Monday, October 11, 2021

Needle in a Timestack: Ridley Adapts Silverberg

If there is one subgenre that brings out the romance in science fiction, it would be time travel (as in Richard Matheson’s Somewhere in Time, etc). Nick Mikkelsen wants to keep time travel romantic, but his desperate attempt to save his marriage might turn it into tragedy in director-screenwriter John Ridley’s Needle in a Timestack, a surprisingly faithfully adaptation of the Robert Silverberg short story, which releases in theaters and on-demand this Friday.

Nick and Janine Mikkelsen are happily married, with a dog. However, he suddenly finds they are happily married with a cat. He hates cats (who doesn’t?), so he quickly deduces someone has altered their timeline. In their near future (which looks a lot like the here and now), time travel is a thing for those who can afford it. Changing the past to influence the future is strictly forbidden, but it happens all the time.

Mikkelsen tries to “back-up” their marriage, but it is not sufficient to stop Janine’s wealthy ex-husband Tommy Hambleton. He is determined to get her back, so after a particular severe time distortion results in Mikkelsen’s alternate marriage to his old flame, Alex Leslie, Mikkelsen decides to fight fire with fire and jaunt back himself.

Ridley’s adaptation of Silverberg keeps all the clever parts, while shrewdly cranking up the romantic vibe. The well-balanced balanced results should appeal to fans of the author, as well as light time travel romances. Yet, there is an element of darkness to the film that effectively cautions against rashly fooling around with the time-space continuum.

Leslie Odom Jr. is quite compelling as Mikkelsen, but the compelling Freida Pinto (his co-star in
Only) might be even more so as Leslie. The complexity of their relationship gives rise to a great deal of mixed feelings within viewers, which makes the film so interesting. Ironically, Cynthia Erivo (arguably the film’s biggest star) has the least screen time and most straightforward character arc as Janine Mikkelsen (or Hambleton). Yet, some of the most flexible and intriguing work comes from Orlando Bloom, as Tommy Hambelton, because his character radically shifts depending on the timeline.

Don’t tune in late for
Timestack, because Ridley opens the film with a party scene, featuring jazz reed-player Nubya Garcia performing a wonderfully evocative rendition of Jeremy Steig’s “heavy flute” classic, “In the Beginning.” It sounds fantastic and sets an appropriate tone for the film. Most importantly, Ridley does a nice job translating Silverberg’s vision of time travel. Indeed, this is a better adaption of a SFWA Grandmaster’s work than a lot of the big-budget productions that have recently dominated the entertainment press. Highly recommended, Needle in a Timestack releases this Friday (10/15) in New York at the Quad.