TIME AFTER TIME, 1979
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, David Warner, Mary Steenburgen,
H.G. Wells uses his time machine to chase Jack the Ripper forward in time to the late 1970’s
It is surprising to me that in the whole of the top 100 time travel movies list there are only three films with references to H.G. Wells, the man who popularised the concept of a time machine, but at least they are all in the top 40. And at number 40 we have the great film ‘Time After Time’.
A lot of the points that I give to this film come from the concept, it’s great, not too original but still pretty good. Essentially it throws H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper together and adds time travel to the mix. You know that is going to be awesome. It’s a sort of historical Victorian crossover.
What isn’t original about the concept is the perpetuation of the misconception that Wells is in fact the inventor of the time machine; this is obviously not the case for anyone who has actually read ‘The Time Machine’. Whilst you could argue that Wells himself is a character in the story he is definitely not the time traveller, this is made explicit with Wells’ narrator (presumably Wells himself) receiving a note from the time traveller at the end of the story telling him that the time traveller would return. And then he never does.
Anyway enough about ‘The Time Machine’, I’ll stop myself before I lose sight of what this review is meant to be about.
The other side of the concept is the good old “fish out of water story”, Wells who considers himself a controversial, ahead of his time, progressive finds that in the world of the late 1970’s he’s little more than mildly left-wing at best. In a conversation he has with Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen) where he tries to impress her by telling her he wrote an article about ‘free love’. Amy goes into a tirade about how her parents were into that back in the ‘60’s, she states that she has even tried things with women, “Not that I’m a dyke or anything…” she says. And Wells slumps back in his chair, time has turned him from a radicle to an ordinary man. The same is true for Jack the Ripper as he comments on the violence of the twentieth century; “90 years ago I was a freak, now I’m an amateur.”
This film has a lot to say about ‘modern’ society and a lot if not all of the time it hits the nail on the head. Wells, both in the film and in real life believed that mankind would develop into a socialist utopia. What Wells discovers in ‘Time After Time’ is that the problem with progress isn’t that things change we just do them more efficiently. Awesome statement and true.
It really is refreshing to see Malcolm McDowell play a good guy for once, he could have just as easily been cast in the role of Jack the Ripper, who is played by the equally superb David Warner, but he and the film makers didn’t go for the obvious choice and it really pays off. As adversaries these two men are awesome as are there characters, both intelligent and cunning, Jack the Ripper is just as evil and negative as H.G. Wells is good and positive.
This film was Nicholas Meyer’s first feature film, but you couldn’t tell just by watching it. What you could tell is that whoever is directing this was destined for big things and indeed Meyer was. He went on to direct two Star Trek features (The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country, which also starred David Warner) as well as other great films and few made for TV movies such as: ‘The Day After’.
Nicholas Meyer, being the Sherlock Holms aficionado that he is, also included several references to Sherlock Holms in the film. To the point where H.G. Wells tries to use the name Sherlock Holms as a pseudonym when he is arrested by the police.
This really is a highly enjoyable film that also makes you think and these are always the best films. And I guess I have to mention it, this is the film or at least the title is what inspired the Cyndi Lauper song ‘Time After Time’.
You should definitely go out and watch this film if for no other reason than to see Malcolm McDowell play a good guy and hear Mary Steenburgen say the word dyke.
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