13 September 2015


Matthew Jones and Joan Ormrod (Editors) Time Travel in Popular Media: Essays on Film, Television, Literature and Video Games. McFarland, 2015.

These essays explore the many ways the concept of time travel has been conceived, manipulated and used in a variety of media. These are broken down into five main sections that cover ‘Philosophy and Theory’, ‘Culture and History’, ‘Narrative and Media Forms’, ‘Tropes, Narratives and Generic Cycles’ and ‘Case Studies’.
As those section headings show, this first ever selection of essays to look at the use of time travel across a range of media, is mainly aimed at students and media professionals. Fortunately, there is also plenty of material for the more casual reader or science fiction fan.

Time travel allows authors to look back and forwards to comment on our own present-day state of affairs and how they might shape alternative future possibilities. H.G. Wells was one of the first to exploit this concept to look at our own ideologies and where they might lead in the future.

‘Remembering the Past for the Future’ by Dolly Jorgensen shows how fictional time travelers from Dr Who to the hero of Wells’ ‘Time Machine’ visit museums that reflect their own time period. In The Time Machine a museum encountered in 802701 AD looks impressive from the distance but inside it is layered in dust and neglected. It is a reflection of the type of museum existent in the late 19th Century, and evokes the feeling in the traveler that it it is a waste of labour as all knowledge disappears unless it has some practical value. In the 1960 film version the museum is turned into a library so that he learns from a book what happened to humanity and it shows that written knowledge is now extinct.

Michael Starr’s essay ‘I flung myself into futurity’ shows that H. G. Wells is such an important figure that he has been employed as a fictional character in other time travel stories. In this manner his persona is rejuvenated and reinvigorated ‘through the medium of literary criticism, countless references to his work in popular culture, cinematic and literary adaptions and remakes, board and video games, the intersection of fan culture with the Wells canon, ad infinitum’ according to Starr.

In our own era the likes of Terminator and the Back to the Future film series have shown the enduring nature of time travel themes and their ability to project and predict the consequences of our actions.

Here, Pete Falconer gives an overview of how cinematic images from old Western movies have been redeployed and referenced to evoke the past. This strategy is used in Back to the Future III where the characters travel back to that period, in terms of references to the Western genre rather than to a historical past. Such films breathe life into old and neglected genres, though as Falconer points out, ‘The association of the Western with age and the past...needs to be seen in conjunction with the implied superiority of the present.’

Every film or form of media manipulates time and is perceived at different times, it is a fluid interaction and consuming media is a form of time travel in itself, and lends itself to exploring the theme of time travel across media platforms to enhance audience understanding and enjoyment.

Time travel can often be a form of nostalgia, where we look back at a golden age. As Dario Llinares points out in his case study of Woody Allen films, they at first lovingly look backwards but go on to ‘interrogate the relationship between cinematic form and historical context’.

Some of these concepts can be applied to ufology, in that culture, history and philosophy also directs our perception of the subject and that the ‘character’ of the alien or the image of the UFO is like, H.G. Wells, pervasive across all forms of media and intersects with the ufological fan culture. -- Nigel Watson

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