This year, I watched How To Build a Time Machine. But by the time the film was over the movie theater was so hot and what I had to say to the principals who were doing the Q and A was way too personal, so I didn’t approach them.
Directed by Jay Cheel, the documentary follows two distinct men who were both inspired by H.G. Wells at different times in their lives, for equally significant reasons. Robert Niosi, who dedicated an enormous amount of time and money to build an authentic replica of the eponymous Time Machine from the Rod Taylor film. And Ronald Mallet, who discovered The Time Machine shortly after the passing of his father, and devoted his entire life to making time travel a reality.
The story makes the best use of old footage, since Robert Niosi was also a stop motion animator for Pee Wee’s Playhouse and had done interviews for shows like Reading Rainbow. This allows a kind of “back and forth” through time sort of feeling as the images and stock footage are used in non-linear fashion to tell a linear tale. And of course since Ronald Mallet is the theoretical physicist on the show, we get a real treat when we see him using vapor to demonstrate the results of a small light experiment. Yes, I know the vapor has a scientific application, but it’s Mad Scientist sci-fi movie gold that fit so perfectly into this documentary.
Between the ages of eight and fourteen, if you happened to encounter me, I might hold you hostage with one or more of my many theories and fantasies regarding travel through time, space, and parallel universes. The Back to the Future trilogy and the animated series fueled my passion and it led to more than a few unflattering assessments of my mental stability from school counselors and caseworkers. They said it wasn’t normal for someone my age to be fascinated by time travel, dragons, and other such things.
The 21st century came and the Discovery Channel released a “What If” documentary that dealt with the possibility of dragons evolving along side dinosaurs and later, humankind, until their inevitable extinction at the hands of a Romanian knight errant. Thank you, Discovery Channel.
Now, I also have to thank Robert and Ronald for validating another childhood passion that I was heavily criticized for. I don’t think I ever had the dedication or the acumen to build a Time Machine from scratch, or to dedicate my life and education to proving the theory, but the fact that these two men essentially made a career from their passion validates me and gives me license to spit in the face of the people who doubted me. (I won’t be spitting in anyone’s face, don’t worry)
If either of you reads this, I have one request. This request is entirely romantic in nature and I was paying attention when Ronald Mallet mentioned something I hadn’t considered in regards to the ability to travel to the past. But I have to make this request nonetheless, because it is what I would have asked had I remained in the theater that evening.
There’s an apartment building at the end of Union Street, in North Adams, Massachusetts. You’ll know it when you see it because it’s the only building in that area that looks like a castle. At the age of ten, having watched Back to the Future Part Two at least a thousand times, and the animated series, and Quantum Leap, and having read many books set in the past, the future, and all over time and space, I lived there. And my ten year-old self is seriously considering writing a letter to the adult he will become, dropping it in a mail box, and waiting to see if I, the adult, will appear in front of him to tell him that time travel is real.
When you make that trip through time, could you swing by that house and talk to that boy? Tell him he’s on the right track. (Oh and tell him to lay off the Code Red: Mountain Dew. It won’t be invented until he’s 18 but plant that seed for me, if you will.)