Sloane U’Ren’s Dimensions is a good example of how one can make a low budget stretch a long, long way. This is a time travel movie complete with an awesome-looking time machine, a long, complex line of weird story twists, and a love story to boot, all clearly made on a shoestring. In addition, the flick is actually clever and intelligent, dealing with time travel in a unique way; it stretches past the usual cutesy Back to the Future causality games to explore the dry yet passionate scientific mindset of a Cambridge-tinged theoretical thinktank. That atom was split in 1917, and the bilk of Dimensions’ actions take place around 1920, so we’re swimming around in theoretical physics, and the excitement that must have sparked.
And woven through it all is – natch – a love story. Why travel back in time? Why to save your childhood sweetheart of course, and maybe spend some more time with them. The irony of Dimensions, however, is a simple explanation that causality is actually something of a myth, and traveling back in time – while giving you an opportunity to visit the past – would not actually affect the present at all. All possibilities are all going to occur in parallel dimensions, you see, so you’d just return to your point of departure without having changed anything. You can spend some time with your childhood sweetheart, but you’d be your older self, and you wouldn’t be able to affect their memories once you returned home.
The complex time travel notions require, perhaps, a little bit too much setup. The films’ entire first act is a flashback to an old English country mansion, where a kindly old man (Patrick Godfrey) appears at a garden party to explain dimensional physics to a trio of young children. What he tells them all comes into play, but I feel that the screenplay expends a lot of energy just making sure the audience is on the same page. But I suppose I prefer that to being totally lost. We also get the start of the central romantic conflict in these opening scenes. Two young boys are in love with the same girl, but the girl only loves one of them. When she mysteriously dies, notions of the practical implications of time travel begins entering the heads of our heartbroken leads.
From there, we fast-forward to the adult characters. Stephen (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) has made a time machine, much to the chagrin of Conrad (Sean Hart). But actually using it without being harmed requires a complex set of physical movements that are difficult to decipher. Indeed, time travel seems so complicated that it was here that I started to get a little lost, especially when alternate love stories and bizarre violent conspiracies enter the frame. There is talk about ripples and mirror images, and you begin to get the sense that the heroes are racing against themselves. Is this the way time travel works, or is it more an extension of the childhood games the heroes used to play?
But this is a thoughtful and intelligent film that bothers to suss out a compelling pseudo-science, and has an mannered but affable tone that links the fabric of the sentimental to the fabric of the space-time continuum. The steampunk production design is also complex and cool – the time machine is a wooden monstrosity coated with glass tubes and bulbs, all protruding from an upright piano.