Fixing The Tomorrow War

Sorry, it’s just that this daft film is bugging me. If you are going to have a time travel plot then do something with it. Terminator 1 and 2 managed to be exciting, daft movies and still have some interesting things to say about determinism and time travel. The Tomorrow War pulled one emotional beat out of the set-up but otherwise the time travel aspect just lead to an absurd situation in which Chris Pratt and only Chris Pratt could work out what to do in the past to help the future. It didn’t help that Pratt is not good at conveying the idea that his character is a particularly insightful thinker.

Spoilers follow…

The third act of the film has Pratt equipped with a special toxin that can kill the queen alien, seek out the original landing site. The clever bit is that he and his friends (including a volcano obsessed kid in the school he teaches at) work out that the alien’s landed a long time ago and have been stuck under ice for hundreds of years. This is why nobody in the present or in the intervening time, found their landing site. That idea is neat…except we still stuck with this point that the whole attention of the whole world has been worrying about where the aliens come from. The solution is neat but the idea that only Pratt can work it out is absurd. The plan to fly to Russia and dig out the spaceship is also not just silly but carries the obvious risk of being the act that actually releases the aliens. I did even wonder if that was going to be the plot twist and maybe it will be the twist in the sequel. It’s such an obvious danger that it even creates some extra tension when watching the film but apparently that was just me adding my own layers to a film that is lacking layers.

Let me suggest that central problem is one of the film’s best parts. We have this great scene early on, where the future soldiers gate crash the World Cup Final. It is a great way to get the plot going and a moment that can be used in trailers to quickly explain the premise of the film. So I get why they included it but from there on the whole story has a problem.

The problem is that so much of the rest of the plot acts as if there is some issue with people in the past knowing about events in the future. There’s even dialogue between Pratt’s character and his future-version-daughter which suggests that she has to withhold information. Even the weird draft idea has implications around there being definite time-travel issues (vaguely pointed at avoiding meeting future selves).

So scrap the big entrance. Hand wave a rule that means that the future people can’t transmit knowledge from the past. Keep the “draft” but have them kidnap people shortly before their regular-timeline deaths – not a new idea in time travel plots, so maybe there was a copyright reason why they didn’t. Time travel is new technology for the future people, so it’s not unreasonable that initially it is only one way and only manages to get Pratt back to the past at the last moment. That even doubles the tension in the section of the movie in the ocean research base fortress. You’d have the work on the toxin and the work on the time machine to make it go both ways.

Better yet forget the whole crashed-alien-spaceship explanation and apply a sci-fi plot version of Ockham’s razor: do not heedlessly multiply sci-fi elements. Currently, the film has two unrelated things alien monsters and time travel. The more you think about it, the more absurd the time travel invention fits into the whole set up. When we meet the future people they are in a desperate battle for survival with much of the human population already dead. Somehow, somebody had the time and funding for time travel as a project?

Things make a lot more sense if time travel is the root cause of the alien invasion and as the plot needs a disincentive for people in the future to share information with people in the past then the plot twist becomes obvious. The aliens should be pouring in through temporal wormholes created by small temporal paradoxes. The future people can’t shut down the time machine because they need it to stop the rifts from growing even bigger, they can’t go back in time to stop the time machine from being switched on because that might create an even bigger paradox and let even more alien monsters through.

That means changing the third act. Pratt back in the past still has the toxin but now what he needs to do is to find the very first temporal rift (conveniently in his time) and go through it into where ever the aliens are coming from. He can’t stop the rifts from happening but he can stop the creatures multiplying by attacking them at the start (I don’t know, maybe the rifts are feeding them and helping them multiply, so if he hits them early there’s just the one).

14 thoughts on “Fixing The Tomorrow War

  1. After I watched the first aired episode of Star Trek I wanted to fix it, too, but I didn’t come up with anything near as good as this. (Admittedly, I was only 13 at the time….)

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  2. “Snatched out of time at the moment of death” was the recruitment method for Jack Williamson’s “Legion of Time” and the factions in Fritz Leiber’s “ChangeWar” stories – probably there are other examples as well.

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  3. Downbeat plot twist if you don’t want a happy ending (because I can’t figure out a way to fix it) – if Chris Pratt is the first person to be sent back after being brought forward, it turns out *that* is what causes the initial time rift that the creatures are coming through. In fact, you could put him in a time loop, where every time he tries to fix things he just opens up another rift.

    I guess the only way out of this is to find some way to delete the first time machine before it’s ever used…. which I have a sneaking feeling is the way *all* time travel stories have to end, somehow; if you have the ability to meddle with the flow of time, someone is *always* going to use it to throw a spanner in the works for someone *else* who will meddle right back, and the only way to fix things is to remove the ability to meddle entirely.

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    1. if you have the ability to meddle with the flow of time, someone is *always* going to use it to throw a spanner in the works for someone *else* who will meddle right back, and the only way to fix things is to remove the ability to meddle entirely.

      That’s basically the ending of Keith Laumer’s novel Qvabfnhe Ornpu(rot13’d, just in case).

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      1. Also Asimov’s The End of Eternity (which I’m not gonna rot13 seeing as it’s right there in the title there)

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      2. And Larry Niven had a Niven’s Law on this in his ‘Theory and Practice of Time Travel’ essay:

        If the universe of discourse permits the possibility of time travel and of changing the past, then no time machine will be invented in that universe.

        He argued it from two sides as I recall:
        – If the universe has an ontological inertia, and tends to try to minimize changes caused by time travel, the least change will always involve preventing the time machine from being invented
        – If the universe does not have an ontological inertia, then eventually the butterfly effect will inevitably lead to a future where the time machine isn’t invented, and then the timeline will stabilize.
        Note that the worlds of James P. Hogan’s Thrice Upon a Time and (initially) Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity get around the second part of this argument by requiring a receiver, so time travel can’t go back before the invention of time travel.

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      1. Until we saw the spaceship, and it was “where did these aliens come from?” my guess was that they had gated from the future which is why they never saw the spaceship coming. There wasn’t one. This was reinforced as I (watching with a friend) wondered why these invading aliens had no tech. My friend was theorizing they were aliens who lost their tech and went feral.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Okay, first you get a brilliant future scientist, and a citadel at the end of time with this guy and a perky yet sinister cartoon clock, and a bunch of the god of chaos and mischief, one of whom is an alligator, and a giant bureaucracy…

    … THEN you’ve got yourself some high-quality streaming time-travel.

    We would also accept a person with some sort of British accent in a blue box, or a brilliant scientist who keeps jumping around into the lives of people in the last half of the 20th century, or a brilliant but scatter-brained scientist and his high school kid sidekick with a stainless steel car with gull wing doors.

    Basically: not Chris Pratt.

    Liked by 5 people

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