How To Build a Time Machine – ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ NIFF Review

How To Build a Time Machine4.5 Stars

This past Friday night I went to NIFF, the Niagara Integrated Film Festival to watch How To Build a Time Machine, a documentary I was very interested in, ever since I heard of it’s conception some five years ago.  This was actually my first visit to NIFF, though I’d planned and promised myself that I would make it each of the last two years, only to have something waylay my plans.  The festival is in its third year, and still growing, showcasing international films, local Niagara area films, local shorts and even some mainstream theatrical releases.  This year, there were two films that I really wanted to see at the festival, and fortunately enough for me they were both on Friday night, and both in the same venue, one following the other.  How to Build a Time Machine was the first half of my own personal NIFF double feature.

How to Build a Time Machine is the story of two different men who were each profoundly affected by their experiences with H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, and follows each of them as they set out on very different paths to building their own time machines.

Rob Niosi worked for many years in the film and television industries, primarily as an animator or artist, and who has for many years been building his own full-scale replica of the time machine prop from the 1960 Time Machine film starring Rod Taylor. The film recounts a story he tells about seeing the film in a theatre where his father was working as an usher.  The film and the fond memories it evoked of the times with his father were what started Niosi on his prop making path.  Because really, what better way is there to relive your treasured memories than to have a time machine?  We see Rob’s compulsion take shape over the years that this film was being made.  Rob is a perfectionist, over-engineering his prop.  Where the actual prop builders used plastic for something, he uses brass or copper.  Where they used plain cotton, he uses velvet.  His incredible attention to detail emphasizes his love for the prop, the and the journey of making it.  Along that journey he tells us several stories from his life that actually are relevant to the time travel discussion.  In one segment he talks about how film itself is a method of time travel, and how stop motion animation works, and how by speeding up or slowing down the camera, we can affect how time plays out.

Dr. Ron Mallett is a theoretical physicist who has been conducting actual scientific research on time travel.  When he was a young boy, his father died of a heart attack, the distraught Mallett found comfort in science-fiction stories, particularly H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.  After reading the comic book adaptation of the film (and book) he chose to study physics in hopes that he might one day be able to actually construct a real, working time machine so he could go back and prevent his father’s death.  Mallett eventually becomes a professor at the University of Connecticut, but he realized very early on that he would have been laughed out of the physics profession if he approached any university saying he wanted to study time travel, so instead he chose the next best thing, and focused his research on black holes since Einstein had shown that gravity can affect time, and that black holes are all about gravity.

The film follows both men on their separate journeys as they find their own answers to several very important “time travel” questions:

• “Where would you go?”  Rob said he would head to the future, Ron obviously to the past.

• “What happens if you dabble in time?” Rob didn’t really concern himself with this, but Ron realizes that if he prevents his father’s death, he also prevents the reason that his younger self would join the Air Force to put himself through college and university, to studying physics, and ultimately creating his time machine.  A paradox.  If he went back and prevented himself from following the path that led to him going back in time, could he actually ever go back in time?

• “Is time travel possible?”  Both agree that they think it is possible, but Dr. Mallett offers some important insights.  He postulates that you could only go back in time as long as the time machine existed.  That is, if a time machine was invented on January 1st 1980, we could only go as far back as that date.  Before that, there was no time machine so that past would be unreachable, unless there was some extra terrestrial time machine invented somewhere long ago.

After the film there was a brief Q&A period  with director Jay Cheel, and it was quite interesting.  I think that documentaries should teach you something but also should leave you with questions.  Having the director handy to ask these questions to was a fun way to wrap up the experience of watching the film.


Bottom Line: Very enjoyable, and I’m not just saying that because the director used to work at my store.  The film was partially funded through a crowdfunding campaign, and part of that campaign promised a Blu Ray copy of the film to donors.  Now I need my own time machine so I can go back, donate to the film and get my present day self a copy of the film…


Posted on 16-06-15, in 4.5 Star, Movie Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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