I don’t usually review movies, and this isn’t so much a review as a cautionary tale about how the most brilliant idea can be destroyed by a lack of good worldbuilding and attention to detail. I’m talking, of course, about the movie In Time.
Brilliant idea, here’s the blurb:
In a future where people stop aging at 25, but are engineered to live only one more year, having the means to buy your way out of the situation is a shot at immortal youth. Here, Will Salas finds himself accused of murder and on the run with a hostage – a connection that becomes an important part of the way against the system.
Actually, the problems start right there. This is how the blurb should have been:
In a future where people stop aging at 25, but are engineered to live only one more year, buying time is buying a chance to live another day. When Will Salas is given a century of unexpected life, he has a chance at immortal youth … if he can keep from being murdered for his time. But the system never planned on Will discovering where all that time came from … or where it shouldn’t go.
Or something like that.
This movie has a brilliant concept, but it falls down in telling us (instead of showing) all the important morals of the story and robbing us of tidbits of worldbuilding (is that gorgeous woman his wife, daughter, or mother? There’s no way to tell, because everyone is 25) by delivering them in ham-handed ways (“Are you wondering if she’s my wife or my mother? She’s my daughter!” Ugh.). There were many anachronistic details that pulled the viewer out of the context of the story with a wry commentary on “oh how clever we are that we thought of this.”
Taking the above example of immortal youth, if the world truly is filled with beautiful 25 year olds and it’s impossible to distinguish relationships by visual cues, then either 1) the society would have made those relationships irrelevant or 2) the society would have evolved some kind of marker to distinguish people. Maybe this is only a problem for the rich/long-lived, so people from the time-ghetto wouldn’t have the problem of having adult mothers around to be confused with adult daughters. But amongst the time-rich, social markers would surely have evolved. They could be extreme or subtle, but they would be there, especially if living a long life is a sign of time-wealth. Maybe the women would wear extra earrings, or maybe both sexes would have a tiny tattoo hash to “mark time” they’ve been on the planet. This could be revealed in cool ways – a faux embarrassment covering the marks or a tantalizing reveal of them. Our confused protagonist could ask about them, or the protective antagonist could admonish his daughter for flaunting her two hash marks.
It could be anything, but ruining that awesome worldbuilding tidbit with some telling dialogue missed the chance make the world deeper and more cool. And keep the viewer/reader firmly entrenched in the story.
In Time didn’t trust its viewers to understand all the nuances of this brilliant future dystopian world, and I can understand the temptation to explain, to make sure that the audience “gets” the point. But having a brilliant concept requires some brilliant execution, to deliver on the promise of that premise. In Time didn’t live up to that promise, but I still recommend that you see it. Look for the missed chances to show rather than tell how the world works, for trite explanations or anachronistic “time” jokes.
Then go forth and make sure you aren’t doing this in your storytelling. Your readers will thank you! (And your brilliant concept will shine even brighter.)
p.s. All of this is my critique, my take on the craft of storytelling in this movie. It’s important to note that I STILL enjoyed the movie. What’s more, my husband REALLY enjoyed it, not so much bothered by the details of the worldbuilding. (It’s all subjective: see my post about the Art of Writing)
I’m giving away a $10 Barnes&Noble Giftcard, but the giveaway ends Tuesday December 20th!