Tuesday, March 6, 2012


"There are so few science fiction films that are interested in dealing with actual futuristic science or the affects it has on future society, that I think it is important to support even the unsuccessful endeavors like In Time."

Science Fiction, Dystopian SF, Action
Starring - Justin Timberlake/Will Salas, Amanda Seyfried/Sylvia Weis, Olivia Wilde/Rachel Salas, Cillian Murphy/Raymond Leon, Timekeeper, Vincent Kartheiser/Philippe Weis and Matthew Bomer/Henry Hamilton
Director and Writer - Andrew Niccol
PG-13 - violence, some sexuality and partial nudity, and strong language
1 hr. 49 min.
Isaac Asimov (1920 – 1992), prolific author of both science fiction and fact, wrote “science fiction is that branch of literature that deals with human responses to the changes in the level of science and technology.” The reason he deliberately referred to literature in his definition of science fiction is that he held Film and Television science fiction in very low esteem. In fact, when asked by reporters if the current [1978] boom in science fiction affected him, he would reply, “Not at all.” In an essay entitled ‘The Boom in Science Fiction’, in which Asimov differentiates literary science fiction from cinematic science fiction by designating it “eye sci-fi”, Asimov wrote, “Eye sci-fi has an audience that is fundamentally different from that of [literary] science fiction. In order for eye sci-fi to be profitable it must be seen by tens of millions of people; in order for science fiction to be profitable it must only be read by tens of thousands of people.” *
I bring these observations of Asimov’s up; because a film like In Time attempts to do in “eye sci-fi” what literary science fiction does more frequently and more often to better affect. In Time uses an advance in medical science technology to explore humanity’s response as a society to this radical change in the human condition. In Time espouses in 2161, genetic alteration has allowed humanity to stop aging at 25 and as a result people must earn more time or die within a year. “Living Time” has become the currency of the day and is displayed on people’s left forearm. People work to earn more “Living Time”, but also must pay with this time for everything from rent to a cup of coffee. The world has also been divided up into “Time Zones”, with the poor living in ghettos like Dayton and the Time Rich living in luxurious cities like New Greenwich. It is obvious that director and screenplay writer Andrew Niccol is using “Living Time” as an allegory to our current world economic structure and – at least in most of the world – is based on the uneven distribution of resources of a society that is based on the fundamentally dysfunctional economic system Capitalism. In Time attempts to use this allegory to more subtle effect than in previous cinematic efforts. Unfortunately, its ambitions overreach its realization.

In Time is told from the point of view of Will Salas, who is a factory worker living in the ghetto of Dayton and is a few years into his “living time”. Every day, Will earns just enough at the factory to pay for his daily expenses and for another day of life. While at a local bar, Will makes the acquaintance of Henry Hamilton, a 105-year-old man. Will tries to warn Henry that he should be careful of “time theft’, which is the involuntary act of transferring one’s life time to another. Henry is assaulted by local gangster Fortis and his middle-aged Minutemen, but Will manages to help Henry escape the bar with his living time intact. Grateful, Henry gives all but five minutes of his living time to Will while he is asleep, then proceeds to end his remaining time by falling off an overpass.
Will calls his mother Rachel and asks her to meet him so he can tell her of his good fortune. Unfortunately, Rachel does not have enough living time to pay for her bus ride to meet Will and she “times out” just as she rushes the last few yards to meet him. With over a century of time, Will decides to go to the luxurious Time Zone city of New Greenwich and gamble his living time to gain even more time. Will enters a casino and meets a time-loaning millionaire Philippe Weis and his daughter Sylvia. Will beats Philippe in a game of cards and wins over a thousand years. Sylvia, who acts the pampered rich girl, invites Will to a party at her father’s mansion. Once there, Philippe’s guards grab Will and take back all but two hours of his time life. Will then takes Sylvia hostage, escapes back to Dayton, only to be ambushed by Fortis, who steals most of Sylvia’s time. Will shares his remaining hour of time with Sylvia and the two go on to rob time banks with the short-term goal of extending their own lives.  Eventually Will and Sylvia expand the scale of their robberies, not only in the hope of improving the lives of all the citizens of Dayton, but to disrupt the unequal distribution of time throughout all the time zones.
While I like the concepts that In Time plays with, I never really bought into them as being a viable reality. If medical science ever did create immortality through genetic manipulation, I don’t think that it would be equally distributed throughout the population as it is in this film. For the very reason that it would create massive overpopulation and unemployment; a situation our current society is dealing with even without near-deathlessness. Given that this process is somehow transmitted to offspring and cannot be controlled, how is the living time clock implemented to begin with? I just found myself asking too many questions while watching In Time to become involved enough in the problems of Will Silas to care about them.
Another thing that I find irritating about near-future science fiction films is their lack of any kind of futuristic look. All the vehicles, buildings and most of the tech in In Time are basically the same as our current time. If a film wants us to believe it is taking place one-hundred-and-fifty years in the future, it should give us some indication of that by showing us better technology or at least different visual designs! This lack of visual detail takes the viewer out of a film just as much as poor acting or special effects.
Even with its theoretical and visual incongruities, In Time might have been an exciting action film that at least touched on some interesting themes. Regrettably, it also underwhelms in the action department as well. The few car or foot chases that take place are staged fairly unimaginatively and add little to the dramatic tone of the film. Andrew Niccol’s previous forays into writing and directing have also been hit and miss. I thought Gattaca (1997) was a flawed but affective sci-fi drama, but his other film S1m0ne (2002) was nearly an unwatchable bit of melodramatic fluff. Hopefully, he will learn from In Time’s failures and attempt to bring a little more depth and forethought into his next film The Host, due out next year.
Despite all my criticisms, In Time is still worth the effort to watch. There are so few science fiction films that are interested in dealing with actual futuristic science or the affects it has on future society, that I think it is important to support even the unsuccessful endeavors like In Time. It would be impressive if a filmmaker could prove Asimov wrong and make an “eye sci-fi” film that could be compared equally to some of the best of their literary brethren.
TECHNICAL: Acting – 8 Directing – 8 Cinematography – 8 Script – 7 Special Effects – 8
VISCERAL: Visual – 7 Auditory – 8 Intellectual – 8 Emotional – 7 Involvement – 8
*Isaac Asimov, “The Boom in Science Fiction” Asimov’s Science Fiction Adventure Magazine, Fall 1979

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