Movies are like time machines. No, they don’t physically transport viewers to another time and place but, like dreams and memories, they can take the audience back to ancient Rome or forward in time to a planet populated by giant blue people. I guess that’s why stories about time travel have been so popular on the big screen.
This weekend John Cusack stars in the latest time travel tale, the self-explanatory Hot Tub Time Machine. For Cusack, the idea of getting stuck in the 1980s doesn’t require a time machine. A star for thirty years, he says all he has to do is turn on the TV to be taken back: “Every time I flip through the cable, I have flashbacks.”
In the movie, Cusack and his buddies head back to the ’80s, a decade that one of the more famous time travel movies used as a starting point.
Everyone remembers the time-travelling DeLorean from Back to the Future — chosen because its sleek futuristic look resembled a spaceship — but it wasn’t until the third draft of the script that the filmmakers decided on the famous gull-winged car. Originally the time travel device was a laser, but that concept was rejected because it wasn’t exciting enough. Then, director Robert Zemeckis considered housing the machine in a refrigerator, but nixed the idea over concerns that the movie could inspire kids to crawl into iceboxes and get trapped.
In the original script for Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, in which the titular characters bring historical figures back from history to help them with a school project, the time machine was a 1969 Chevy Van; afraid of inadvertently plagiarizing Back to the Future, the filmmakers went with a phone booth instead.
Probably the most famous time-shifting story is H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine. In the 1960 movie version, director George Pal fashioned the look of the time machine on a sled (a idea borrowed years later for the hardware in Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Timecop), so, he said, it could slide into the future. Paying tribute to the story’s author, he affixed a plaque on the time machine that reads “Manufactured by H. George Wells.”
In 1971, when MGM sold off a warehouse of old props (including Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers), the sled time machine was purchased by a collector who used it as part of a yearly Halloween display at his Burbank, Calif., home.
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