A Novel Idea
H. G. Wells is one of the early pioneers of the time travel phenomenon. The notion that humans can move forward into the future or move backward into the past by using a vehicle or other stationary equipment. Since the publication of his 1895 book, The Time Machine, several films have been produced that further develop the time travel genre.
The time travel story line has produced a deluge of books, movies, and television episodes. In like manner, the films discussed below have set the pattern for a series of critically acclaimed sequels. Placing H. G. Wells in line with subsequent motion picture productions, examine the efficacy of technological innovation as a barometer of human achievement.
The film, Planet of the Apes (1968), recounts the dilemma of three astronauts who experience time dilution during a space mission. The dilution effect slows their aging process while the world they left behind has survived a cataclysmic evolution covering a span of 2,000 years. The planet has been re-inhabited by primates after a nuclear holocaust. The new primate order has constructed an Earthbound existence analogous to the human one predating the disaster. Their hierarchical dominance is culturally and intellectually advanced but remains burdened by the plight of the remaining human survivors who languish about the Earth.
Planet of the Apes transcript:
George Taylor: And that completes my final report until we reach touchdown. We’re now on full automatic, in the hands of the computers. I have tucked my crew in for the long sleep and I’ll be joining them soon. In less than an hour, we’ll finish our sixth month out of Cape Kennedy. Six months in deep space – by our time, that is. According to Dr. Haslein’s theory of time, in a vehicle travelling nearly the speed of light, the Earth has aged nearly 700 years since we left it, while we’ve aged hardly at all. Maybe so. This much is probably true – the men who sent us on this journey are long since dead and gone. You who are reading me now are a different breed – I hope a better one. I leave the 20th century with no regrets. But one more thing – if anybody’s listening, that is. Nothing scientific. It’s purely personal. But seen from out here everything seems different. Time bends. Space is boundless. It squashes a man’s ego. I feel lonely. That’s about it. Tell me, though. Does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox who sent me to the stars, still make war against his brother? Keep his neighbor’s children starving?
In, The Terminator (1984), the human race is once again locked in a battle for control of the future. A cyborg reenters the past by using a time displacement device. The device sends the cyborg and a human soldier into the past where they both seek to either protect or annihilate the birth of a yet unborn leader of the post-apocalyptic movement against cyborg combatants.
The Terminator transcript:
Dr. Peter Silberman: Why this elaborate scheme with the Terminator?
Kyle Reese: It had no choice. Their defense grid was smashed. We’d won. Taking out Connor then would make no difference. Skynet had to wipe out his entire existence!
Dr. Peter Silberman: Is that when you captured the lab complex and found the, uh, what was it called… the time displacement equipment?
Kyle Reese: That’s right. The Terminator had already gone through. Connor sent me to intercept him and they blew the whole place.
Dr. Peter Silberman: Well, how are you supposed to get back?
Kyle Reese: I can’t. Nobody goes home. Nobody else comes through. It’s just him – and me.
Sarah Connor: What’s it like when you go through time?
Kyle Reese: White light. Pain. It’s like being born, maybe.
Altogether, humans have reached higher levels of innovation through technology but have not entirely achieved complete control over the inherent risks of technology. In the immediate context of these works, man has not fully eradicated the unpleasant realities of coexistence. As these film directors and novelist ascertain, the euphoria that emanates from technological alternatives, whether actual or virtual, remains subordinate to the irreconcilable social dilemmas of upheaval, famine, and injustice that persist.
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