tries to call her phone, she is not available to answer because she is already dead in his timeline.
When the girl goes to Tokyo, the boy does not recognize her because the boy does not begin body switching until three years later. After this shock, the girl cuts her hair.
After they finally meet in the magical twilight that transcends time, they forgot each other’s name because one must give up one’s most previous thing – their memories of each other – in order to return from twilight time.
Alice Through the Looking Glass (Blu-ray release 2016-10-18) tells the story of Alice traveling back in time to save Hatter’s family in order to save the dying Hatter. This sequel is badly reviewed and did not do well in the box office. My take is that this sequel is a sad movie and not funny, as compared to the 2010 predecessor, which was at least a little funny and somewhat entertaining.
This movie is sad because Alice and her mother are forced to sell their ship or risk losing their house, Hatter is dying instead of being funny (this task is now owned by the Time guy, who is just annoying), and kicks Alice out of his home, Alice goes back in time only to witness tragedies instead of being able to change the past, Hatter’s first hat was thrown into a rubbish bin by his father, and the good White Queen actually caused the Red Queen to become evil. For a supposedly-fun family movie, aren’t these sad?
信長協奏曲 (Nobunaga Concerto) – the 2014 live action TV drama series based on a manga, told the story of a high school student who time travelled to the past and ran into the historical figure Nobunaga. Intending to run away from pressures of his responsibilities, Nobunaga offered the protagonist to take his place, which is possible because they look exactly the same. The protagonist, thinking he is in a theme park entertainment show, gladly accepted.
I like the argumentative relationship between the protagonist and his wife, and it’s rather pleasant to watch the protagonist resolving every crisis by luck and/or (prior) kindness – in typical manga style. The narrative that explains why certain historical events occur are sometimes not clear, perhaps that would be too boring for the focus of this TV drama. My major problem with this show is that there are too many things that are logistically impossible, such as finding a disappeared person out of nowhere, or travelling a long distance to attempt to save somebody whose life is going to end in just a few seconds. The second problem is the history textbook that the protagonist brought with him is not even underutilized – it is not used at all.
Nobunaga Concerto The Movie (Blu-ray release 2016-7-20) continues from the end of the TV series. Right from the start the protagonist is told his life will end very soon, according to the history textbook. We finally see the ultimate villain carrying out his revenge. Even the real Nobunaga is convinced to murder the protagonist and take back his rightful place.
With more budget the battles in the movie are clearly better. It also properly wraps up the story without surprise. Although I find it interesting in the series about meeting other time travellers trying to make a living in this period, e.g. the wife’s father, in the movie this is used as a plot device to achieve something that is again logistically impossible. While I respect the movie for sticking to its own rule about the impact of time travel on history, it is somewhat unsatisfying and anticlimactic.
orange (Blu-ray release 2016-6-15) is a Japanese youth romance movie adapted from a manga. I watched it only because of its time travel aspect – the protagonist receives a letter from herself 10 years into the future. This premise is interesting because it is unusually seen in time travel movies. The letter foretells the events that will happen – she will fall in love with a transfer student, and asks her to avoid doing or not doing things that will cause her to have regrets in the future.
As a time travel movie, I’m slightly annoyed by the protagonist being too passive to avoid the predicted negative outcomes, even though I understand the story is made this way to create obstacles for the romance. Another thing really odd is that her future husband, being a good friend of the boy, is far too willing to give her up and goes through no struggle at all. Overall I find nothing noteworthy from all the potentially interesting aspects, and am disappointed.
Il Mare (2000) / The Lake House (2006), the Korean and the American remake of romance movie also based on the letter-from-the-future concept, are far better than this.
Synchronicity (Blu-ray release 2016-5-10) not only has time travel, but another sci-fi concept as well. Jim builds a time machine – one end of a worm hole – the experiment results in a Dahlia flower and the shadow of a man captured in video camera. Then he meets a mysterious woman Abby, who has the exact same Dahlia.
I want to love this movie, but I don’t. I’m fascinated by time travel, but not when the filmmakers deliberately withhold details that prevent a clear understanding of exactly what happened. Time travel is already potentially confusing on screen, so Back To The Future II (1989), or the more recent Predestination (2014), do many things perfectly right to make it clear. Besides the inherently interesting concepts of time travel and [the other sci-fi concept], there’s not much in the movie that is especially attractive. There is no fun or tension to speak of. Pacing is not good. Repetition of some scenes and dialogues get tedious, even though they may actually be slightly different.
[SPOILER – Synchronicity movie explained]
This explanation is inspired by Piotr’s comments in this article.
Abby’s novel is the truth, and the multiple timelines we see are actually parallel universes with minor differences.
Let’s call Jim from the first timeline as Jim-A. He travels through the wormhole to the second timeline, where Jim-B is known as Jim Prime in the movie. Jim-A tries to make an early second jump before Jim-B does first jump, but this jump is not successful, because the left/right label is no longer there for Matty to perform the procedure correctly. If this left/right label is erased by someone, this someone may be Jim-C: in another universe not shown in the movie, Jim-C successfully made the second jump to prevent Jim-A from making the second jump.
