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Time, the ultimate trip past and future are fertile ground for today's imagination (1985)

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The day has not arrived when travel agents offer package-deal trips to exotic time periods. In fact, you may never see advertisements offering "getaway vacations" to the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries with optional stopovers in the Dark Ages and Renaissance.

But if time travel isn't especially common in reality, it's becoming increasingly available in fantasy. The success of such recent time-travel movies as Back to the Future and last year's The Terminator, and the steadily growing popularity of Dr. Who (a Time-travel television program that became available on WMFE-Channel 24 this month) may signal a trend. These projects eventually could do for time-travel fiction what Star Wars did for space travel fiction by bringing it from the quiet realm of devotees into the bustling mainstream.

Back to the Future seems especially likely to encourage imitators because of its phenomenal early success. It has headed the list of top-grossing movies during the first two weeks of its release and, at last count, had earned $32.6 million at the box office.

"Whenever you have a successful movie, there's a lot of people who will go out and imitate it," said Bob Gale, who co-wrote and coproduced Back to the Future. Ironically, Gale said that when he and director Robert Zemeckis began the project, Hollywood big shots tried to discourage them by saying that time-travel movies don't generally make a lot of money.

"If everybody says that it can't be done, that's a totally valid and exciting reason to do it, to prove the so-called 'experts' wrong," he said in a telephone interview from his office in Universal City, Calif.

If time-travel adventures can be popular, what is the basis of their appeal?

'It's escapism," said Linda Trzesniewski. "Isn't time travel the ultimate escape?" Trzesniewski is organizing a panel discussion about time travel at Timecon, a convention for Dr. Who fans and other science-fiction buffs that will be held in San Jose, Calif., later this month.

James Gunn, who teaches science fiction at the University of Kansas and is a former president of the Science Fiction Writers of America, said people are fascinated by such stories for several reasons.

"There's the attraction of being able to live in the past and see how it was, or go into the future and see what it may become," said Gunn, whose book of time-travel stories, Crisis!, will be published early next year.

A particular attraction of time-travel adventures about the future, said Gale, is that they allow you to "cheat death" by looking beyond your lifetime. A special attraction of time-travel stories about the past is "the thought of being able to replay the past and make it come out right," said Charles N. Brown, the editor and publisher of Locus, an Oakland, Calif.-based science-fiction periodical.

Another attraction of many time-travel stories is the intellectual puzzles they provide, the opportunities to "explore the paradoxes involved in time travel," Gunn said. Such a paradox, for example, occurs in Back to the Future when a present-day boy named Marty McFly travels 30 years into the past and prevents an important meeting between his parents as teen-agers. If his parents never get together, Marty won't be born; but if Marty is never born, how can he travel to the past to prevent the meeting?

The ironies inherent in such paradoxes give many time-travel stories a comic tone, said Shelley Frier, associate editor of Analog, a New York-based magazine of science fiction and fact. That's certainly true of Back to the Future. And according to Trzesniewski, many Dr. Who episodes have a slapstick feeling.

Most of the people questioned agreed with Brown's opinion that Time-travel stories about the past are probably more popular than ones about the future. Even Back to the Future, which has the word "future" in its title, is about someone who travels into the past.

"People tend to think that the future will take care of itself," said Carl Smith, an excutive of Pacesetter Ltd. of Delavan, Wis., who helped develop the company's Timemaster: Adventures in the 4th Dimension time-travel game.

According to Frier, this may not always have been the case. "In the 1940s and '50s we had the first hints of technology like rockets and nuclear power," she said. These developments tantalized the public and the writers of science fiction, making them eager to imagine futures in which such technologies would be further advanced.

"Nowadays a lot of science fiction has come true," she observed. "People are more into nostalgia... . We're into slowing down because people feel we've gone too fast."

Some of the most enjoyable scenes in Back to the Future are those featuring details of the 1950s. You see a drug-store soda fountain, an episode of The Honeymooners being broadcast for the first time, and those '50s clothing and hair styles that, despite their ugliness, are reassuring. Watching the film, you may begin to feel as if you're paging through an album of family photographs.

Characters in time-travel stories defy chronological limits in a variety of ways. In the movie Time Bandits (1981), for example, characters travel through time by slipping through holes in the "space-time continuum."

In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1949), based on Mark Twain's novel, a bump on the head sends a man back through time. Accidents of one sort or another are also responsible for time travel in such novels as L. Sprague de Camp's Lest Darkness Fall (1941) and Isaac Asimov's Pebble in the Sky (1950).

"In the past," said Gunn, "the traditional method of time travel was for someone to go to sleep and wake up many years later." This happens to characters in Edward Bellamy's novel Looking Backward (1888), Washington Irving's short story "Rip Van Winkle" (1819), and H.G. Wells' novel When the Sleeper Wakes (1901). Such recent films as Iceman (1984) and Woody Allen's Sleeper (1973) offer modern variations of this method, which often involve cryogenic explanations of prolonged "sleep."

The most common form of time travel, however, is by machine. Gunn said that the first use of a machine for traversing time was offered by H.G. Wells in his 1895 novel, The Time Machine. Time machines also are used in "All You Zombies" and "By His Bootstraps" (stories written in 1959 and 1941 by Robert A. Heinlein), "The Sound of Thunder" (a 1952 story by Ray Bradbury), The End of Eternity (a 1955 novel by Isaac Asimov), Time After Time (a 1979 film starring Malcolm McDowell as H.G. Wells) and The Time Tunnel (a 1960s TV series).

A particularly outrageous time machine made from a DeLorean car is used by the time travelers in Back to the Future. Still, the particular method of traveling through time is almost incidental. "The point is not how one gets there, but the fact that one is there," said Gunn.

Whether or not Back to the Future triggers a time-travel trend is still an open question. One thing seems certain, however. Time-travel adventures tap into a yearning so fundamental that people will be dreaming up new ones till the end of time.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Boyar, Jay (1985-07-21). Time, the ultimate trip past and future are fertile ground for today's imagination. Orlando Sentinel p. F1.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Boyar, Jay. "Time, the ultimate trip past and future are fertile ground for today's imagination." Orlando Sentinel [add city] 1985-07-21, F1. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Boyar, Jay. "Time, the ultimate trip past and future are fertile ground for today's imagination." Orlando Sentinel, edition, sec., 1985-07-21
  • Turabian: Boyar, Jay. "Time, the ultimate trip past and future are fertile ground for today's imagination." Orlando Sentinel, 1985-07-21, section, F1 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Time, the ultimate trip past and future are fertile ground for today's imagination | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Time,_the_ultimate_trip_past_and_future_are_fertile_ground_for_today%27s_imagination | work=Orlando Sentinel | pages=F1 | date=1985-07-21 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=19 November 2017 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Time, the ultimate trip past and future are fertile ground for today's imagination | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Time,_the_ultimate_trip_past_and_future_are_fertile_ground_for_today%27s_imagination | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=19 November 2017}}</ref>