Although the 1998 romantic comedy Sliding Doorsstarring Gwyneth Paltrow, John Hannah, John Lynch, and Jeanne Tripplehorn may not immediately spring to mind as a science fiction film, it is one of the two micro-alternate history films that can be used to really explore the concept of alternate history on the personal level, the other being the 1946 Christmas Classic It’s a Wonderful Life.
Both films focus their attention on how things would have been different if things had worked out differently. In George Bailey’s case, Clarence shows him what Bedford Falls would have been like if he had never been born. Sliding Doors explores two alternatives for Paltrow’s Helen.
The film opens with Helen (Paltrow) heading into her public relations office for a normal day. When she arrives and learns that she has been fired on trumped up charges, she heads back home. The film shows her both catching her train and missing the train by moments, setting into motion the branching timelines for Helen’s life.
In the world in which she catches her train, she meets James (Hannah) who tries to jolly her out of her funk. He fails and she returns to her apartment to discover that her boyfriend, Gerry (Lynch) is having an affair with Lydia (Tripplehorn). Fleeing the apartment, she eventually finds herself staying with her friend Anna (Zara Turner) and bumping into James again in a local restaurant. Over the next several weeks, she and James become friends, and possibly more, and he encourages her to open her own public relations firm.
In the world in which she misses her train, Helen decides to take a cab home and finds herself on the wrong end of a mugging. Stopping off at the hospital, by the time she gets him, all evidence of Gerry’s affair is long gone. While Gerry continues to struggle with his novel, Helen begins working two jobs to try to make ends meet. Gerry continues his affair and also gaslights Helen whenever she begins to question him about things.
The One I Loveis the feature film debut of director Charlie McDowell and stars Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss. It was released in 2014. Although the film begins as a reasonably straightforward getaway for Ethan (Duplass) and Sophie (Moss) at the advice of their therapist (Ted Danson), the story quickly takes a quirky turn, giving it the feel of an episode of The Twilight Zone produced for the big screen.
The first scene makes it clear that at some point prior to the movie, Ethan cheated on his wife, Sophie. Flashbacks show the start of their relationship when everything was fresh and exciting as well as their failed attempts to rekindle those feeling. After listening to them, their therapist offers them access to a country house where they can rediscover each other in a secluded environment, noting that several of his patients have successfully made use of the house.
Upon arriving at the country estate, Sophie and Ethan discover there is a main house and a guest house, both of which they have full access to. After a first night getting used to their surroundings, they begin to explore separately. They also notice some oddities, for instance, Sophie prepares a breakfast of bacon and eggs for Ethan, who comments that she hates it when he eats bacon. Things get even weirder when Sophie mentioned how great the sex was the night before and Ethan has no recollection of having sex with her.
Based on the comic of the same name by Dave Stevens, The Rocketeer was a nostalgic film that looked back, with a nudge and a wink at the thrilling heroics of yesteryear. The film was a loving tribute to the action serials of a much earlier time while it also wasn’t afraid to look at the seamier side of Hollywood.
Set in 1938, Cliff Secord (Bill Campbell) is a stunt pilot who only cares about flying a beaten up Seabee to qualify for the national air races and spending what little time and money wasn’t invested in flying on his girl, Jenny (Jennifer Connelly). Working to help Cliff achieve his goal was Peevy (Alan Arkin), a washed up mechanic who had an intrinsic understanding of anything mechanical.
After Cliff’s plane is destroyed upon landing, he and Peevy happen to find an experimental rocket pack that was hidden on the airfield by gangsters trying to get away from the FBI. While Peevy is the voice of reason, suggesting they turn the rocket pack over to the authorities, Cliff begs him for the opportunity to try it out, the ultimate flying experience.
Once he flies, Cliff is completely hooked, finding solid reasons to keep the jetpack, like rescuing a pilot who passed out while flying, but when the gangsters figure out that the guy with the jetpack is somehow connected to Jenny, he needs to use the pack to rescue her.
Better Off Ted was a workplace comedy that ran on ABC for two seasons from 2009 through 2010 for 26 episodes. The series focused on Ted Crisp (Jay Harrington), a middle manager with something of a conscience trying to find the right balance between his conscience and fulfilling the needs of the soul-sucking international conglomerate he worked for.
Ted worked for Veronica Palmer (Portia de Rossi), who was all-in for the company, although it is not entirely clear that she draws a distinction between herself and the company, except when it serves her purposes. Ted oversees a couple of scientists who create the strange inventions the company, Veridian Dynamics, require, only rarely questioning if making things like a weaponized pumpkin means that they are mad scientists. The two scientists, Lem Hewitt (Malcolm Barrett) and Phil Myman (Jonathan Slavin) form an excellent comedy team, able to play off each other with either taking on the role of comic or foil (although Barrett tends to take the straight man role a little more often). Linda Zwordling (Andrea Anders) also works for Ted as a quality assurance analyst who views the scientists as nerds and fears Veronica’s mercurial moods.
Although primarily a contemporary mainstream workplace comedy, Phil and Lem’s inventions clearly have a science fictional element to them. In the first episode, the company decides the cryogenically freeze Phil and later episodes see the scientists creating a hover vest for children to wear (which, of course, would be a prototype for later military use). Veronica’s first line is telling Ted that the company wants to make a metal that is hard as steel, can bounce like rubber, and is edible, to which Ted responds, “We can do that.”
On August 10, 1984, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eight Dimension made its first appearance in theatres the United States. The film did not do well in its initial box office release, but over the years it has amassed a cult following based on its subsequent releases on home video. In addition, the two graphic novels have been released to follow the story of its protagonist, Buckaroo Banzai.
In an article I published in World Watch One, a Buckaroo Banzai zine, earlier this year, I argued that one of the issues with the film is that it is so different from anything else, people who go in with any expectations (or even none), have a tendency to bounce off the film, wondering what it was, exactly that they had just watched. A second viewing, in which the basic outline of the film is known, however, allows the viewer to fully appreciate the weirdness which interlaces every moment of the film.
At one point in the film a thoroughly confused President Widmark (Ronald Lacey) comments, “Buckaroo, I don’t know what to say. Lectroids? Planet 10? Nuclear extortion? A girl named ‘John’?” which, I imagine, is how many viewers feel about the movie.
A friend of mine has often joked that I am his go-to source for television series which were cancelled during their first season. I believe that the series I recommended to him that cemented my reputation was The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., which ran on FOX for one season in 1993 and starred Bruce Campbell in the title role. His support staff included Julius Carry as Lord Bowler, Christian Clemenson as Socrates Poole, and recurring characters Professor Albert Wickwire (John Astin), Dixie Cousins (Kelly Rutherford), Pete Hutter (John Pyper-Ferguson), John Bly (Billy Drago), and Whip Morgan (Jeff Phillips).
In my article on The Middleman, I commented that it could most properly be compared to a tongue-in-cheek version of Men in Black. If I were to make a similar comparison for The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., I’d compare it to the 1965 television series The Wild Wild West (the film version of which happened to star Will Smith, who was also in Men in Black).
The titular character is hired by a bunch of robber barons to track down the members of John Bly’s gang who ambushed and killed Brisco’s father and, in so doing, damaged the robber barons’ hold on the commerce in the American West in the 1890s. The barons’ liaison with Brisco is Socrates Poole, an effete businessman who strikes up a friendship with Brisco, but is apparently as far removed as possible from the bounty hunter. Early on, Brisco finds a rival, later partner, in the form of Lord Bowler, another bounty hunter who has some surprises of his own.