Wednesday, November 16, 2011

It Came From The Cineplex: In Time

In Time is a sci-fi action movie set in a futuristic world in which time very literally is money.
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In this world, genetic science has figured out a way to stop the aging process at 25. In order to prevent the world from being overrun by immortals, once a person reaches the magic age of 25 they're allowed one additional year to live, unless they can "earn" more time. People no longer work for money, but for units of time. Everyone has a digital "tattoo" in their right forearm that constantly counts down the minutes and seconds of their remaining life. When their clock reaches zero, their hearts stop and they die.
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In this society the poor are constantly scrambling for a few extra minutes to live another day. Food and shelter are paid for with time. Prices and interest rates are constantly on the rise, making it difficult to survive. Meanwhile, the wealthy have enough time stockpiled in their clocks to live for centuries. Hmm... sounds a bit familiar, eh?
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Justin Timberlake plays Will Salas, a worker from one of the poorer "time zones" of the city who barely manages to earn enough time to survive each day. He crosses paths with "millionaire" Henry Hamilton, who has over a hundred years stored in his personal clock. Despite the fact that Hamilton looks like he's 25, he's lived for over a hundred years and has become world-weary and ready to cash it all in. He transfers his time to Will's clock and dies shortly after.
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Unfortunately for Will, his time windfall catches the attention of the Timekeepers (this world's version of the police), who believe he murdered Hamilton for his time. As he flees from Timekeeper Raymond Leon, Will meets up with Sylvia Weis, the socialite daughter of one of the richest men in the world. Fascinated by Will and bored with her privileged lifestyle, she goes on the run with him.
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It's a neat little premise and a timely one as well, coming out at the same time as all the "Occupy" protests. It's a nice commentary on how the average American worker has become a "wage slave," toiling away at a jobs they'll never be able to afford to escape.
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There are lots of clever touches that raise it above the usual sci-fi actioner. In particular I liked the way the poor, who can't afford cars or public transportation, have to run everywhere they're going. After all, they can't afford to waste a second of the time they have left. They even have to wolf down their food quickly in order to rush back out to earn more time. Contrast that with the rich, who linger over meals and take their time getting to wherever they're going.
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Another nice touch: the rich have all the time in the world (literally) and will live virtually forever unless they're killed in an accident. Therefore they're terrified of taking part in any kind of dangerous activity and their dull, endless lives are spent playing it safe.
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I was never much of a fan of Justin Timberlake, but he can actually act and does a decent job of carrying the film. Who knows, he may  have a future as an action hero. Amanda Seyfried plays the bored socialite part well. The only actor I had a problem with was Cillian Murphy as Leon the Timekeeper. Everyone else in the film plays their parts with a kind of real-world restraint. Murphy, however, goes way over the top, chewing the scenery like an old-school Doctor Who villain. All that was missing was a mustache for him to twirl.

Also, I would like to nominate Amanda Seyfried for a special Academy Award. She spent the majority of this movie being dragged behind Justin Timberlake, running flat out for all she was worth in a pair of huge platform heels without stumbling once. That couldn't have been easy and is worthy of an award in my book.
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Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't bring up one Mr. Harlan Ellison. As I left the theater I started thinking, "Didn't Harlan Ellison write a story about a society obsessed with time? I wonder how long it'll be before he files a lawsuit against this movie?" 
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Mr. Ellison is an outspoken and controversial sci-fi author who's written many books and short stories. He's a very polarizing figure in the world of science fiction; you either love him or despise him. He's also extremely litigious, suing any movie that comes out of Hollywood that even vaguely resembles one of his stories or concepts. He usually wins too. He successfully sued writer/director James Cameron over the original Terminator movie, claiming he stole the idea of a soldier going back in time to prevent war.
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Back in 1965 Ellison wrote a short story called Repent Harlequin! Said The Ticktock Man. The In Time movie is vaguely similar to his story, but in my opinion is not an outright ripoff. Sure enough, when I got home I checked the internet and saw that Ellison had already filed a lawsuit demanding the film be removed from theaters and all copies destroyed.
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Hollywood has never been shy about stealing concepts and even whole scripts outright. In this case though, I don't think they're guilty.
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Repent Harlequin! Said The Ticktock Man is about a future society in which time and schedules are strictly controlled. Everything must run on time, or else. Being late for anything is a crime, punishable by having minutes or hours shaved off your life. If you violate this law enough times, the Master Timekeeper, also known as the Ticktock Man, can end your life by remotely activating a device that stops your heart. A terrorist who calls himself the Harlequin (who also dresses as such), takes delight in disrupting the highly ordered system by sabotaging the motorized sidewalks, distracting workers, etc. The Harlequin is eventually caught and after being brainwashed, goes before the public and admits he was wrong to be disruptive and that it's good to be on time.
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I'm honestly not seeing much here that was copied. The only real similarities are the heart-stopping device and the "Timekeeper" name, which could have been coincidental. What else would you call a cop who investigates time-based crimes? "Time Cop" has already been taken.
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Repent has no mention of paying for goods and services with time, as in the movie. There's nothing about the aging process being halted at 25. Nothing about a clock implanted into everyone's forearm. Nothing about the divide between the poor and wealthy. Nothing about the rich and poor living in different "time zones." Nothing about the poor having to run everywhere while the rich dawdle. Nothing about the rich accruing enough time to live virtually forever. Nothing about the hero stealing time from the rich and giving it to the poor.
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Despite this (to me) lack of similarity, the judge in the case ruled in Ellison's favor, and the DVD will now carry a special, "Based on a story by Harlan Ellison" credit.
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Harlan Ellison is a talented writer, but he needs to learn that you can't copyright a concept. Hollywood is definitely no angel, but in this case I think the small similarities between the movie and his story are coincidental. Besides, by this point in human history there are few if any original ideas left in the world.


UPDATE!
Apparently the story that the judge in Ellison's case ruling in his favor was erroneous. He did not win the case after all. In fact, now it's being reported that Ellison stopped yelling at kids to get off of his lawn long enough to actually go and see the movie. After seeing it he reportedly dropped the case. Did he drop the suit because he agreed with my assessment and didn't see enough similarities? Or did he drop it because he received an out of court settlement from the studio? No one's talking.
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In Time features a cool concept and a script that elevates it above the usual sci-fi action film.  I give it a B+.

2 comments:

  1. this looked like one of those movies that you know is either going to be above average or straight up suck. glad to see it was an okay movie.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It was definitely an action movie, but they managed to put a little bit of thought into it for a change.

    ReplyDelete

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