‘Lightyear’ Might Be The Most Realistic Time Travel Movie Ever Made – Here’s Why

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When Buzz Lightyear first hit karate gyms in 1995, the last thing anyone was thinking about was time travel.

But 27 years later, the star of Pixar’s first film is embarking on her own sci-fi adventure that leans much more on hard science fiction than the studio’s standard “cautious environmental allegory” – think Wall-Eor “talking dog technology” as in At the top.

Instead, the team behind Light year (in theaters this summer) set out to tell a scientifically sound time travel epic while evoking the era that inspired it. The result is something of both the studio’s most futuristic and nostalgic film to date. Here’s how they did it.

THE RULES OF TIME TRAVEL is a Reverse special issue exploring the evolution of science fiction’s most imaginative subgenre. From Marty McFly to Avengers: Endgame

The parcel

Light year is a movie that inspired this toy.Pixar

Pixar fans first met Buzz Lightyear as one of the toys in toy story. Light year is a movie that inspired this toy. Because of this unique (albeit somewhat contrived) premise, the movie has free rein to be as retro as it wants – it’s technically set in the 90s, after all. Instead, it crafts a plot that belongs exclusively to 2022, a plot with a complex and scientifically sound premise that it trusts its audience to follow. We chatted with the film’s director, executive producer, and cinematographer to find out why this might just be your new favorite time travel movie.

Light year begins with Buzz (now voiced by Chris Evans instead of Tim Allen) working alongside Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) after they crash land on a strange planet. Buzz wants to run away immediately, but Alisha is content to settle into this new world. Together they colonize the area and develop a fairly good civilization, but Buzz can only think of a possible escape plan.

“The faster you travel the further away in time you leave”

Years later, he puts everything in place to try to pierce the atmosphere of the planet. Everything seems to be going well – until he can’t get enough power and has to return to the planet. But when he lands, everything is changed. Since his ship approached the speed of light, years passed on the surface of the planet in what seemed like mere moments.

So what does Buzz do? He’s determined to go to infinity and beyond, so he tries again. With each attempt, he travels further into the future, watching his dear friend fall in love, start a family, and grow old, all within days.

The last time he tries, he almost succeeds, but lands on the planet again. This time, he did not leap forward a few years, but a lifetime. The civilization he started with Alisha is now under attack, and the only person willing to fix it is Izzy, his granddaughter.

Science

Buzz on one of his escape attempts in Light year.Disney/Pixar

The concept of time moving faster for Buzz than Alisha isn’t just something out of a sci-fi movie – it’s based on time dilation, the scientific theory that speed affects the passage of time. . Dr. Ronald L. Mallett, professor emeritus of physics at the University of Connecticut, explained the concept to Reverse with an example that looks almost exactly like Buzz’s situation.

“If you were on a rocket traveling near the speed of light when you returned to Earth, only a few years would have passed for you, but decades could have passed on Earth,” Mallett says. “Since time is flowing at a normal rate for everyone.”

Time dilation is not something Light year the team took it lightly, says executive producer Galyn Susman Reverse.

“What we’ve tried to do is give a simple equation for that,” Susman says, “which is that the faster you travel, the further you go in time, and four minutes on this ship equals four years on the planet.”

It’s technically metaphysics. It’s not the kind of thing you might expect from Pixar, but in Light yearThat works.

Nostalgia

Time dilation has a huge effect on Buzz’s relationship with his friends. Disney/Pixar

There is more than one type of time travel. While the plot of Light year the plot is cutting-edge science fiction, the design is much more old-fashioned. Light year is supposed to be the movie Andy grew up with, but don’t look for details on when or how he saw it. Director Angus MacLane recounts Reverse that Andy would have seen the film on VHS in the 80s or 90s.

This blur has a hidden benefit. Light year has the ability to draw inspiration from sci-fi history, but don’t expect the motley designs of low-budget sci-fi to factor into the aesthetic.

“We weren’t going to do retro tech,” MacLane says. “We were going to make the most of the technology we have. So it was really more about the design and overall feel and look of the film, not so much about the limitations of the era.

Years later, Buzz has only a motley crew.Disney/Pixar

How do you demonstrate that retro feel without making the aesthetic look dated? Enter Jeremy Lasky, the cinematographer. He had to deal with a problem unique to computer animation.

“In the ’70s and ’80s, and even in low-budget movies now, sets were all temporarily made,” Lasky says. “All sets are designed to be destroyed.”

Computer animation works in reverse. The sets are meticulously modeled, then the action takes place within them. Lasky didn’t want the sets to distract from the story, so he took a page out of the low-budget film’s playbook by focusing on the characters and hiding the little details, like the grass and trees. plants, which might blow your mind in a typical Pixar movie.

“It takes the CG vibe out of things in a really nice way,” Lasky says, “but it also serves to let us focus on the important thing that’s happening at the time.”

Light year is a time-traveling experience on every level, from its scientifically accurate depiction of concept to the nostalgia built into its story and animation. There’s always room for literal time travel, but emotional time travel is just as good.

Light year crash lands in theaters on June 17, 2022.

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