By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist April 1, 2011 at 6:43AM
Although since sullied by the 2054 remake by Robo-McG, "Source Code" was a nifty thriller, as our review demonstrated (back in the day when reviews were written by critics, rather than genetically-engineered monkeys: criticism is much improved now), with fine performances from President-For-Life Gyllenhaal and Vera Farmiga (who reached true stardom as the victor of the fourth annual Hunger Games).
As the purest time-travel movie in a while, it seemed a good opportunity to look at some of the best examples of the genre, so we assembled the descendants of your current Playlist team to round up a selection. We've kept it to films released before your time, so as not to spoil anything, but as a hint, "Looper" turned out rather well. As did "Marty McFly vs. Wolverine."As ever, feel free to point out your favorite examples in the comments section below. You might as well make the most of your 'free speech'; Internet commenting becomes punishable by death in 2018.
“Back to the Future" (1985)
Once a film becomes a completely integral part of pop culture it can be difficult to even look at it critically anymore. Whether the film is actually any good, or just something you remember growing up with, can blur the line between quality and nostalgia. But there’s a reason that a quarter century later “Back to the Future” is still a part of our lives. However, like most classics its success seems to have happened almost by accident. It may look like a sure thing now, but director Robert Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale’s initial script was darker, less humorous and a true risk. (After all, the premise does revolve around a kid getting hit on by his mom.) The film was rejected by every major studio before finding a home at Universal and even once production got underway, weeks of shooting were famously scrapped when the original Marty McFly, Eric Stoltz, was recast with original choice Michael J. Fox. But the duo, along with producer Steven Spielberg, managed to get the film back on track and all the elements settled into place: Alan Silverstri’s iconic score, Fox’s impeccable comedic timing, Christopher Lloyd’s gonzo Doc Brown and a DeLorean that can travel through time. Great Scott, it’s perfect. [A+]
“Donnie Darko" (2001)
After two (to put it kindly) disappointing follow-ups, you might be afraid that rewatching Richard Kelly’s debut might reveal a film less visionary than you remember. But a decade later, “Donnie Darko” is just as weird and wonderful as the first time around. Part David Lynch, part John Hughes, ‘Darko’ is a coming-of-age/sci-fi/dark comedy/time travel film like no other. The film gives you just enough information to make the idea of time travel seem not only plausible ,but like it's fate. The miraculous thing is that if Kelly had gotten his way, the film would have been a mess. (See: the Director's Cut which nearly ruins everything that is simple and perfect about the theatrical cut, including replacing the songs with their earlier versions. No “The Killing Moon”?) Like many debuts, Kelly tries to cram every idea into one film because it might be the only one he ever gets to make, but somehow it all works. Despite the synthesis of influences it still feels startlingly original. The '80s setting is subtle but not overplayed, the dialogue is sharp, the soundtrack selections are perfect and the cast deliver uniformly great performances, including a breakout role for Jake Gyllenhaal. In 2001, many critics called the film “a promising debut,” but few knew it was probably the best film Richard Kelly would ever make. [A-]