Once The History of Time Travel gets to the gimmick, it’s a good gimmick. Writer and director Kennedy even manages to get a good finish with the gimmick, which is something since it means making the third act of History incredibly tedious to build anticipation. And a lot of History has already been tedious, so it’s a definite accomplishment when Kennedy can pull it off. He bets on the gimmick, he bets on how to introduce it, how to change the intensity of it, and it works.
History is a mockumentary about, you guessed it, the history of time travel if someone had done time travel. There are a bunch of talking heads interviewees—none of very good, Michael Tubbs is the worst, followed by Bill Small, who’s just trying too hard versus being bad. The rest of them struggle through the first act, when History is at its most “authentic,” but do much better once the gimmick takes off.
The pseudo-authenticity is one of the film’s biggest hurdles—the interviewees are supposed to be Ivy League intelligentsia but can’t pull it off. Especially not with Kennedy's script. The narration—and the narration performance by Brad Maule—are terrible. The dialogue’s not great for the interviewees either, as they’re contradicting themselves one sentence to the next or their entire sound bite will be filler nonsense.
Also a problem is just the technicals on the “primary sources,” like the fake photographs of the scientists working on time travel. Also I was waiting for the home movie camera to get introduced earlier in history since there’s a sequence with it in 1941 or something and then the technology apparently gets worse when they get into the home movies of the sixties. Though whatever filter they use to fake the eighties videotape is great.
Back to the photographs. They’re not good fake old photos and, even more awkward, Daniel W. May is terrible. In the still photos. Some of it isn’t his fault—presumably, maybe the pipe was his idea—but every photo has him mugging for the camera. And unfortunately it’s not even the most unlikely bit of the “historical” photos—there’s a bunch of stuff with Elizabeth Lestina (as his wife) where it’s unbelievable there’d be photos taken.
The movie’s front loaded with this material, waiting for the gimmick to save it, but at some point—before the gimmick—it gets very tiring for the movie just not to be trying very hard. Outside the gimmick and the definitely good implementation of it, Kennedy’s got no ideas. He’s got some enthusiasm about time travel so long as charts can explain it—the charts disappoint—but none for, I don’t know, character or history, which wouldn’t matter if History were aping a forty-two to forty-eight minute special and not running seventy.
If it were shorter, the obvious production deficiencies wouldn’t be as much a problem. May’s “performance” would still be a pitfall, but maybe if he and Kennedy had agreed on a tone.
So in spite of the laundry list of flaws… Kennedy and his cast pull off the gimmick with aplomb and make History an extremely qualified success.