Feeling Loopy

Time travel is tricky.

Writing a story that allows characters to move through time opens up all sorts of nasty paradox doors and ‘what ifs?’ and plot holes and it can be a bear to get it right.

This week, I saw the film Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. I read the book when it was first released, but I will be honest and say I don’t really remember much about it. What I do remember was thinking that it was an interesting world created by the author but that there didn’t seem to be much story in there.

People who have read the book much more recently than I and have sen the movie have said that the movie takes a massive left turn away from the book about half-way through. From what I remember, I can almost understand that, because you’d want the cool set-up of the world, but you’d need to shoe-horn a stronger narrative into a 2-hour film.

If you have not yet seen the movie or read the book and plan to do either, I suggest you stop reading, because I’m so totally going to do SPOILERS because of what I want to discuss. I know this means both of my readers will now stop reading and I’ll be left talking to myself, but so be it. This has been gnawing at me and I want to get it out.

SPOILER ALERT

You’ve been warned.

I have issues with how the movie dealt with time. I do not recall if the book did this in a similar way, so the book may well not have these problems. But the movie does.

The basic story involves a kid in 2016 who finds a ‘Loop’ of repeating time from 1943 on an island in which live Miss Peregrine and her peculiar children. He travels from 2016 to 1943 through a cave, hangs out, then travels back through the cave and back into 2016. Simple enough. I can buy that there’s this magic portal that lets you into The Loop and that when you leave, the portal spits you back out into the time period from which you originally entered. Like it has a psychic memory of when you went in to refer to when it lets you out. Fair enough.

But let’s examine this a bit more. At one point, we are told that Miss Peregrine frown on her children discussing the outside world. For them, it is always one particular day in 1943. Their bodies do not age.

But they remember.

They know they’re in a loop. They know what happened yesterday in the loop, even though it’s now the same day. It’s a bit like Groundhog Day, if you will. So they know that they have been living in 1943 for over 70 years and are still children. Add to that, the fact that at one point some of the kids leave 1943 to enter 2016 to get the boy. So we know they can leave the loop if they want. However, we learn that if they remain in the future, their bodies will quickly age the intervening years. So If they stay in 2016, they will age 73 years in a matter of days (it’s not made clear how long the process would take).

Right now, this still sort of works. Their Loop is on an island. Self-contained. But then…

Their Loop isn’t reset. Time moves forward. But they are still in 1943. It is just the next day in 1943. So they leave the island. They are now in the rest of the world, but in 1943. OK. This opens up the possibility that one of the kids could go through the cave and pop up in 2016, get some sort of technology or important information or something, then go back through the cave into 1943, then sail off the island in the rest of the 1943 world and ‘invent’ the technology 50 years early. They can change the trajectory of history. This is the first thing that popped into my head, yet it is never even mentioned in the film.

Fine. That’s not actually my biggest issue.

The kids need to save someone who has been captured and taken into another Loop somewhere else. This Loop is new, created in 2016, so it loops a day from 2016. In order to rescue their friend, the kids in 1943 sail to the entrance of the 2016 Loop and enter the 2016 Loop from 1943.

This shouldn’t be possible.

The new Loop was created in 2016. The kids arrive in 1943. The Loop didn’t exist then. The portal to the Loop didn’t exist in 1943. They shouldn’t be able to rescue their friend. I don’t know if this is in the book or not, but it was a huge hole for me, and nearly took me out of the story.

Later, they return through the new portal from Loop 2016 to Real World 1943. But Boy remains in Loop 2016, which closes and becomes Real World 2016. Then he decides to rejoin the kids, but doesn’t know where they might be now. However, he knows where they were on that day in 1943, so he starts travelling backwards through Loops until he can enter real time at a date and time before 1943 and live his life in the past until it is naturally 1943, when he then goes to where he knows they will be and rejoins them. An instant for them, a year or so for him.

That bit is complicated, but it can be made to work without breaking any rules. What he needs to do is first find a Loop that has been in continual existence from creation up to now (2016). Let’s say it’s a 1970 Loop. He enters the 1970 Loop, then instead of going back through the portal, he travels 1970 until he finds a Loop created earlier that is still in existence in 1970. Let’s say 1950. So he travels into the 1950 Loop. Again he travels the world, this time in 1950, until he finds an even earlier Loop. He finds a 1942 Loop. Enters 1942 from 1950. Then travels the world and waits. Eventually, 1942 become 1943 (years have a way of doing that) and he can rush back and rejoin the kids who have just reentered 1943 from 2016.

