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Spike Lee to base new movie on physics professor's book

by Cindy Weiss - June 23, 2008

Physics professor Ronald Mallett’s boyhood dream of building a working time machine may enter warp speed, now that he’s signed a film deal with director Spike Lee.

Lee’s production company, Forty Acres & A Mule Filmworks, has acquired the film rights to Mallett’s latest book, Time Traveler – a Scientist’s Personal Mission to Make Time Travel a Reality.

Ron Mallet, professor of physics
Ron Mallett, professor of physics
Photo by Daniel Buttrey

The deal resulted from a two-hour conversation between Mallett and Lee at the Student Union before Lee’s March 29 keynote talk at the Harlem Renaissance conference organized by the Institute of African American Studies.

Lee, who teaches a film course at New York University, learned about the book from a student in his class. He asked to meet with Mallett when he came to UConn to speak.

Lee left for Italy the day after his UConn speech to finish filming his latest project, Miracle at St. Anna, based on James McBride’s novel about members of the U.S. Army’s all-black Buffalo Soldiers in the 92nd Division during World War II. He took a copy of Mallett’s book with him.

“When he came back,” says Mallett, “he decided he wanted to make a movie – it was literally that fast.”

Lee called Mallett on April 9 and – Hollywood-style – told him “my people are going to contact your people” about a contract.

The time schedule for the film and its filming location have not been announced.

Mallett’s book, which he calls a scientific memoir, was co-written with Bruce Henderson, the author of more than 20 nonfiction books.

It tells how a childhood trauma – the death of his father when Mallett was 10 years old – inspired his quest to build a time machine so he could return to an earlier time and save his father’s life.

Physics professor Ron Mallet with reporter Josh Gleason and producer Sarah Koenig when he was interviewed last year for National Public Radio's "This American Life" program.
Physics professor Ron Mallett responds to reporter Josh Gleason and producer Sarah Koenig when he was interviewed last year for National Public Radio's "This American Life" program.
Photo by Daniel Buttrey

Lee, who will co-write the script for the film and direct it, says he is “elated to have acquired the rights to a fantastic story on many levels, but also a father-and-son saga of loss and love.”

After his father’s death, Mallett’s family moved from the Bronx to Pennsylvania. As an undergraduate and graduate student at Pennsylvania State University, Mallett studied physics, receiving a Ph.D. in 1973.

He joined the physics faculty in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at UConn in 1975, after working for United Technologies as a research scientist.

A theoretical physicist, he has published several papers on black holes and cosmology. Mallett’s breakthrough in his time travel research was published in the professional journal Physics Letters A in 2000.

He has collaborated with Chandra Roychoudhuri, research professor of physics and laser specialist, to build a representational model of a time machine, based on Einstein’s general theory of relativity and Mallett’s theory.

They are seeking $250,000 in funding to build an experimental device to test Mallett’s theory, and have received support from private donors through a University of Connecticut Foundation account, “Space Time Twisting by Light Project.”

Mallett’s memoir has been translated into several languages, including Chinese and Korean, since it was published in 2006. He has done 35 book signings around the country and gets mail daily from readers around the world.

His book has been featured on television shows in Britain and the U.S., and on the History Channel, Science Channel, Learning Channel, and National Public Radio’s This American Life.

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