Monday, March 19, 2012

Seven real methods of time travel

I have a love-hate relationship with science fiction: I love the escapism, but I also can't help but pick apart flaws that creep in through narrative convenience or downright shoddy reasoning. And no place is this more evident than when time travel is involved.

Besides the philosophical paradoxes time travel creates, there are a host of practical considerations that are almost always glossed over, such as the tendency for language and disease resistance to evolve rapidly over time, or the fact that the Earth is rapidly moving through space - thus requiring time travelers to navigate in both time and space, and to do so with excruciating precision to avoid ending up where the Earth was or will be instead of where it is at precisely that nanosecond.

However, as much as it annoys me at times, I have to admit that not only is time travel cool, but it is entirely possible - just not how the movies lead you to think it is. Here are seven ways in which you can time travel right now:

1. Patience

Without any effort on your part, you are already a time traveler. Along with everyone and everything else on Earth, you are traveling through time at the rate of approximately one second per second. That may seem like a cheat, because it's so common, but the older you get, the more you realize what a remarkable thing it is. By the time you're 32 years old, you will have managed to travel over a billion seconds into the future, second by second, to get where you are. If you live to  be 100, it will be over three billion.

It's sometimes hard to be patient, I know, especially when you're younger, but as you get older and each passing day is a smaller and smaller percentage of your overall life, time seems to speed up. And in the end, when you look back, it will seem to have all gone by in no time at all. That's time travel.

2. Unconsciousness

This is another one that's so common people don't really think about it. Every night when we close our eyes and drift off to slumber, we are effectively time traveling several hours into the future. While this kind of time-travel can be interrupted, or may come with the side-effect of a few foggy memories of dreams, for the most part sleep is an express train from evening to morning.

Beyond routine sleep, unconsciousness is a very useful tool for time traveling through unpleasantness. Feeling sick? Take a nap to speed up your recovery. Need an operation? Quicker than you can count backwards from ten, you're through to the other side.

3. Trauma

OK, now we get to the fun stuff. While I wouldn't recommend intentionally traumatizing your brain, most of us have done it at some point or another. When you drink so much that you can't connect the dots, you've hurled yourself into the future at your liver's expense. Sure everyone else remembers what an ass you made out of yourself, but for you the journey seems nearly instantaneous. The last thing you remember was doing shots of tequila at the airport bar, and now you're half-naked on your neighbor's front lawn and handcuffed to a transvestite. Good times.

Of course, this kind of time-travel isn't always self-inflicted. Any kind of head trauma can cause you to lose whatever's in your short-term memory, leaving a gap that equates to time-travel. Some people who have suffered head injuries even lose the ability to convert short-term memories into long-term ones, causing them to time-travel back to the same starting point day after day, as shown in the movies Memento and 50 First Dates.

4. Re-creation

This is the squishiest method of time-travel, and it is incomplete by definition, but it's also the easiest way to travel backwards in time. We use this method every day, recreating moments from memory in our minds. We're actually very good at this: a certain scent or song can invoke vivid images and emotions from our past, even if some details are lost (or even altered) in the process.

Other forms of re-creation abound as well. Authors and filmmakers can recreate historical events or just invoke the feel of a time period. Historical theme parks and reenactments do the same. And for relatively modern events, photographs and recordings often exist that can show us exactly what happened - at least from one perspective.

All of these can take us back in time, limited only by our ability to lose ourselves in them.

5. Manipulation

Each spring, many people jump forward one hour into the future, and each fall they jump back one hour into the past, in a collective time-travel ritual that we call "Daylight Savings Time" (or, in some parts of the world, "Summer Time"). There are also many other ways to time travel by manipulating clocks and calendars, and the only side effect is occasional jet lag.

Traveling to a new time zone? Adjust your clock. Crossing the International Date Line? Adjust your calendar.

An interesting case involves the country of Samoa, which decided in 2011 to put itself on the other side of the International Date Line. As a result, they jumped directly from Thursday, December 29 to Saturday, December 31, completely skipping the day in between.

