Monday, October 31, 2011

Just Seen: In Time

A nice little work of speculative fiction depicting an alternate universe that some may even find attractive: Everyone has been genetically engineered to stop aging at 25, and has to earn every minute of their lives after that, conveniently counted down on green clocks on their forearms. If you can't get the minutes, you'll die young, but you'll at least leave a good-looking corpse.

Writer-director Andrew Niccol seems to specialize in the Philip K. Dick idiom of sci-fi: high-concept, freighted in some bit of impossible future tech, with an undeniable touch of paranoia. Observations:

• As much as it resembles Niccol's other sci-fi films-- the genetics-is-destiny concept of  Gattaca (1997) or the really, really artificial reality of The Truman Show (1998)-- In Time seems to be a logical expansion of Logan's Run (1976), Where everyone had a little glowing plastic flower on their palms which blinked out at 30, along with their lives. This film was based on a 1967 book by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, which had everyone time out at 21 (which has an undeniable 60s flavor to it). In Time adds the neat trick of turning an arbitrary execution date into a sort of financially-based expiration date.

• The easy-to-carry concept of In Time-- Money now literally equals time, carried on a clock on everyone's forearm: some have a minutes, others have centuries-- is quite timely, despite it's sort of abstract quality. The haves have so much time they seem to move slowly (because they literally have all the time in the world) and live far from the teeming have-nots, who scramble to get enough minutes to last out the day by a system that continually squeezes them by raising prices. This is a situation that, you have to admit, feels quite familiar.

• Even with it's nifty premise, In Time suffers from a familiar flaw in it's sci-fi universe: call it "Arbitrary Totalitarianism." The good-looking, well-dressed folks, rich and poor, go through their well-ordered lives without any contact with each other, with a yawning societal stratification which goes unaddressed by democratic discourse or media of any kind (aside from wanted posters). Authoritarian governments are so common in sci-fi that universes with suffrage or talk radio tend to stand out ("BSG" being a big one). I think this is because depicting a society without the messy debates of democracy plays much stronger on-screen and hangs a huge lantern on the central gimmick. It's not really writer laziness, rather a form of shorthand, like the movie trope of turning on a TV exactly when vital info is being broadcast (which happens several times in In Time).

• This must have been a easy script to pitch to a studio: an alternate reality where everyone is 25 and extremely attractive. Olivia Wilde plays Justin Timberlake's hot 50-year-old mom. The pursuing cop, the indefatigable Javert of the piece, is supposed to be over 70 and is played by smooth-faced Cillian Murphy. I'd read one review that said the movie looks like a 99-minute long credit card ad. Have to agree.

•Just a wee little bit overwritten. Practically all the characters are cutely named after timepieces: Salas, Weis [Weiss], Hamilton, Fortis, Citizen, Raymond [Raymond Weil], etc. Andrew Niccol had the restraint not to name anyone Timex, Swatch or Fossil, so there's that.

• Seen at the Daly City 20, a fine digital projection which showed the amazing photography of Roger Deakins to best effect. At the end, when the director credit came up, some fool in the back bellowed "HOR-RI-BLE!" That got a few chuckles. Since I was by myself and wouldn't embarrass anyone, I loudly intoned back into the dark, "--Then why did you sit through the whole thing?" That got a good laugh.

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