TIME AFTER TIME(director/writer: Nicholas Meyer; screenwriters: Karl Alexander/ Steven Hayes/from a Nicholas Meyer story; cinematographer: Paul Lohmann; editor: Donn Cambern; cast: Malcolm McDowell (H.G. Wells), David Warner (Jack the Ripper), Charles Cioffi (Lt. Mitchell), Mary Steenburgen (Amy Robbins), Kent Williams (Assistant), Geraldine Baron (Carol), Patti D’Arbanville (Shirley); Runtime: 120; Warner/Orion; 1979)
“A lightweight literary fantasy film.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This fantasy story asks, what if the idealist H.G. Wells didn’t just write about the Time Machine but lived it! It’s a lightweight literary fantasy film that is done in by a very dull middle section and by having too much unnecessary gore. The film has some interesting items about it including the onscreen romance between the two stars meeting for the first time on the set, Malcolm McDowell as H.G. Wells and Mary Steenburgen as Amy Robbins, whose romance continued in real life resulting in their marriage (and later their divorce). The director-writer Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek 11) — he also wrote the witty novel “Seven Percent Solution” — worked the screenplay from his own novel showing some clever touches here and there, but not enough to hold my interest for the duration. The theme grew tiresome and David Warner as Jack the Ripper never developed as a particularly interesting villain. There was nothing gained by seeing him hold a scalpel to a woman’s throat and then slit it.
The film opens in the Victorian London of the late 19th century. Dr. John Leslie Stevenson, a friend in Wells’ inner circle and a noted surgeon, gets exposed as Jack the Ripper after he slices up a prostitute and the police trail him to Wells’ house. He escapes arrest by fleeing in Wells’s Time Machine. He raised the money to build the machine by his writings in the newspapers on free love and on utopian socialism, believing that the future would be a place of no hatreds and no wars.
Wells determines that Jack the Ripper escaped into the 20th century, ending up in the San Francisco of 1979. He decides to follow him, as the machine returns after Jack arrives at his destination. The Time Machine works by the cosmic rays of the sun and by using the master ignition key, it will enable that passenger to return with the machine to his original place of departure. If you don’t have the key, you can’t return. With the key still in his possession Wells goes in pursuit of Jack the Ripper, figuring it is his responsibility to stop him from killing others.
In San Francisco, there are some amusing moments as the naive Wells has to adjust to the modern complexities of the world and its hustle and bustle. He is perplexed to see airplanes, to hail a cab, to ride in a car, to speak on the phone, but one thing is evident, he has not arrived in Utopia: hearing about wars, death camps, terrorist actions, and all the daily crimes just sickens him as he can’t wait to return to Victorian London.
In his pursuit of Jack, he meets a kooky bank officer named Amy and the two become an odd romantic couple. Wells seems adorably old-fashioned and gentlemanly, with a very stand-offish British wit; while Amy’s a woman’s libber, a modern California-type of lady, and an admirer of British eccentrics who are straight.
Three women are slain in the style of Jack the Ripper, which clinches it for Wells that he hasn’t changed and must be stopped. Jack easily fits in with the modern times, while Wells is disillusioned realizing that he was wrong about the world changing for the better. It just advanced in technology, but regressed into a more violent state than ever before.
The police think he is a lunatic and don’t take him seriously when he tells them about Jack the Ripper. Amy only believes him when he takes her for a spin in the machine, which is parked in the Wells Museum. They travel a few days ahead into the future, where a newspaper headlines Amy as the serial killer’s 5th victim. They quickly go back to regular time to prevent her murder but can’t stop murder number 4, even though they know where it is taking place. The film has many plot holes and flaws, one of them is: that it is not possible to go back in time and change history, all one can change is something that is only a duplicate; even if, you think you are changing something, you are only deceived by appearances. Albert Einstein mentioned that about time travel and that’s good enough for me.
Jack wants the key Wells has to the machine and threatens to kill Amy if he doesn’t get it, as the two battle each other. The film concludes as Jack and Wells tussle over Amy and through some clever turns Wells is able to outwit his former friend and chess opponent, who always used to beat Wells.
The Jack the Ripper part of the story never really worked as a thriller, it all seemed too heavy with violence. I am certain the film could have been salvaged if it kept with the fantasy/romance story between Amy and Wells. That part of the film was amusing and gave way to some interesting insights about the modern world. The film suffered from being less than exciting, nevertheless it was occasionally diverting and some cult sci-fi fans might like it more than the general public should.
REVIEWED ON 9/23/2000 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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