Sci-fi modes of transportation in TV and film
By Amelia Blevins
Did you ever wonder if that guy staring at you on the street was from the future? Or maybe you’re wondering if he’s even real—possibly a figment of your imagination or part of a plot against humanity? Or maybe you just think I’m weird for even asking these questions.
Since the birth of film, Hollywood has opened up the world to the ever-expanding possibility for alternative means of traversing the world around us beyond the forward-moving linear path with which we are so mundanely familiar.
When moving through space and time, we want to travel in style, and film—with a dash of imagination and fudged science—has given us some classy means of transportation. One of the earliest vehicles designed to hop across time, the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space), was crafted in 1963 in the long-running, beloved British sci-fi television drama Doctor Who. While on the outside it appears to be an ordinary, unassuming blue police box (for everyone going huh, police what? think classic London phone booth, but blue), on the inside it’s deceived us all and is really quite roomy. With the use of Time Lord technology, in which things are a hell of a lot bigger than they look on the outside, the TARDIS can practically be its own world on the inside. Seriously, it has living quarters, two control rooms (time travel is difficult shit), an art gallery (those Brits stay classy), greenhouse (the essence of sustainability, man), a bathroom (need I say more?) and even a swimming pool (I got nothin’). So spanning time and space with class is the way to go.
It’s a little ironic, looking back to the ‘60s to see such a high tech, enviable piece of equipment that remains unattainable today. If only dorm rooms worked this way. I’d appreciate living in East Tower if my 12-by-12 foot cube was actually a full sized house on the inside. And then of course if it moved through time I’d be all set to ace my 19th-century lit class. I could go chat with Oscar Wilde and see what he was really thinking when he decided to write poetry.
Wilde would most definitely be more impressed with the aesthetically unobtrusive police box than with another widely known (albeit slightly less artistically appealing, yet totally cool) feat of time-traveling engineering: the DeLorean. In 1985, over twenty years after the TARDIS started jumping through time in the UK, Doctor Emmett Brown invented the flux capacitor and rigged it up to the ever-so-futuristic DeLorean DMC-12, whose gull-wing doors and stainless-steel body looked like something out of a sci-fi paperback. With Doc Brown as your trusty teacher you would, in theory, use the DeLorean as a form of experiential learning—the ultimate field trip (read: my earlier ramblings about good ol’ Oscar the Aesthete).
But unfortunately the combination of impulsive teenager Marty McFly and a group of cranky Libyans who really just want their plutonium back (apparently sharing is not caring) leads to the field trip from hell—he sees his parents when their hormones were raging so hard his mom wanted to bang him.
Now seriously, if we had DeLorean time machines today I’m pretty sure the world would have ended years ago (or at least been maimed so badly that no one knew what the fuck was happening). I imagine the middle of the 20th century would be a confused time-jumble because everyone would want to see if their parents were as innocent as they claimed. Did they really smoke weed just the one time and hated it? Well here’s your best chance to find out, you aspiring investigative journalist, you! But, just so we’re clear, you can’t get caught! Got it? Good.
If you want to learn about history, but you just can’t find the time to travel (or your DeLorean’s in the shop), you can bring your favorite Renaissance man home with you—that is, if you jump off the Brooklyn Bridge into a mysterious time portal on a certain day and time. At least that’s what Liev Schreiber did in Kate & Leopold when he accidentally brought the 19th-century Duke of Albany (Hugh Jackman) home to New York City, in 2001. Granted, he’d be the ultimate show-and-tell project and make all the other kids jealous, but you’d better keep an eye on your significant other (especially if she resembles Meg Ryan). Chances are Hugh will sweep them off their sensible 21st-century feet and race back to his own time to keep from altering the invention of elevators. Some guys just ruin all the fun.
On the other hand, some time portals are a hell of a lot more confusing and take all the fun out of the tropical island getaway, a la Lost. If you happen to crash on a mysterious island and try to leave but fail, meet the not-so-friendly neighbors, try to leave again and then, with the help of a giant icy underground donkey wheel, skip through space-time, well you picked the wrong South Pacific island to buy a timeshare, dammit! Find one that’s on the map at least. When you asked for small and secluded, did you really want uncharted? It’s not as fun as Gilligan and Ginger like to pretend it is.
But interestingly enough, with the luck of happenstance (and maybe some mystical forces at play—we’re not sure yet, but season six gives us hope!), our favorite castaways land in 1974. How rad is that? They get to live with hippies and build a legitimate life on the island. Sounds peachy keen. But of course, the good life never lasts long, and everyone really just wants to go back to good old LA in 2007—I mean this plane crash is serious midlife-crisis material, and the humidity is just not funny anymore. Not to mention the physical effects of time-traveling. Whoever thought the ultimate jet-lag would cause nosebleeds, deafness, headaches and death? So maybe it’s not the dream vacation that most of us hope for, and we probably wouldn’t pick it over Fiji, but it’d make for a cool story.
Our next time traveler does in fact die—and he’ll do anything to figure out how to stop it, including mentally projecting himself to the future via a morgue drawer. Yeah totally creepy, but that’s what happens to whacked out Gulf War vet, Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) in The Jacket. After taking a bullet to the head and miraculously surviving (albeit with some memory loss) and being framed for a murder he’s not sure if he committed, Jack is stuck in a mental institution with some questionable treatment methods. In order to cure his psychosis, the ever-so-creepy Kris Kristofferson pumps him full of trippy drugs, sticks him in a straitjacket and shoves him in a morgue drawer—the usual, right?
Once inside, Jack is mentally thrown to the future where he finds out about his own death, only days from his place in the past. Now I imagine the idea of experimental drug use may appeal to some of us, especially with the bonus of seeing the future, but claustrophobia puts a damper on that method of time travel. I know you couldn’t get me into a drawer meant for the dead, thank you very much.
Our final romp into the means of alternative travel is another mental projection—this one’s a ‘90s classic that had everyone tentatively feeling the backs of their skulls for mysterious ports. The Matrix, while not technically time-traveling, gives the entire human race the illusion they are living at the end of the 20th century, when in reality they’re pod people chilling at the end of the 22nd century acting as an energy source for the machine-ruled dystopia. This type of stuff always freaks me out because it could totally be real—how would we know the difference? And would people really want out? The Matrix is a hell of a lot cozier than the real world, not to mention more badass.
Regardless of your medium of choice, whether it be film or TV, Hollywood is continually hard at work spicing up the future of transportation. All you need is a time, a place, a sweet ride (in the most general of senses) and your imagination. Celluloid will do the rest.
Amelia Blevins is a sophomore English and writing major. She was born in 3266 A.D., but likes it in the 2000s because of the food. E-mail her at email@example.com.