Writer Nicholas Meyer’s 1979 directorial debut is probably still his best film. Time after Time boasts a likeably cheeky conceit that’s in the same vein as his novel, The Seven Percent Solution, a clever screenplay and three very strong central performances.
Malcolm McDowell stars as H.G. Wells, but not quite the historical Wells, since the movie puts forth the idea that he’s actually built a time machine rather than simply writing a novel about one. On the evening that he shows the invention to his friends (he hasn’t quite worked up the courage to try it out), he learns that one of them, Dr. John Leslie Stevenson (David Warner), is actually Jack the Ripper. Stevenson makes his escape into the future via Wells’ device, but since he hasn’t the necessary key to prevent the machine’s return to the place of its origin, Wells is able to pursue him to 1979 San Francisco. (The excuse for this geographical change is that the time machine is on display at a museum as part of an exhibition on Wells.)
While Wells is horrified to find that the utopian society of his dreams has not materialized by 1979, his quarry loves the modern age and fits right in with the movie’s stacked deck (a little too stacked) of the horrors of the age. Wells, however, wants to take him back to stand trial for the Ripper murders — an idea that understandably holds little appeal for the murderous medico, who instead wants the key to the time machine so that Wells can’t pursue him across time “like the Flying Dutchman.” To get it, he kidnaps Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen), a young woman from a bank who helped Wells track him down, and with whom Wells has become romantically involved.
This is all handled with a deft sense of humor and actually holds together pretty well upon examination (unlike many time-travel stories). A few of the modern-day gags seem a little forced and obvious now, and the special effects just aren’t very special. However, the film has such an overriding charm that it’s easy to overlook these minor flaws.
Plus, in H.G. Wells, McDowell found a character that stands nicely alongside his classic portrayals of Alex DeLarge (A Clockwork Orange) and Mick Travis (If …, O Lucky Man! and Britannia Hospital). Rated PG.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke
[The Hendersonville Film Society will sponsor a showing of Time After Time on Sunday, May 15 at 2 p.m., in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community, 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville. (From Asheville, take I-26 to U.S. 64 West, turn right at the third light onto Thompson Street. Follow to Lake Point Landing entrance and park in lot at left.)]