Time travel has long been a favored theme among science fiction fans. Literary works like H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine have crossed-over to general interest readers, and, of course, the movies recycle the premise frequently. Some films, like Planet of the Apes, are adventures with embedded time travel motifs. Others, such as the Back to the Future series and Austin Powers, use time travel as a plot vehicle for comedy or satire. Yet another premise is the time travel romance with Somewhere in Time memorably offering Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour yearning for each other from different centuries.
One of the recurring themes of the genre is how history – or the future – can be changed by the traveler traveling back in time who has knowledge of the events of intervening years. It’s a powerful theme, because it plays on the fantasy of man playing God, changing the predestined paths of history.
Frequency is a science fiction fantasy that focuses on that theme, combining the time element with a police procedural and throwing in family warm-and-fuzzies for good measure. Instead of actual travel though time, Frequency posits that an odd side effect of active sunspots and episodes of aurora borealis is the triggering of a short wave radio connection between a father (Dennis Quaid) in 1969 and his son (James Caviezel), a cop living in Bayside (Queens), New York in 1999.
Information passes from the present to the past, initiated with all the best intentions. But changing one event, of course, has a ripple effect with unanticipated results and the story plunges into a cat and mouse game with a serial killer. Tightly written, smartly produced, and skillfully directed and edited, Frequency maintains credibility as the story moves forward with well sustained suspense. Central to the twists and surprises is the unpredictability of the effects of changing one event on the events that follow. One complication follows another, unexpected veerings in the course of events caused by toying with the past.
The film builds to atension-filled climax which throws an extra twist or two into the mix. If you don’t press too hard for logical plotting here, it’s an exciting and acceptable outcome for what is, after all, a work of fantasy in the first place.
Quaid is strong, charming, and straightforward in his portrayal of the loving father. Caviezel is even better as the more complicated son – moody, stuck in a bad place in his romantic relationship, the give and take of his feelings nicely shaded as we learn about the family history. Andre Braugher and Elizabeth Mitchell are both fine in supporting roles.
With moments of comic relief, kids, and even a dalmation pup thrown in for good measure, Frequency has something for just about everybody. In a year that has seen few quality films to date, it stands out as skillfully wrought commercial entertainment.