For people switching from the traditional Julian calendar to our modern Gregorian one, a similar situation occurred: entire countries skipped ten or more days (for example, going directly from Thursday, October 4, 1582 to Friday, October 15, 1582) to realign the calendar with the solar year. Other countries kept the Julian calendar dates much longer, meaning that traveling between nations was often akin to jumping backwards and forwards in time.

Finally, I use this method of time travel every morning when I find myself running 10 minutes late and then realize it's OK because I set the clock 10 minutes fast. Quick is a wink, I've traveled backwards in time 10 minutes and I'm back on schedule.

6. Distance

Despite appearance to the contrary, nothing you see is actually happening as you see it. There is always a delay between when light leaves an object and when it reaches your optic nerve. Light travels so fast that in our normal field of vision, this delay is infinitesimally small and seems instantaneous. But the Universe is an imaginably big, empty place, and light can travel the breadth of it.

When you see the Moon, you are actually seeing the light that reflected off of it 1.3 seconds earlier. When you see the Sun, you're actually seeing the light it emitted 8.3 minutes prior. With other stars, the distance is so great that you're seeing what happened years ago - sometimes billions of years ago.

To put it another way, assuming Superman knew exactly when Krypton exploded, he could travel that many light-years away and use his super-vision (or, you know, a really powerful telescope) to witness the sad day of his home world's destruction himself.

7. Speed

Ever since Albert Einstein came up with the theory of relativity, scientists have realized that the passage of time, once thought to be absolute, actually changes based on your speed relative to another object. For someone traveling at nearly the speed of light, time would pass much slower than for someone stationary on Earth. By the time the traveler returned, only a year may have passed for him or her, but many years would have passed for those on Earth.

Tests have confirmed this: a flawless atomic clock aboard one of our fastest planes will fall slightly behind its synchronized counterpart left stationary on the ground. The differences are minute, but very real.

Unfortunately, the energy needed to travel at near-light speed is beyond our reach, so we can't tap into the full potential of this one-way ticket to the future. But it's there just the same. The fastest current man-made object, Voyager 1, is moving away from the Solar System at a rate of 62,000 km per hour (38,500 mph), and even though the differences are slight, if NASA wanted to keep their clocks in perfect sync with the spacecraft's, they would have to make minute adjustments to account for the fact that Voyager 1 is traveling through time more slowly than we are.

So the next time you walk, run or drive by someone or something standing still, just remember: you're not just going faster than they are, you're also traveling ever-so-imperceptibly slower through time.

Know of a real method of time travel that I missed? Leave your comments below.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Most anticipated splody movies of 2002: recap

I have already posted my 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004 and 2003 "most anticipated" movie lists. This is it, the last backwards installment, showing how well I did at predicting the movies to see in 2002

It all started when I sat down at the end of 2001 and figured out what movies I wanted to see during the coming year, mostly because the first Lord of the Rings film was so good that I could hardly stand to wait 12 months to see the next installment.

For reference, critic scores from Rotten Tomatoes are also included for each film. As usual, my formula for success is equal parts good character development and explosions.

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 96%). The second chapter of the LotR trilogy was the least memorable, but still 99.9% awesome. Director Peter Jackson was criticized for stretching a battle that only lasted a few pages into a major scene that dominated the movie. But Jackson knew what he was doing: that scene was the only part of this movie that I remembered vividly from reading the book 20 years earlier, and now that it has been rendered in all its glory, no one who sees this film will ever forget the Battle of Helms Deep.

2. Spider-Man

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 89%). To be honest, the villain here was weak and Kirsten Dunst was a poor choice for the love interest. But the story was pretty good and Tobey Maguire nailed the title role.

3. Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 67%). When compared to the original trilogy, Episode II was middling at best. And yet, every time it's on, no matter how full of nerd rage I am, I watch it and as long as I can keep from thinking about 1977, I enjoy it.

