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October 21, 2011

‘In Time’: Time is money in the Justin Timberlake sci-fi film

Posted in: Movies

Justin Timberlake plays the film's hero Will Salas in "In Time." (Stephen Vaughan / 20th Century Fox)

Amanda Seyfried plays wealthy heiress Sylvia Weis in "In Time." (Stephen Vaughan / 20th Century Fox)

Cillian Murphy plays Leon, a law enforcement official known as a "time keeper" in the movie "In Time." (Stephen Vaughan / 20th Century Fox)

A scene from the movie "In Time" shows the counting down of time on Justin Timberlake's arm. (20th Century Fox)

Justin Timberlake, in the car, and Andreas Wigand, right, in a scene from "In Time." (Stephen Vaughan / 20th Century Fox)

Vincent Kartheiser, left, Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried in a scene from "In Time." (Stephen Vaughan / 20th Century Fox)

Justin Timberlake, left, and Johnny Galecki in a scene from "In Time." (Stephen Vaughan / 20th Century Fox)

Amanda Seyfried's character Sylvia wears dark colors and gloves in "In Time." (Stephen Vaughan / 20th Century Fox)

Justin Timberlake in a scene from "In Time." A "99 Seconds Only" store is in the background. (Stephen Vaughan / 20th Century Fox)

A sign shows the time cost for items in the film "In Time." (Stephen Vaughan / 20th Century Fox)

Amanda Seyfried and Justin Timberlake in a scene from "In Time." (Stephen Vaughan / 20th Century Fox)

Amanda Seyfried and Justin Timberlake in a scene from "In Time." (Stephen Vaughan / 20th Century Fox)

"In Time's" writer, director and producer Andrew Niccol, left, reviews a scene with star Justin Timberlake. (Stephen Vaughan / 20th Century Fox)

The new science fiction film “In Time” is predicated on a single high-concept: In the near future, aging ends at 25. Beyond that, people have one year left to live, their remaining time is displayed on a bioluminescent watch on their arms. With time serving as currency in this new world, the wealthy are essentially immortal, while the poor typically live day to day, struggling to earn more time to stay alive.

The conceit sprung from the mind of writer-director Andrew Niccol, who explored similar territory with his 1997 feature debut, “Gattaca,” which presented a world in which the genetically gifted constitute the world’s upper class. The filmmaker freely acknowledges the connection between the films — referring to “In Time” as “‘Gattaca’ revisited” — but he said his latest feature, which opens in theaters Friday, afforded him an opportunity to examine society’s obsession with image in a different way.

“Even as far back as ‘Gattaca,’ I always realized that the ultimate goal was to live forever,” Niccol said.

A scene from the movie "In Time" shows the counting down of time on Justin Timberlake's arm. (20th Century Fox)

To believably depict a world where time is literally money, Niccol recruited costume designer Colleen Atwood, with whom he worked on “Gattaca,” and production designer Alex McDowell, the trio collaborating on the best ways to contrast the circles of the rich and the poor, which become intertwined when the impoverished Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) suddenly finds himself bequeathed with enough time to make him a target running for his life.

“There was almost no decision we made that wasn’t based on the clock or on time,” Niccol said.

Amanda Seyfried's character Sylvia wears dark colors and gloves in "In Time." (Stephen Vaughan / 20th Century Fox)

For the characters in poor zones, even the time to get dressed is precious, so their costumes feature zippers and snaps — what Niccol calls “fast fashion.” For the rich characters’ “slow fashion,” multiple layers and buttons become signs of wealth. Those short on time also have zippers on the ends of their sleeves for quick and easy access to checking their clocks.

Gloves and bracelets are common among the wealthy, including Amanda Seyfried’s Sylvia, to hide the fortune displayed on their arm for their own protection. Atwood found gloves to be a perfect fit beyond the practical uses.

“They take time to take off and on, and they’re sexy in a way…. They’re a luxury of the aristocracy, so I used them to telegraph that in a modern way,” the Academy Award winner said.

Color was another way Atwood contrasted the societies, giving those low on time more brightly colored attire. “In the poor part of town, if they did have extra money, they bought something bright and showy as opposed to something quiet and low-key like people with time in the banks,” Atwood explained.

The wardrobe for the wealthy characters features blacks, grays and whites. “Even if you’re in a buff 25-year-old body, and you’re 75 or 100 years old, your tastes have become more refined. The clothing’s not as loud anymore,” Niccol said.

The affluent enclaves of in Century City, Beverly Hills and Malibu stood in for “In Time’s” tony New Greenwich — Niccol said it was only appropriate to shoot the film in Los Angeles, which he called “the capital of staying young forever.” “It was [about] finding the highest-end architecture that we could to create a mix out of Los Angeles areas that really puts out the idea of maximum wealth,” McDowell said.

For the poor zone of Dayton, Niccol and McDowell selected a several-square-block area in an industrial part of downtown L.A., plus recognizable structures like the Sixth Street bridge.

A scene from the movie "In Time." (Stephen Vaughan / 20th Century Fox)

“The stark contrast [between areas of] Los Angeles is sort of impossible to miss,” Niccol said. “One night we’d be shooting downtown on skid row and the following night would be in Bel-Air in a mansion the size of Versailles that two people lived in.”

Similar to the costumes, McDowell further distinguished the fictional areas with differences in color, giving Dayton buildings brightly colored walls and New Greenwich a corporate America, cool colors palette.

The filmmakers also carried through the idea in other ways. A 99-cents store becomes a 99-seconds store. Fast food becomes fastest food. Throughout the sets are hourglasses and sundials and other references to time. “It was such a time-obsessed society that we were portraying that we had some fun with it,” Niccol said.

Justin Timberlake in a scene from "In Time." A "99 Seconds Only" store is in the background. (Stephen Vaughan / 20th Century Fox)

Although “In Time” essentially functions like a sci-fi heist film, with Timberlake’s Salas abducting Seyfried’s Sylvia, and the pair pursued by Cillian Murphy’s law man (known in the movie as a “time keeper”), Niccol said he’s optimistic that audiences will pick up on the underlying commentary on screen.

“If you try to comment in any way about a contemporary world, people are so concerned if you’ve got it right,” Niccol said. “They can’t hold you to that when you go into the future. And also it’s sort of a Trojan horse approach, slipping ideas through without people really noticing. Because the first obligation of course is to entertain, but if you go into the future, people sort of relax a little bit. And maybe some ideas will slip though.”

— Emily Rome

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