Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Time Travel Device Catalog

H. G. Wells' famous 1895 novel The Time Machine features a mechanized vehicle that allows the operator to travel to select designations in history.  The idea of a time machine was fairly new at the time.  Previously, fiction stories had characters transported through time by a supernatural being (a ghost in "A Christmas Carol," a demon in "Paris before Men," and a fairy in "Anno 7603").  In other stories, time travel occurred randomly and spontaneously.  A blow to the head suddenly transports a modern man back to 6th-Century England in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889). 

Time travel devices first turned up in literature in the 1880s.  Edward Page Mitchell's 1881 novel "The Clock that Went Backward" involved a man who can travel back in time by winding an enchanted clock.  An intrepid inventor is transported through time by riding in an electric-powered airship in Enrique Gaspar y Rimbau's 1887 novel "El anacronópete."  The airship, as pictured below, is an enormous cast iron box.

Hollywood has been a great purveyor of time travel stories, but it took filmmakers a long time to introduce a time ship or time machine.  For many years, films relied on the blow-to-the-head premise to send characters back in time.  Lee Tracy took an especially severe blow in Turn Back the Clock (1933).  While drunkenly crossing a street, Tracy is struck by an automobile with ample force to throw him twenty years into the past.

Another early time travel film was Blondes Prefer Bonds (1931), a short comedy that starred Louise Fazenda.  It was a trend in the early 1930s for beauty specialists to claim they could turn back the years for clients with live cell therapy, monkey gland transplants, or cell rejuvenation treatment.  The film starts out with Fazenda seeking out an anti-aging treatment to regain her husband's affections.  Somehow (the script is vague on the details), the treatment sends Fazenda back to the days of her youth.

In Berkeley Square (1933), Leslie Howard just needs to step inside an ancestral home to travel back in time to the American Revolution.  In effect, the entire house acts as one enormous time machine.

Time travel devices have become popular in modern films.  These devices have taken on an outlandish array of forms in the last thirty years.  We've had a car (Back to the Future), a tunnel (The Time Tunnel), a hot tub (Hot Tub Time Machine), a phone booth (Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure), a police box (Doctor Who), a stopwatch (Voyagers!), a sled (TimeCop), a mirror (Mirror, Mirror), a dagger (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time), a timepiece (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), a stealth fighter (The Philadelphia Experiment II), a closet (About Time), a mailbox (The Lake House), and a pod (Demolition Man and Forever Young).  And we have even more devices.  

A scepter allows the holder to travel through time in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993).

A group of adventurers are able to plunder historical treasures using a magical map in Time Bandits (1981).

This handheld Time-Converter permitted the user to open and close fissures in time in The Sarah Jane Adventures.

A frozen wheel - yes, I said a frozen wheel - could shift an entire island through time in the television series Lost (2008).

A toaster is used as a time travel device by Homer Simpson in a 1994 episode of The Simpsons ("Treehouse of Horror V").


Homer also had an idea for a time travel beach chair in a 1998 episode, "When You Dish Upon a Star."

It is surprising that the cosmic treadmill from The Flash comic book has never made it into a film.

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