7 Stupid Movie Time Travel Mistakes

Temporal anomalies and other tosh…

Sci-fi movies and fantasies like Land Of The Lost love to indulge in trips across time – back, forwards, sideways, whatever.

But usually the journeys throw up no end of troubling questions and scientific inaccuracies (and no, we’re not including “time travel’s not possible" – this is fiction, folks).

So – with the help of quotes from famed relativity expert Albert Einstein, who watched the movies through totalfilm.com's special movie wormhole – we decided to look at some of the sillier examples of time-slip slip-ups  from movies in the past/present/future. Whatever...



The Movie: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

The Time Travel Scenario: Kirk, Spock and the rest of the gang (back when they were still being played by the likes of The Shat and Leonard Nimoy) must SAVE THE WHOLE WORLD when an alien probe, distressed at not finding any whales to sing with – don’t ask – starts to destroy Earth.

So what do they do? In their rickety Klingon Bird Of Prey, they employ an old Trek trick and slingshot around the sun, which, we’re told, handily sends you back in time.

In modern day (well, 1986) San Francisco, they locate a likely pair of whales, pick up a comely marine biologist with big '80s hair and slingshot home after scaring the living crapmeat out of some nasty whalers trying to hunt the beasts in the wild.

The Problem: Though everyone in Starfleet Academy is warned about not disrupting the flow of time, the crew tinkers like toddlers with Lego.

No only do they leave both a communicator and phaser in the hands of the military (we’d like to credit them with the iPod and blame them for Johnny 5), but they make an elderly woman grow a new kidney with a pill and snatch a young woman out of time.

Granted, they didn’t mean to take Dr Gillian Taylor, the Whale expert (she jumps Kirk as he’s beaming up) but they could’ve easily ditched her before flying back to the 23rd century.

Albert Einstein Says: “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”

In Other Words: Be more bloody careful!

Next: A Sound Of Thunder


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The Movie:A Sound Of Thunder (2005)

The Time Travel Scenario:
Ben Kingsley’s businessman has made a mint by offering trips back through time to hunt the biggest game going – dinosaurs!

For a hefty fee, Scientist Ed Burns will lead your party back 65 million years, where you’ll be able to shoot already-doomed terrible lizards with frozen nitrogen bullets that melt away leaving nothing to disrupt the timeline.

But something goes terribly awry on one such trip: they’re charged by an Allosaurus and Burns’ gun fails. In their panic, one of the party steps off the special path created by the wormhole and kills a butterfly.

Soon, time is shifting in waves, massive creatures are invading the present day and mankind itself could be changed! Oh no!

The Problem:
Aside from the glaring error that the Allosaurus lived 145 million years ago (way to offer value for money, Sir Ben), the big problem is that evolution and time really don’t work that way.

There wouldn’t be great waves of time sweeping across changing everything one element at a time – just look at when they restore matters: everything blinks back into place perfectly.

Also, since each dinosaur that’s hunted is close to death anyway (the one they’re after at the start is about to perish thanks to an exploding volcano) wouldn’t the butterfly get caught too? Ruuuuubbish!

Albert Einstein Says: “God does not play dice.”

In Other Words: Stay away from sci-fi films featuring A) Ben Kingsley and B) Ed Burns.

Next: Back To The Future


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The Movie:Back To The Future (1985)

The Time Travel Scenario:
Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) is transported back to 1955 in a Delorean that his friend Emmett “Doc” Brown (Christopher Lloyd) has converted into a chronology-spanning machine.

Back in the past, Marty decides to see what his parents were like as teens – and in the process, disrupts his family’s timeline, represented by a photograph of him and his siblings.

If Marty can’t get his folks together, he’ll vanish from existence! Look out – he’s already fading…

The Problem:
It’s based on some very old, very dodgy ways of thinking about time travel physics.

We’ll let science mag Discover take this one: "When Marty McFly changes the past, the future 'instantaneously' changes.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean? Time measures the temporal interval between different events in space-time, and can be quantified by clocks.

"There is no set of clocks outside the universe, with respect to which you can go muck around in the past and have effects propagate into the future 'at the same time.'

"Likewise, your brain is not going to change to remember things differently, nor will any other record-keeping device such as diaries or photographs or embarrassing sex tapes. Sorry about that."

Albert Einstein Says: “If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts.”

In Other Words: if your film is good enough, people won’t mind if you cheat a little.

Next: Timecop


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The Movie: Timecop (1994)

The Time Travel Scenario: 
With time travel now possible, the government decides to place restrictions on how and why it can be used, primarily to prevent people from going back in time and getting rich/indulging in other nefarious deeds.

Naturally, some (mostly US government types) decide to do exactly that, which is when Time Enforcement Agent Max Walker (Jean-Claude Van Damme) discovers a conspiracy swirling around a senator (the brilliantly evil Ron Silver).

When Walker eventually confronts Senator McComb, a big battle ensues and, since the movie hinges on one big “rule” of time travel – that two versions of the same matter cannot exist in the same space – Walker ends up chucking one version of McComb from the future with his past self and the two implode into a puddle of blood, which then vanishes.

Saves on the cleaning bills, we guess.

The Problem: The whole “identical matter cannot share the same space” idea is shaky to begin with, but here’s the real kicker: McComb is not quite the “same” matter.

Sure he’s the same person, but one of the men is from 10 years ago. During 10 years, the human body switches out its essential matter many times as everything down to follicles is replaced.

All that would likely happen is the two McCombs would bounce off each other and Van Damme would look foolish.

Maybe he could kick them both hard enough so that they’d explode?