4. Minority Report

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 92%). This looked interesting, but I was surprised that it held my interest throughout. The little touches - like no-touch computer interfaces and personalized advertising - are made even more amazing by the fact that they're already coming true.

5. Signs

Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 74%). M. Night Shyamalan's "are-we-being-invaded-by-aliens-or-not?" thriller was very good for two acts, but the end left something to be desired.

6. The Bourne Identity

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 83%). This spy thriller blew my mind by how good it was. I was expecting a half-way decent Bond retread, and what I got instead was a complete redefining of the espionage genre.

7. Gangs of New York

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 75%). Martin Scorsese's action-drama about the rise of organized crime in New York in the mid-19th Century was not 100% historically accurate, but who cares? It was slow in places, but never boring, and worth the price of admission for Daniel Day Lewis' performance alone.

8. Die Another Day

Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 59%). Piers Brosnan's chances of ever playing James Bond again died the day this mediocre outing was released. His run had started so well with GoldenEye, but none of his other Bond films made much of an impression. After this, the arrival of Jason Bourne on the scene made Bond's producers completely rethink their game.

9. Star Trek: Nemesis

Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 38%). Yuck. Do even Star Trek fans like this one? What should have been on my listBlade II (Tomatometer 59%). The first Blade was a surprisingly good vampire-superhero mash-up, but I expected the well would run dry after that. I was wrong: this sequel was if anything even better.

10. Solaris

Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 65%). The original 1976 version of this movie by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky is widely hailed as masterpiece. This 2002 version was interesting in places, but committed the cardinal sin of being boring. It never connected with me. What should have been on my list: The Count of Monte Cristo (Tomatometer 73%). I'm a sucker for a good swashbuckling movie. This was one.

Final tally for my 2002 predictions: six winners, two losers and two movies that were just so-so. (65%)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Most anticipated splody movies of 2003: recap

I have already posted my 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 and 2004 "most anticipated" movie lists. Don't worry, I promise it's almost over - but not yet! Here is how well I did at predicting the movies to see in 2003.

For reference, critic scores from Rotten Tomatoes are also included for each film. As usual, my formula for success is equal parts good character development and explosions.

1. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 94%). At this point in the series, I had no doubts. Kids who use the word "epic" too much should study the Lord of  the Rings series to understand what it really means.

2. X2: X-Men United

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 88%). I loved the first X-Men movie for its heart, even though I thought the superheroes were a little silly. I loved this sequel for the same reason, but this time the mutants stepped up their game in the action department. The best moment was finally watching Wolverine go berserk and use those claws of his like God intended him to.

3. The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions (tie)

Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 74%) and EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 36%), respectively. The Matrix was one of the best sci-fi movies ever. Unfortunately, its sequels couldn't recapture the magic Reloaded had some good scenes, including a mind-bending car chase, but felt flat overall. Revolutions was pretty bad from start to finish, though. What should have been on my list instead of Revolutions28 Days Later (Tomatometer 88%). A pretty good zombie flick is always a pretty good solution.

5. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 17%). Not only was this a horrible movie, it wasn't at all like the books it was based on, which are fantastic, twisted slices of alt-history steampunk. What should have been on my list: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Tomatometer 79%). When I heard Disney was making yet another film based on a lame theme park ride, I dismissed it. I was wrong: this ended up being one of the best splody movies of the year, thanks in large part to Johnny Depp's winning portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow.

6. Kill Bill Vol. 1

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 85%). Along with Vol. 2, this outrageous film from sick genius Quentin Tarantino crafted a compelling story of revenge, filled with memorable, over-the-top action. This first chapter sets up the tragic back story for Uma Thurman's character and gives us the beginning of her quest to punish those responsible - in the most graphic, shocking and imaginative ways possible.

