Today's Obsession: Two Concepts Enter, One Leaves

some dude's mother-in-law, wife, and daughter from "In Time."

some dude's mother-in-law, wife, and daughter from "In Time."

It’s interesting to see related concepts designed in totally different ways—some successful, some not. I’m not specifically talking about visual design; more like concept design—creating the idea that fuels your work. Making sure it stands up to scrutiny.

Most recently, we’ve been watching the intriguing sic fi sudser Torchwood: Miracle Day, while seeing a lot of buzz about Justin Timberlake’s inaugural outing as a solo top-billed actor in a piece of ick called In Time.

The concepts are nearly opposite, as is their execution.

This season, Torchwood’s about a day everyone woke up immortal, sorta. You can’t die, but your immortality won’t stop you from being mortally injured, then forever in pain. There’s a character in one of the early episodes who blows himself to extra-crispy bacon, a little black cinder lying on a gurney. His head’s nearly detached—but he’s still alive.

So, contrary to what we’re usually told about neverending life, this is portrayed as a nightmare—pain management becomes the primary focus—and a moral freakout. There’s a movement actively trying to legally define “dead,” since there is no more such thing, and keep those wounded beyond any hope away from the actual living. It’s brutal stuff to watch.

On the other side of the coin is In Time, which posits that in the future we’ll all age to 25, then stop, and be given a finite amount of time which is used as currency. It’s kinda like Logan’s Run from the 1970’s, but with bling.

We’re treated to a workaday scene in which our hero’s arguing because a cup of coffee costs four minutes, which he then promptly purchases anyway. But, naturally, Justin Timberlake is given a Special Gift from a Mysterious Stranger and somehow gets a relatively limitless pool of time. In a vapid little coup d’état, he becomes both rich and nearly immortal. Of course, he’s also hunted because of this. It’s the kind of idiotic film you just know will have an easily-digested morality play at the end.

The focus of the trailer is combined paranoid fantasies from both New York and Los Angeles rolled up into one asinine morality: you can never be rich enough, thin enough, or young enough. It’s like being preached at by Paris Hilton through the script of Andrew Niccol, who (naturally) also wrote Gattaca and The Truman Show.

But why do that? Why waste your and your audience’s time building a potentially interesting concept, then making it a stupid piece of trash that shows nobody anything interesting about themselves, or about the world? If there’s one thing trailer for In Time did remind me, it’s that I have a finite amount of time to live. I won’t be wasting it on badly-made pop.

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