How do you create a "time bounce"? Appellate Judge James A. Stewart suggests using a "time beach ball."
Ever had a day when you're "out of the loop"?
We're talking about time loops here. A time loop, as every sci-fi fan knows, puts the people trapped within through the same day or hour over and over again. Since they don't know it, they go through the same repetitive actions. That wouldn't be much of a story, of course, so one character has to stumble into a way to break the loop enough to know he's going through the same day, then make the decision to be a catalyst for change so the loop can be broken. Thus, the heroes in a story like this are always out of the loop.
Whether it's in the comic movie Groundhog Day or a cliffhanger adventure like Doctor Who, a time loop—or "time bounce," as it's called in 12:01—can be lots of fun. It provides a chance to think about what might have been and speculate on the metaphysical impact of every action. What if I'd had an egg for breakfast instead of cereal? The entire fabric of the universe could have been changed beyond recognition. Hmmm, maybe not.
You might not remember it, unless you were caught in a time loop on the day it aired, but the TV movie 12:01 (loosely based on a 1973 short story, "12:01 P.M.," by Richard A. Lupoff, and subsequent short film) first was shown on Fox in 1993, the year Groundhog Day hit the big screen. Here it's presented as 12:01 (Special Edition) with commentary by the director.
Facts of the Case
"Lazy boy! Please wake up! Please wake up!"
Barry (Jonathan Silverman, Weekend at Bernie's) is having a rough time waking up, even with the urging of his robot alarm clock. As he tries to rush out the door, he gets a phone call from his mother and stops a kid from running into the street after a ball. Then he gets stuck behind a traffic accident. When he gets to work, all of this is his fault as far as his boss is concerned. His day's off to such a bad start that he—and you—probably failed to heed the news report on TV suggesting that his company's scientific experiment could cause a "time bounce."
There are compensations for working at Utrel, or there could be if Barry can get himself noticed by beautiful scientist Lisa (Helen Slater, Supergirl). As cubicle neighbor Howard (Jeremy Piven) describes her, "PhD at 25. Chick's got no social life." Alas, Barry's only a lowly personnel drone, and he can barely talk to women, as he proves in the cafeteria line.
If you didn't miss that TV news report, you've probably figured out that Barry's going to find himself in that "time bounce." Thanks to a mishap with some faulty wiring that delivers a well-timed electric shock, he's the only who knows there's a screwup in the fabric of time.
Can Barry save the woman he loves from an assassin and save the world from being trapped in time forever?
12:01 differentiates itself from Groundhog Day by introducing a mystery involving corporate sabotage as Barry tries to get to the root cause of the time bounce. He does stop to smell the roses with workaholic Lisa in one version of the fateful day, but Barry mostly actually stays focused on saving the world. That's the big credibility gap here—that the obviously passive Barry has turned into a man of action by the third day. The fact that Lisa, who doesn't remember that they're in a time bounce, also turns sleuth seems even less likely.
That said, Jonathan Silverman and Helen Slater play the unlikely heroes with enough charm to distract you from the rough spots in the plot. Even if they don't quite make sense as a Mulder and Scully-type team, their changes don't seem totally out of left field—and they're convincing as the two lonely souls who need a time bounce to get together. In the commentary, it's noted that their chemistry was genuine, since the two actors had once been romantically linked. Although the movie revolves around the two stars, there's also a good supporting cast, including Martin Landau (Mission: Impossible) and Jeremy Piven (Smokin' Aces).
The mystery itself is engaging, throwing in a well-timed loop every time you think it's going to be wrapped up neatly. Both the comic phase and the action phase of the movie are fun, though the abrupt shift in tone about midway through came as a surprise.
The transfer preserves the low-key camera work well, with subtle lighting shifts that follow the movie's mood swing while keeping the harsh monotonous look of cubicle culture. Every scene is easily readable, which helps viewers notice details such as a geranium that falls yet is back intact on the counter the "next" morning.
In the commentary, Director Jack Sholder (By Dawn's Early Light) notes that he did a scene in which red flower petals spray upon a shooting because the Fox network didn't like to show blood and violence back in 1993. I'd bet he was steamed when he saw this year's 24 season premiere. Elsewhere in his comments, Sholder talks about continuity, and the camera angles and lighting used to telegraph the changes in Barry's day as it repeats. Sholder makes a genial guide to his own movie.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It seems weird that it only takes six days for Barry to make the shift from cubicle drone to action hero. An unavoidable bit of streamlining to fit the two-hour TV slot, I suppose. It also highlights the fact that this movie is one of modest ambition, as is often the case with made-for-TV movies.
You've seen it all before. Science fiction shows and movies repeat certain situations, like endless time loops, like endless time loops because they have a symbolic quality. Why? A movie time loop gives us a chance to reflect on the decisions in our lives and ponder the changes we can make for a better future. If you're intrigued by this one, you should like it.
It may be just a TV movie, with a plot that's familiar and an abrupt shift in tone, but it's fun. Not guilty.
Still, the concept of time loops needs more research. I think I'll have an egg for breakfast tomorrow and watch the fabric of the universe bend.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
• Commentary by Director Jack Sholder
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