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History of Time Travel, The
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by Jay Seaver

"It's a gimmick, but it's a good one."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FESTIVAL: Mock documentaries are inherently gimmick movies; it is a rare one that does not crash hard up against the form's limitations, and when that happens, it doesn't matter whether the disappointment comes from the filmmaker having to cheat or the presentation just fizzling out. "The History of Time Travel" inevitably paints itself into a corner, but unlike most cases, that's where it wants to be.

Writer/director Ricky Kennedy presents it as a production of "History Television", and like many productions of the channel's real-world analog, it starts out in World War II, postulating a second letter from Albert Einstein to Franklin Delano Roosevelt warning of the Nazis' plans to invent time travel along with the atomic bomb. Unlike their colleagues in New Mexico, the "Illinois Project" doesn't find success during the war, but it's cheap enough that it, and particularly scientist Richard Page, continues to receive functioning from the Pentagon, although it may fall to Page's soon Edward to complete his work. Which he does, obviously, as they are making a documentary about the history and ethics of this invention.

If it were just that simple, of course, we would just have to be impressed with how well Kennedy and his cast & crew recreate this sort of program while slipping bits of sly humor into the mix. It's a straight-faced pastiche with plenty of clever detail in its archival photos, interview footage, and other elements that help create a believable world, with very few cracks, although one's mileage may vary on that (for instance, I am okay with using an Atari 2600 in the design, but can't begin to guess why you'd have a Pitfall! cartridge in the slot). It may not be a perfectly slick imitation, but the details are generally well-done, especially the various experts who hit types pretty squarely in the center but still don't come across as bland or generic.

About a third of the way through, though, Kennedy starts getting clever, because there's no point in using time travel as your Macguffin if you're not going to get clever and make telling the story in a simple or linear fashion a nightmare. The first bit of apparently paradoxical plotting will make the audience grin, but Kennedy doesn't stop there, piling twists onto the obliquely-glimpsed narrative at a steady pace. He never let's the story get too complex for the audience to follow but still awards the attentive viewer with a long list of clever details lurking in the background. Sit in the back row and you'll see people laugh and then point at the screen when someone turns to aka what's so funny more than a few times.

It's frequently dark humor, played especially dry because the movie is built in such a way that the slightest self-awareness would destroy it. Impressively, though, it never becomes a one-note thing; it shifts tones and even genres to a certain extent. Kennedy also pulls off the neat trick of giving his characters a motivating tragedy that allows the audience to take them seriously but which can set up a joke or two as well.

It also let's the movie come to an end that works both emotionally and as a solved puzzle, which is a pretty neat trick. Sure, it's a gimmick, but a charmingly and cleverly executed one. Sci-fi fans should have a lot of fun with it.

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originally posted: 02/16/15 04:29:07
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2014 Austin Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2015 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Ricky Kennedy

Written by
  Ricky Kennedy

  Krista Ales
  Ben Everett
  Elizabeth Lestina
  Daniel W. May

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