Albert Einstein Says: “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”

In Other Words: Based on this and A Sound Of Thunder, people should really stop letting director Peter Hyams anywhere near time travel films.
 

Next: Kate & Leopold


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The Movie: Kate & Leopold (2001)

The Time Travel Scenario:
This centuries-hopping romantic trifle sees Hugh Jackman’s 19th century gentleman travel forward in time to meet Meg Ryan’s sassy Noo Yoiker.

Apparently, there’s a patch on the Brooklyn Bridge where the boundaries between time periods are weaker and people can cross between.

Usually the only displacement that happens on the bridge is when time appears to crawl to a halt in traffic jams.

Still, our hero adapts manfully to this confusing modern time, even recognising the "talking telegraph" (or telephone as we knew it in 2001, before the iPhone arrived) that he saw at a fair “last year”.

The Problem: Um, Leopold is from April 1876.

The first public display of the “talking telegraph” happened in MAY 1876, at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. WE THINK YOU'LL FIND!

And seeing it “last year” is even more of a feat since Alexander Graham Bell only submitted his patent in EARLY 1876.

Maybe Leo’s been time travelling more than he lets on? Or maybe the writers needed to do a little more research and spend less time crafting witty/rubbish dialogue for Meg ‘n’ Hugh.

Albert Einstein Says:
“It should be possible to explain the laws of physics to a barmaid.”

In Other Words: Time travel shouldn’t feature silly goofs, even in light-hearted rom coms.

Next: The Terminator


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The Movie: The Terminator (1984)

The Time Travel Scenario: In an attempt to destroy any human resistance, the computer known as Skynet sends a killer cyborg, who happens to look exactly like an Austrian bodybuilder, back in time.

His mission? To kill Sarah Connor, who will one day give birth to John Connor, leader of the human resistance and eventual victor over the machines.

To try and thwart the technological terrorist, Connor sends Kyle Reese back to protect Connor and, without knowing it, help create him in the first place – since Reese ends up falling for, and having a quick one with Sarah, conceiving John.

The Problem: For all of its strengths, Cameron’s first time in the Terminator universe falls prey to the Grandfather Paradox: to whit, if you go back in time and kill your own grandfather, you cease to exist, so how can you go back in time?

Terminator’s is trickier – the machines want to kill Connor, but if they do so, there’s no Connor to take out and no reason for the machines to send anything back in time.

And why not just send lots of machines back to kill Sarah Connor’s dad, thereby upping the chances that no one is ready to deal with the heavily armed machines?

And… And… We could go on, but that way lies paradoxes and headaches.

Of course, Cameron’s theory works if you consider the parallel outcome idea, which says that alternate timelines are created every time an event happens, but we’re not letting him off so lightly.

Albert Einstein Says:
“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.”

In Other Words: Try not to think too deeply about it. Or you’ll need aspirin.

Next: Idiocracy

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The Movie: Idiocracy (2006)

The Time Travel Scenario:
Private Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson), categorised by his army superiors as the “ultimate average American” is selected to test a cryogenics program.

But while he’s only supposed to be frozen for a year, events conspire to leave him trapped for 500 years. When he awakens, he’s the smartest man alive, thanks to years of dwindling intelligence among the American population.

To get back, he discovers there’s a time machine at the local Costco, thanks to his lawyer, Frito (Dax Shepherd), who agrees to help find it when Joe promises to open an account in the past for him, and make him a billionaire.

Because, as Frito says, “I like money.”

The Problem: It’s an amusement ride. Charlie Chaplin is depicted as the leader of the Nazi party, dinosaurs battle man and the UN is shown as UN-Nazi-ing the world.

We told you it was stupid – the whole world is stupid at this point!

Albert Einstein Says: “Everything should be as simple as it is, but not simpler.”

In Other Words: One day, a movie called Ass, a single shot of a backside, occasionally farting, will win Best Screenplay at the Oscars.

Best work on that time machine now, to make sure this never happens…

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Comments

    • Desperation

      Jul 10th 2009, 10:21

      " (we’d like to credit them with the iPod and blame them for Johnny 5), " I'm sorry, you appear to have got these the wrong way round.

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    • sowasred2012

      Jul 10th 2009, 13:58

      I always refer back to the parallel outcome idea in time travel movies these days - it's the only way to stay sane. Kudos to Terminator Salvation for running with the idea that they could be in an alternate timeline now, but I have a big problem with some of it's internal logic - (SPOILERS, kinda) as the movie opens Connor is freaking out cos he's discovered Skynet has started R&D on the T-800 model, yet Marcus, a guy who signed his body over to Cyberdyne upon his execution FIFTEEN YEARS ago, displays way more advanced tech then we've seen in previous terminators. Why put R&D into a model that can be beat by a unit you created 15 years ago? I was almost expecting this to be addressed, or at least hinted at, in the movie with some sort of time travel explanation - but I saw nada. Unless you count the stunt casting of Helena Bonham Carter, and the extra notice she makes you pay to that opening scene might suggest that story will be told in a sequel, but I'm not confident that's the case.

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    • chriskilmartin

      Jul 10th 2009, 14:03

      agreed

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    • WayneCha

      Aug 17th 2011, 8:04

      I'm not sure what you were getting at with "Back to the Future," but my problem with the film is that Marty and his siblings start to fade out in the photo towards the end when it would make more sense if the photo itself started to vanish instead. Why would anyone take a pic of nothing, right? Still, it's a ridiculously entertaining flick regardless.

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    • justjenn

      Jul 9th 2014, 21:17

      Marty's guitar doesn't fit the year either... The 335 he's playing would be at earliest a 1958. LOVE those movies though!!

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