7. Daredevil

Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 45%). As a fan of blind superhero Daredevil, I couldn't help being disappointed with this. Although there are some good scenes (and the director's cut is a vast improvement over the theatrical release), it had unforgivable flaws. For one, it was badly cast: Ben Afleck was the wrong choice for the leading man and Jennifer Garner was wrong for the leading woman. The bigger problem, though, was they tried to cram all of Daredevil's mythology into one movie. As a result, what should have been poignant moments felt rushed and forced. What should have been on my list: Underworld (Tomatometer 31%). OK, the critics hated this one, but it was an entertaining romp (a battle between vampires and werewolves) that didn't defile one of my childhood heroes, so I'd take it over Daredevil any day.

8. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 71%). The first two Terminator movies were classics. This one, although still entertaining in parts, was a considerable drop off in quality. As bad as original series director James Cameron is at dialogue, he is a master story teller, and his presence was missed on this film.

9. Hulk

Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 62%). Director Ang Lee's "sensitive" approach to the Hulk story had its moments, but was ultimately disappointing. Hulk didn't smash enough. Marvel Studios would make a better Hulk film in 2008, and that's the one you should see.

10. Charlie's Angels: Full Throtle

Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 44%). This sequel didn't impress nearly the way its predecessor did, although I did love Demi Moore as the villain.

Final tally for my 2003 predictions: three winners, three losers and four movies that were just so-so. (50%)

Friday, March 2, 2012

Most anticipated splody movies of 2004: recap

I have already posted my 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006 and 2005 "most anticipated" movie lists. At the risk of seeming obsessive compulsive (which I totally am), here is how well I did at predicting the movies to see in 2004.

For reference, critic scores from Rotten Tomatoes are also included for each film. As usual, my formula for success is equal parts good character development and explosions.

1. Kill Bill Vol. 2

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 85%). Not for the faint of heart, but this two-part action extravaganza was classic Tarantino, referencing every b-movie and pulp magazine trope imaginable, but always with a new spin. Vol. 2 lived up to the expectations set in Vol. 1 and then some.

2. Spider-Man 2

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 93%). I still hate Kirsten Dunst in her role as Spider-Man's love interest Mary Jane Watson, but this was even better than the first one.

3. The Bourne Supremecy

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 81%). Probably the weakest of the trilogy, but still a thrill-ride from start to finish.

4. The Incredibles

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 97%). Best. Superhero. Movie. Ever. (Animated. Or. Otherwise.)

5. Hellboy

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 81%). What a strange premise: the Allies discover a demon child summoned by occult Nazis in WWII, and he grows up to be a gun-toting paranormal investigator who teams up with a fish-man and a woman who starts fires (often accidentally) with her mind. But it works, and well, thanks to an exciting and often humorous script and director Guillermo del Toro's full embrace of the weirdness of it all.

6. I, Robot

Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 58%). Please, Will Smith, please make an interesting movie again. What should have been on my listNational Treasure (Tomatometer 44%). Don't let the mixed reviews scare you away - the critics didn't get that this movie was supposed to be ridiculous. (I mean, seriously, a treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence?) Audiences did.(The audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is 78% positive.) More importantly, so did star Nicholas Cage, turning in a frenetic, almost-but-not-quite-over-the-top performance. Eat your heart out, Dan Brown: this was everything The Da Vinci Code wanted to be and wasn't.

7. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 72%). I really wanted to like this retro-futuristic homage to 1930s and '40s serials more than I did. It was still OK, though.

8. Ocean's Twelve

Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 55%). Ocean's Eleven was a surprisingly cool heist movie. This sequel is just lame. The part where Julia Roberts plays a woman playing Julia Roberts is criminally stupid. What should have been on my listLayer Cake (Tomatometer 81%). A stylish caper film starring future James Bond, Daniel Craig.

9. Troy

Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 55%). There were some good scenes and the plot wasn't bad, but it just didn't hold my attention. I like my Greek myths a little more mythical.

10. AVP: Alien vs. Predator

Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 22%). A boy can always hope. What should have been on my listShaun of the Dead (Tomatometer 91%). This is both a parody and a sincere zombie flick, and it works on both levels. If that sounds appealing to you in any way, you'll find this to be brilliant.

Final tally for my 2004 predictions: five winners, three losers and two movies that were just so-so. (65%)