Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Commercialism and Time Travel

commercialism, comforting technology, direction, comedic tone, female form

The commercialism present in both The Terminator and the 1960 film remake of The Time Machine provide a strand of the familiar within stories that push boundaries into the unknown. In The Terminator, scenes of familiar technology, fashion and logos ground the viewer in the proper time of the 1980s. CD Walkmans, tape answering machines and Nike swooshes on high top sneakers safely place us within a context that we know. Technology and fashion keep the viewer in the proper time period while talk of time traveling, failure of the human race, and future war swarms around Sarah Conner.

But the old technology is mixed with the new as the Terminator offers the newest cyborg technology both Sarah and the audience have ever seen. The different futuristic technology allows the past and the present to be further separated. In a way, this difference comforts the viewer, both in the 80s and in present day 2011, because the terminator technology doesn’t exist (yet?). As states Penley in his article, knowing two things are different, human versus alien, human versus cyborg, and present human versus future human is comforting. The same applies for present technology versus future technology. There is a certain comfort in knowing the 1980s tech that fills the film. What we see in 1983 can all be bought and sold in the capitalist system we all know and understand, unlike the technology of the future that is too advanced to be within the human barter system. Even though it is the very thought of the evolution of this technology that leads to the horrible future in 2029, in 1983 Walkmans, pay phones and beepers still sit comfortably where they should.

In the Time Machine, George, the time traveler initially watches the window above his laboratory to observe time passing through the rise and fall of the sun as well as the movement of the moon and stars. But this natural sight, that mirrors the description found in the book, is soon exchanged for the view of a clothing store outside George’s window. The natural images of sun and moon are exchanged for the manikin in a store window across the street. The different outfits come and go, the manikin is dressed and redressed as the years pass. The epically enormous movement in the sky that signifies the passing of time is trivially exchanged for women’s western fashion. Placing the lens strictly on the female form during time travel is a strange choice. On one way, it quickly shows the progress women have made, exchanging lavish dresses for pants shows a shift to functionality, but on the other hand, makes a spectacle of the female body.

The comically quick music provides the score during these scenes of time travel further making George’s journey a joke. George’s perplexed and slightly frightened reaction to automobiles offers the same comic relief as the manikin and the time traveling score. Even the time machine itself is referred to in commercial terms as George’s group of friends ask him how much he could sell the contraption for and how he could mass produce it. All these factors create a lighter, comic tone partially surrounded by commercialism at the turn of the century.

Another important distinction is the difference between traveling back in time and traveling forward in time. While Wells focuses on purely forward movement in his novel, the movie adaptation allows the viewer to travel both back to 1899 from 1960 and forward to 802,701. Similarly The Terminator shows the future of 2029, but also the past of the 80s to both the characters and to the viewer. For the modern viewer, this 80s context requires us to travel back in time along with Reese and The Terminator. This double-layered time travel provides an extra twist of what the reader or viewer sees as present day, future and past.


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