After failing to second jump, Jim-A travels to the far away hotel to prepare for death, but discovers the corpse of Jim-C, who successfully made the second jump so his remaining time of life was already used up. He goes back to the Grand Hotel and witnesses Abby having sex with Klaus in order to get the MRD to allow Jim-B to jump, hopefully saving Jim-A. Abby slips the book into Jim-B’s pocket, and goes back to the Grand Hotel but finds that Jim-A is already dead.
Jim-B (or yet another Jim from another timeline) reaches a different universe after jumping. In this universe the parallel of Jim is known as John Bane instead. Jim reads Abby’s book completely, and may have sabotaged the first experiment of John Bane and killed him. Without John, Jim can now survive, and he goes to meet Abby in the bar. Note that Abby has drawn a figure on a coaster that illustrates the multiple universes.
Charlotte is a 13-episode 2015 TV anime featuring a bunch of students who have different superpowers. The protagonist uses his power to cheat in school exams but is discovered by the student council from another school. He is asked to transfer and join this student council in order to protect other students with superpowers from being found and mistreated by scientists.
I like this subject. I also like the jokes in this anime. I watched it because it has time travel. There is something missing from the relationship between the protagonist and the female student council president though. Most importantly, the ending is dissatisfactory. It involves stupid decisions, instances of not using superpowers when they are especially needed, failing to employ time travel to get the best outcome, forgetting to help someone important when the timeline is reset. The ending episode is just a mess.
In Search of the Lost Future (Ushinawareta Mirai o Motomete) is an anime series (12 episodes + OVA) based on an adult visual novel. Several members of a high school astronomy club are joined by a mysterious girl who came out of nowhere. This girl hides her true purpose and strives to protect another girl, who is a childhood friend of and loves the protagonist.
This anime has a harem aspect but it is not the focus of the story. It has a little fanservice (more in the OVA), but no sex. Before the anime progresses to the main point, we see some club member activities, although generic I find them pleasant to watch, as compared to the first several episodes of Steins;Gate which I’m not too excited about.
When the truth and time travel is finally revealed, it is already near the end of the series, and is therefore resolved fairly quickly. I find it interesting that the characters seem to make the worst possible choices, making the goal impossible to reach. I think the ending is good and nearly sufficient, although some viewers are dissatisfied. Steins;Gate had far more time and complexity in its time travel though.
My only gripe about the series is that it never properly explains the origin of the black box, since it is a central part of its time travel. In the OVA it is revealed that the black box has existed a long time before the characters are born.
Recently a friend recommended Primer (2004) to me. Taken the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, this movie is the most complex time travel movie I’ve ever watched. It makes Back to the Future trilogy (which is still the greatest time travel movie series ever, period) like kindergarten material in terms of ease of understanding.
Four friends try to invent new electronic designs in a garage in their spare time, and hope to secure VC funding. Two of them accidentally created a time machine, and use it to travel back in time to make a few stock trades. Something goes wrong, then one of them tries to go back in time to stop their earlier selves. Noticing this, the other also goes back in time to stop him.
This is a really important time travel movie because of several unique characteristics:
- There are far more details on how the characters avoid running into themselves, than the average time travel movies
- When they do run into themselves, they do something that nobody else in other time travel movies do, challenging the the conventional time paradoxes we see in movies
- It raises the question of how mobile phones behave when two people with the same phone and the same SIM card exist, and uses it to affect the time travel plot
- The sheer complexity of two people each trying to change the past for more than one time, causing the existence of multiple timelines
- It introduces the notion of more than one oneself existing in the world forever, something that normal time travel movies do not do
This plot is so complicated that even after reading a web explanation I still cannot fully grasp all the details. In spite of its complexity, the filmmaker chose to include as little explanation as possible. For this reason this movie is not suitable for general audience. However, those who love time travel or love to be challenged should watch this.
This is a chart I found from google. See how complicated this thing is.
I decided to watch The Terminator (1984) again before watching Terminator Genisys. This turns out be more worthwhile than I initially thought, as it enables me to fully appreciate the remake of the original scenes in the new movie. This new movie reboots the franchise and changes what happened in 1984 by creating a different timeline. Basically, when Kyle Reese travels back in time to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor, the mother of the future leader that will lead the resistance against Skynet, she already knows everything, and had a Terminator that protects her against other terminators.
This change is fairly interesting since it creates a different setup. However, as the movie progresses the story becomes generic. While it is still a competent action movie, other than the new bad guy there is nothing new to see here. On this basis I like Terminator Salvation (2009) more, but unfortunately it is erased from both the original and the new timeline.
Note: There is an important extra scene during the credits.
P.S. The 1984 original explained that the time machine was destroyed after sending the terminator and Kyle. In this movie it is implied that it is not destroyed, and it also shows that the time machine can send more than one person at the same time. Why not send a team, or the whole army?!