The Shapiro Files

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Time Revisited

Back in February, I posted an entry about the film Groundhog Day and other movies about people stuck in time-loops. At the end of that entry, I promised a future entry about time-stopping movies/shows. So at long last, here it is.

But first, a note of clarification regarding my previous discussion of time-looping as a central conceit. Brad and several other readers thought that my definition of time-looping referred to films with overlapping narratives — sometimes called “tapestry” narratives. These are films that tend to bounce around quite a bit in time and are often comprised of large number of characters who intersect in interesting and often surprising ways. Films in this category include Crash, Mystery Train, Magnolia, Short Cuts, and 11:14 (not to be confused in any way with the 1990 short film 12:01 PM — which, unlike 11:14, truly is a time-looping narrative). In contrast to tapestry narratives, time-looping narratives are stories in which the central conflict is the time-loop itself. With the exception of a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode in which the entire cast gets stuck in a time-loop, these narratives are usually concerned with only a single protagonist stuck in an endlessly repeating segment of time (an hour, a day, etc.). The individual struggles in vain to break out of the cycle, whereas everyone around them is completely oblivious to the protagonist’s predicament.

In all events, the point to my original entry was simply that as much as I enjoyed Groundhog Day, I was a little annoyed that there was absolutely no acknowledgment in any of the DVD special features that the idea was copied from the aforementioned Oscar-nominated short film 12:01 PM (which, incidentally, was later remade as a disappointing feature-length made-for-TV film that should be avoided).

OK, now that I got that out of the way, I can finally get to my discussion of time-stopping narratives. Most fans of the classic Twilight Zone television series will likely recall the excellent 1963 episode “A Kind of Stopwatch.” The episode is about a man who is given a stopwatch that is capable of stopping time itself. When time is stopped, everything is frozen around him and he can move freely getting into places he normally couldn’t go and doing things he normally couldn’t do. It’s a great episode from a great TV show and worth checking out. But I’m not sure many people realize that this concept of a stopwatch used to stop time itself was not an original Twilight Zone concept.

One year earlier, in 1962, author John D. MacDonald published a novel called The Girl, The Gold Watch, and Everything, which had the same general concept as the Twilight Zone episode — right down to a watch as the instrument to make time stop and for the holders of the watch to move about while everyone else is frozen. In 1980, this novel was made into a television film starring Robert Hays (best known for his starring role in Airplane) and Pam Dawber (from Mork and Mindy). I’m sure the movie would seem cheesy if I saw it now, but at the time, I absolutely loved it. I thought the idea of stopping time and doing whatever you wanted was incredibly empowering and I’ve been fascinated with the idea of stopping time ever since. To this day, there are times I wish I had a magical stopwatch that would let me pause everything so I can take an extended nap, or get ahead of people in line, or any other number of possibilities.

Incidentally, the TV movie was successful enough to warranty a sequel in 1981 called The Girl, the Gold Watch, & Dynamite, which I don’t recall seeing (either I simply missed it or it was so bad that I erased it from my memory). And just as history is bound to repeat itself (appropriately enough for a discussion about time-related narratives), in 1985, the Twilight Zone was brought back as a new television series. The first episode included a memorable segment called “A Little Peace and Quiet,” in which a housewife finds a necklace buried in her backyard that allows her to — yes, you guessed it — stop time. Given the 1980’s Cold War climate of the time, this particular episode took a very dark turn near the end and the final image of that episode has never left my memory. (Check out this very impressive blog for more on the 1980's Twilight Zone.)

But there’s still more. In 2002, a film for the teeny-bopper crowd called Clockstoppers was released to theaters. I never saw it, but apparently, it again employs the idea of a device that allows its holder to stop time (or some variation thereof). Similar to my complaint about Groundhog Day above, from what I can tell, no one involved in the production of this film acknowledged John D. MacDonald’s novel, its television adaptation, or either or the Twilight Zone episodes.

Those bums.


  • great article, just saw clock stoppers, it was about speeding up the person where some type of tech device, so not really about the same thing over all a b movie.


    By Blogger Edward Ott, at 4/17/2006 8:53 AM  

  • Edward,

    Welcome to The Shapiro Files and thanks for your comments! So I guess Clockstoppers isn't exactly the same as the time-stopping plot of the TV shows/books I referenced. But on the other hand, by speading up an individual's personal time (I wonder what Einstein would say to that in light of his Theory of Relativity?!), the person does, in essence, stop time. So perhaps it's at least similar to the whole time-stopping thing?

    In all events, thanks for stopping by and I hope you'll continue to swing by from time to time!


    By Blogger Steve Shapiro, at 4/17/2006 9:42 AM  

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