(Originally published February 15, 2022 by Isaac Payne)
Every once in a while, you come across that one movie that really stick out, whether it’s a super unique concept or just an off-the-wall sort of film.
I recently found a sci fi movie on Amazon Prime that presents itself as a documentary, when it’s actually a sci fi concept film. The History of Time Travel is filmed like a classic documentary but it’s anything but that, and it’s certainly not a Doctor Who film, either.
Here’s a complete review of The History of Time Travel.
The History of Time Travel was an Austin Film Festival movie in 2014, but it had been in various stages of production since 2010.
The writer and director, Rick Kennedy, has worked on a few other films, most of which you’ve probably never heard of. A Year from Now is a Christmas Carol meets Groundhog Day film, and his first film, The Line, is about a prisoner escaping from Nazi Germany.
Of his work, The History of Time Travel stands out as a unique entity, mainly because the idea of filming an obviously fictional story as a documentary is particularly boggling.
In an interview with the Austin Film Festival, Kennedy says that some people “might enjoy the sci-fi elements more, or find the alternate histories interesting, or appreciate the humor and the absurdity of the whole thing,” and I certainly think he’s hit the nail on the head there.
So, as you’ve probably guessed, The History of Time Travel is a fake documentary. It employs the classic documentary narrator to make ominous comments, and all of the “experts” and first-hand accounts seem to be on the same page about the story.
And the story revolves around Edward Page and his family. Page was an MIT graduate in the late 1930s and later became a researcher for the Indiana Project, a clandestine project funded by the Pentagon to create time travel.
The Indiana Project and the Manhattan Project ran parallel for many years, but after WWII ended with the atomic bomb, the Pentagon began to cut funding to time travel research.
At some point, someone designs a portable time machine. And I say someone because as the film goes on, it becomes unclear who invented the machine. Originally, it was Edward’s son, Richard, but as Richard goes back in time to fix his family, the timelines start to get jumbled.
Just know that there is a time machine, and it does work, and you’ll know. The history gradually starts to change as the film goes on. Even though Richard only intended to change one or two aspects of the world when he went back in time, he ended up changing the whole trajectory of American history.
Nixon is assassinated in Dallas instead of JFK, Russians land on the moon first—the list goes on.
Eventually, we reach a point where the rabid flurry of timelines convene, and the world returns to normal. Not to the normal of the first half of the film, but to our normal. The History of Time Travel becomes The Theory of Time Travel, and it’s on the Science Fiction Channel instead of the History Channel.
At first, the scripted nature of the movie made it feel very stiff and unrealistic. Sure, they had the conventions of a documentary, but everything seemed to line up too easily, and that’s how you knew it was scripted.
The experts—which included a sci fi author, a philosopher, and a few time-travel physicists and historians—all had a similar way of storytelling, which made it evident they were reading a script. Instead of acting as individual characters, they were simply voice actors reading lines.
They spent a lot of time in the first minutes of the movie discussing the family life of Edward Page, in pretty vivid detail. I didn’t quite understand why until the movie started to branch off into different timelines, and we literally saw our history change before our eyes.
I think that the film is bold and interesting. It takes the medium of the documentary and turns it into a sci-fi concept film, and that’s something I would have never paired together. It gives me the vibe of the Ancient Aliens TV show and other similar conspiracy-theory documentaries, but with a more creative flair.
The History of Time Travel had a fairly small budget, but the production value was pretty good. There were a few points where I giggled at the poorly Photoshopped “evidence”, but I think that only contributed to the humor.
Overall, I’d give the film a 7/10. It had an original concept, and even though it stumbled through the first twenty minutes, it ended with a potent question about time travel: “Would we even notice if it happened?”
Is it the best sci fi movie on Amazon Prime right now? Not by a long shot, but it’s certainly worth watching if you’re tired of all the lasers, spaceships, and aliens that populate mainstream sci fi film.