Blast to the Past: A Guide to Time Travel Methods in Film and TV.

I’m obsessed by time travel. As an archaeologist and an historian’s daughter that should not come as a surprise. From the first time I watched Time Tunnel back in the 60’s on our first B/W TV set, I became addicted to the idea.

Imagine being able to go back in time and observe all those events and people who you only read in books? I would give an arm and a leg to be able to do it.

But it seems I wasn’t the only one. Time travel has been a popular theme in movies and TV shows for decades. From H.G. Wells’ 1895 novel “The Time Machine” to the blockbuster “Avengers: Endgame,” and the latest hit series, Timeless, the idea of traveling through time has captured the imaginations of audiences worldwide.

So, just for the fun of it, I decided to explore the different methods of time travel portrayed in movies and TV shows and look at a few of the most popular examples of each.

Here are 6 Different Methods for Time Travel

#1 – Time Machines.

The use of a machine to travel through time is one of the most popular methods in movies and TV shows. This can be as simple as a device that allows you to move back and forth in time, or as complex as a machine that can transport you to alternate realities.

The classic film “Back to the Future” (1985) – depicts time travel using a time machine built into a DeLorean sports car. In this movie, the main character, Marty McFly, travels back in time to 1955 and interacts with his parents as teenagers.

In TV, “Doctor Who” (1963-present) time travel is done by machine called the TARDIS. The main character, the Doctor, travels through time and space, interacting with events and people from different eras.

#2 – Time Portal.

Another popular time travel method is the time portal, which is a doorway or passage that leads to a different time period. Time portals can be found in ancient ruins, hidden caves, or created through magic or technology.

In “Journey to the Center of the Earth” (1999) a group of scientists discover a time portal in a cave in Iceland. They travel through the portal and find themselves in a lost world with prehistoric creatures .

“Stargate SG-1” (1997-2007) the science fiction television series centers around the discovery of an ancient artifact known as the Stargate. The Stargate is a portal that opens up to different planets and eras, and the members of SG-1 use it to explore the galaxy and protect Earth from alien threats.

#3 – Time Loops.

A time loop is a repeating sequence of events that occurs over and over again. In movies and TV shows, time loops are often used as a way for characters to relive a specific moment in time, either to correct a mistake or to experience it again. Examples of time loops in movies and TV shows include:

The most classic one is in “Groundhog Day” (1993)  – where a weatherman is trapped in a time loop, reliving the same day over and over again until he learns a valuable lesson.

Lately we could see the same method on Netflix series “Russian Doll” (2019 – 2022) where, a young woman is caught in a time loop, dying and re-living the same day repeatedly.

#4 – Time Anomaly or Wormhole.

A time anomaly is a disruption or deviation in the timeline that allows time travel. This type of time travel is often depicted as a side effect of a scientific experiment gone wrong, or as the result of an encounter with an extraterrestrial being.

In “Interstellar” (2014) a team of astronauts travel through a wormhole to find a new home for humanity after Earth is devastated by climate change.

In the TV show “Manifest” (2018-Today) a groups of passengers on flight 828 headed to New York hit a mega-storm. They managed to land safely only to discover they were missing for five years and presumed dead. One of the explanation that is given for their mysterious disappearance is that they went through a wormhole only to come out of it after five years.

#5 – Dream Time Travel.

In some movies and TV shows, time travel is depicted as a dream or a vision. In these cases, the character experiences time travel as a subconscious experience, often with the goal of gaining insight or knowledge. Examples of dream time travel in movies and TV shows include:

My favourite one is “Inception” (2010) – In Inception, the characters travel through different levels of dream to gain information and carry out their mission.

Another one is Donnie Darko (2001) – where Donnie Darko, a young man experiences time travel through a series of vivid dreams.

#6 – Alternate Reality.

In some movies and TV shows, time travel is depicted as the exploration of alternate realities. In these cases, the character travels to a parallel universe where different versions of themselves.

This specific one has got a huge surge in the last few years. The most obvious one of today is the fantastic “Everything, Everywhere all at Once” (2022) where a middle-aged Chinese immigrant is swept up into an insane adventure in which she alone can save existence by exploring other universes and connecting with the lives she could have led.

In TV one might say “Wandavision” (2021) is a great example of it. Where Wanda Maximoff of the MCU world is creating her own alternate reality after losing her beloved Vision.

In conclusion time travel is a popular tool used by writers in movies and TV shows to add a unique twist to their plot and story. It offers a way to explore different timelines, parallel universes, and alternate realities, and allows writers to create complex and intricate plots with multiple moving parts. 

By using time travel as a device, writers can play with cause and effect, manipulate the past to change the future, and create new possibilities for their characters. Whether it’s exploring the consequences of changing a single event or navigating a complex web of intersecting timelines, time travel provides writers with an endless array of possibilities to craft their stories and keep their audience engaged. 

In short, time travel is just another tool in the writer’s toolbox that can add depth and complexity to any plot or story.

Now it’s YOUR TURN – What’s your favorite time travel movie or TV show?

Would love to get your input in the comment box below

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