Time After Time (1979)

Time After Time is one of those classic movies I grew up on. Released in 1979, it barely made a dent in the year’s box office earnings. The late 70’s offered up blockbusters such as Star Wars, Close Encounters, and Jaws, and Time after Time became one of those movies that simply got lost in the shuffle and fell through the cracks. It wasn’t until heavy cable airplay a few years later that the movie began earning the cult status the film holds today.

Time After Time tells the story of H.G. Wells, author of among other things, The Time Machine. Wells, portrayed here by Malcolm McDowell (best known for his role of Alex in A Clockwork Orange), has hosted a dinner party for his upper class London friends. The purpose of this party is to unveil his latest invention — a time machine.

Unbeknownst to Wells, one of his guests, John Lesley Stevenson (played by classic bad guy David Warner) turns about to be better known by another name: Jack the Ripper. Without warning, investigators from Scotland Yard crash Wells’ dinner party and inform the guests that “the Ripper” is in the vicinity. They know, because he left his calling card (a split open hooker) not far from Wells’ home. The detectives discover a surgeon’s bag filled with bloody knives. The house is searched, and two things are found to be missing. One, is John Lesley Stevenson. The second, is Wells’ time machine.

By this point in time Wells has already expressed his dreams of visiting the “utopia-like” future, a place where war, violence, and sexism have been eliminated. Horrified with the fact that he may have just unleashed Jack the Ripper on this peaceful future world, Wells gathers up what money he has in the house, and sets out on a trip through time to aprehend one of the world’s most infamous serial killers.

Time After Time is many things. One, it’s a sci-fi flick. Two, it’s a time travel story. Three, it’s an action/adventure/comedy/mystery. Lastly, it’s a love story. Wells meets Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen) at the bank she works at while transferring ancient British pounds into current American currency. It’s love at first site for these two (literally; McDowell and Steenburgen got married the following year but divorced after a decade together). Eventually, Robbins gets pulled into the entire mess, and a love/hate triangle develops.

The crux of the story revolves around a key used in the time machine. Without the key, the time machine returns to whatever time it left from. For example, when Stevenson used the machine, it returned to the 1880s because he did not have the key. When Wells followed him, he was able to keep the machine in 1979 because he used the key. It becomes obvious to Stevenson that without the key, Wells will follow him forever through time.

Time After Time requires a bit of “suspension of belief” to thoroughly enjoy. For example, surely H.G. Wells would pick up a history book and catch up on the happenings of the past 100 years once he arrived in the future. Instead, one of the most brilliant men in history wanders around looking like an idiot, not knowing about either World War, the Golden Gate bridge, or even automobiles. Instead, Walls stumbles through conversations and gives a lot of blank stares, not fitting in at all.

Stevenson, on the other hand, fits in perfectly. “In our time I was a freak,” Stevenson tells Wells as they flip television channels, changing from one morbid news story to another. “Here, I am an amateur.” It doesn’t take long before Stevenson is up to his old tricks … on tricks, no less.

My wife watched this movie for the first time last night and enjoyed it. It’s one of those movies that has a little bit of everything, so regardless if you’re looking for a love story, an action story, a little bit of comedy, or just a good old fashioned thriller, you’ll find something enjoyable in Time after Time.

The DVD release of the movie contains a bunch of crap (trailers and things to read), but does contain a commentary track featuring Malcolm McDowell and director and co-writer Nicholas Meyer. The commentary isn’t that entertaining, but it is informative. If the two didn’t occasionally ask each other questions, I would swear that they were recorded at different times and patched together later. McDowell provides the only chuckles to the track, while Meyer has a lot of dry details which, unless you’re a fan of the film, you probably just won’t care about.

Go buy Time After Time. You’ll watch it time after … nah, too cheezy for even me.

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