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Floating Clocks

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Time Travel can be difficult. Between the constant risk of creating a paradox or becoming trapped in another time, uncomfortable questions about causality and free will, and unexpected difficulty using verb tenses, this much is clear. But one of the difficulties rarely discussed is how to portray the act of traveling through time on-screen in a way that makes clear to the audience that time travel is, in fact, occurring. Sure, you could always just have someone from the present day enter a time machine then cut to them emerging in a scene that visibly takes place in a different era, but sometimes filmmakers want to portray the actual transition between the two in a way with a bit more pizazz. So what does time travel look like?

In a word, clocks.

Yes, you heard us right. Clocks. And not just your garden variety Spinning Clock Hands either. No, this is something entirely different. For some reason, the "space" you travel through when traveling through time looks like a surrealist dimension filled with giant, floating, semi-transparent clocks that Fade In, drift vaguely towards the camera and then Fade Out again, ticking loudly all the while, only to be replaced by another, visibly different clock, all hovering upon a celestial backdrop resembling a starfield, hyperpsace, or in extreme cases, the Acid-Trip Dimension. This sequence rarely lasts more than about a minute, and can often resemble a faster-paced, more clock-oriented version of the opening sequence from The Twilight Zone (1959). Less serious works will often include an obligatory cuckoo clock and/or kit-cat klock. Much more rarely, an Exploding Calendar may appear as well.

It is extremely rare for the characters to notice or comment on the clocks, and it usually isn't specified whether these clocks actually physically exist in the setting, or if they're just an elaborate form of Painting the Medium (though the latter is usually assumed). When the clocks are commented on, it's only for the purpose of Lampshade Hanging, and the hows and whys of the their collective existence are never addressed.

A bit of a Dead Horse Trope nowadays as it's considered too "goofy" for serious time travel stories, although it still shows up a fair amount in children's cartoons.


    open/close all folders 

  • Dairy Queen Lips: Well, one clock appears, anyway, when the lips travel back in time to the Stone Age.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Doraemon: Nobita's desk drawer is linked through some kind of hyperspace that, with a special vessel, you can use to travel through time. Said hyperspace has a lot of distorted clocks flying around.
  • Floating clocks appear in episode 12b of Jewelpet: Magical Change when everyone uses Titana's Jewelwatch to time-travel.
  • The Black Moon arc of Sailor Moon R, which is based around time travel, does not feature this in-story, but the opening shows the main characters on an otherwise featuresless field on floating clocks and swinging pendulums.
  • Superbook: The time travel back to biblical times had some clocks in it.

    Asian Animation 
  • Happy Heroes: In the Season 9 intro, the heroes travel through a time vortex filled with floating clocks.
  • In episode 4 of Pleasant Goat Fun Class: The Earth Carnival, floating clocks appear in the background when Miss Earth uses her wand to take everyone to the prehistoric age.

    Comic Books 
  • In pre-Crisis Superman or Superboy stories, whenever Clark time-traveled, the years he passed would occasionally be shown in the background of the timestream. Occasionally the Exploding Calendar variant would appear (calendar pages with the year on them), either in the background or being "torn through" by the Boy of Steel/Man of Steel. 1970's "Superboy" #164 used Floating Clocks, as he only was going back in time to earlier in the day.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • A variation on this trope occurs in some adaptations of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, wherein Alice's fall into the rabbit hole is depicted with floating clocks everywhere — in these cases, she's not really traveling through time so much as she's traveling to another world.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: The Title Sequence for the Twelfth Doctor features an interesting variation, with the TARDIS depicted as traveling through a dimension that isn't exactly filled with clocks so much as it is itself a clock, and an infinitely spiralling non-euclidean one at that.

  • A more horrific example: Wannyanpuu's Fan PV for Heat-Haze Days Youtube Niconico, uses clocks for time travel and a new clockface is smeared with blood on each jump back.

    Video Games 


    Western Animation