So in theory, the Boy’s journey to rejoin the kids is doable by the rules of the world. But you still come up against the biggest issue, the 2016 Loop should not have existed in 1943.

Also, not to go all Inception on this, but Boy is now living in a Loop in a Loop in a Loop. Or something like that. We are left to assume that the kids go somewhere and a new 1943 Loop is created. So let’s say they’re there for 5 years. 1943 in Loop time, 1948 in real time. When he leaves the Loop, is he in 1948, or does the act of leaving any Loop restart him and he pops up in 2016?

And can he step out of his new 1943 Loop into real time and alter the course of history? He knows what’s going to happen for the next 70+ years. Can he lay down a series of Vegas sports bets and become a multi-millionaire? Can he go to Florida in 2000 and explain how butterfly ballots work to the 3,000+ people who meant to vote for Gore but ended up voting for Buchanan because they got confused, thereby flipping that state and the 2000 election to Gore?

A super villain could do some serious damage with access to Loops.

What do you think? Did I miss something?

Movie Adaptations Can Be Better Than the Book

Yesterday, it was announced the Nickelodeon has started production on a new TV movie based on Chris Grabenstien’s best-selling MG book, Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.

I congratulated Chris (a prince of an author who deserves all the success he can get his grubby little hands on and more), and managed to do so even with flames of jealousy shooting out of my eyes and ears. If you haven’t read Escape.. or it’s sequel, Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics, you must. Go now. Order them from Amazon or purchase them from your local bookstore. They are fun and clever and intelligent and cool. That Nickelodeon chose to adapt the first one into a TV movie is not a shocker as it is eminently filmable. It will quite probably be a great film and I will set my DVR to record it when it airs.

It won’t be as good as the book.

It is a tried and true cliche that the movie is never as good as the book. This is true even when the movies are great, such as most of the Harry Potter movies. They are genuinely fantastic movies. The books are better.

But once in a blue moon a movie comes around that’s better than the book. I know that sounds sacrilegious, but it’s true. In my experience, there’s generally one of two reasons for this:

  • The movie cut the fat out of the story.

Remember that old John Grisham movie, The Client? It starred Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones and was about a kid who witnessed something and then learned a secret that everybody wanted to know–FBI, Mafia, the neighborhood ice cream man, everybody. The entire book hinges on whether the kid will tell the secret to the good guys. You know he will, there’s no possible way he doesn’t. And you go through hundreds of pages of the kid waffling back and forth and getting in and out of jams on his way to finally do what he could have done in the first few chapters.

The movie told pretty much the same story, except that since it’s a two-hour movie, there isn’t time to have the kid agonize over his decision. So he pretty much makes the right choice right away and we race into the climax. It’s much tighter and doesn’t make the kid out to be the wishy-washy dork he is in the book. It’s better.

  • The movie was nothing like the book.

How to Train Your Dragon is a great movie. I’m a fan of the book, as well. But for my money, the movie’s better. It’s also wildly different. If you’ve only seen the movie, then you know Toothless as the sleek, black, powerful dragon who Hiccup finds and manages to tame and ride. In the books, Toothless is a tiny, whiny, dragon that rides around in Hiccup’s shirt and complains a lot. I saw the movie before reading the book, so when I met Toothless in the book, I was utterly stunned.

Of course, in these cases, the comparable quality of the two isn’t always a consensus. There are some people who will hold a dagger to your throat until you agree with them that the The Shining was a better movie than book, and others who would shove that dagger into their own throat before ever agreeing to such a travesty of a statement.

Now I will admit that in my book (so to speak), this is rare. The book usually IS better than the movie, if only because books allow you to go deeper into the characters and world than you ever can in the 90 minutes you generally get in a film. But usually is not never. It can happen.

I doubt it’ll happen with the Lemoncello film, because the book is awesome (no fat) and I doubt they’re going to suddenly decide Mr. Lemoncello should be a talking penguin or the library needs to eat the kids (Ooo! Love that idea!). I expect it will be a more or less faithful adaptation, will make for a pretty good film, and hopefully convince viewers to go and pick up the book–which is still better.