Time After Time (1979)

“‘We don’t belong here?’ On the contrary, I belong here completely. I’m home.”

Justin’s rating: Eight hours off

Justin’s review: If you asked the average layperson what they know of the Victorian era, I’d wager that a good deal of them would stutter out something about Jack the Ripper and H.G. Wells. It’s the pop culture that we’ve taken forward with us into the present, which is why I’m not surprised to see that Time After Time indulges in a geeky crossover that pits one of history’s most famous serial killers against the inventor of the time machine.

I don’t usually check out science fiction from the 1970s because it has a tendency to disappoint with antiquated production values and really annoying soundtracks. But I couldn’t resist taking a peep at a time travel flick on the cusp of the ’80s, especially since it had Eunice’s recommendation.

When his cover is blown in 1893, Mr. The Ripper takes advantage of his friendship with Wells to steal his never-before-tested time machine and jet into the future. When the machine returns to him completely empty, Wells heads off in hot pursuit — into San Francisco, 1979. Hey, that’s the year this movie came out!

And while, yes, antiquated production values and an annoying soundtrack is present, there’s a fun charm to this. Usually in time travel flicks, our hero is from the modern age who heads forward or backward, but here it’s a fish-out-of-time hero who jumps 80 years from the past into our present. Well, 1979 is hardly our present anymore, but you get the gist. So while Wells stumbles around trying to make sense of this modern “utopia,” Jack the Ripper is right at home in a violent age.

In between H.G. chasing after Jack through this time capsule of the late ’70s, we get a romance between our hero and a bank teller. If time travel stories have ever taught me anything, it’s that (a) you will inevitably fall in love with someone even if your mission is dire, and (b) it’ll be a tragedy in the end, so you might as well brace yourself for that. The viewer, however, should brace him or herself for a lot of very strange “free love” and “women’s lib” talk that dates this film almost more than the cars and the fashion.

While there are points here of interest, I can’t say that I ever came to enjoy this movie as much as I’d hoped. Having a modern character explain how things are today to someone from a century previous gets tedious after a while, and the Jack the Ripper plot comes and goes without any great sense of urgency. It’s not what I had hoped, which was that this was somehow the ’70s version of Back to the Future, but it was interesting to look at for a time before my eyelids drifted south and fanciful dreams took over.

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Eunice’s rating: What is with Mary Steenburgen and guys who travel through time?

Eunice’s review: In 1893 London H.G. Wells is throwing a dinner party to make an announcement. When his last guest, and best friend, Dr. John Stevenson arrives he tells them that he wants to say good-bye. He’s not leaving London, he’s not even leaving his basement, instead he’s leaving 1893. Having finally finished his time machine, he estimates that in three generations humanity will have evolved to the point where there is no war or violence or crime. Cue stuffy walrus mustached “poppycocks” and “harrumphs,” but John is intrigued and asks for a more detailed explanation on how to work the machine.

When the police interrupt the get together it comes out that notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper has struck again. A sweep of the house turns up Dr. Stevenson’s medical bag filled with blood covered evidence – and a missing Dr. Stevenson. Adding grand theft time machine to his list of crimes, John has escaped to the future. Fearing for his utopia, when the machine returns on its own (there’s a thing about a key that’s an important plot point) H.G. decides to go get John and bring him back to answer for his crimes.

But instead of London, H.G. finds himself in 1979 San Francisco. And instead of his Utopia, he finds, well, reality. During his search for John, he meets an up and coming bank manager named Amy Robbins. He likes her and she really REALLY likes him.

While Time After Time has always been one of my favorite time travel movies, I haven’t really sat down and watched it since I was a kid. So I didn’t really know if I’d be disappointed going back and seeing it. I’m glad to say I shouldn’t have been worried. In fact, I like it better now than I did when I was younger.

Is it on the goofy side of things? Yeah, a little. But it is time travel fantasy. It’s historical figures being dumped into the ’70s, wowed by cars and telephones and slang. If Malcolm McDowell started yelling “Computer!” into a mouse it would fit. It’s over the top in the way that only an ‘everyone thinks I’m crazy, but I must stop a time traveling murderer WHY WILL YOU NOT LISTEN TO MEEEE!’ wrong man kind of story could be. When Amy realizes it’s all true it is all so very dramatic. The effects are very dated, but somehow work with the old school Time Machine Victorian-ness of it.

On the other side of it, it’s a crime thriller. David Warner goes around San Francisco charming his prey with his British accent and Victorian gentleman-y ways, only to engage in some slicing and dicing (within the confines of PG). Visually, Time After Time also has the look of a California set ’70s thriller movie. Loving shots of San Franciscan streets and the Bay and Golden Gate bridges, car chases, foot chases, over head shots, close ups on hands and important clues.

But if anything keeps it from going full flung cheesefest, it’s the chemistry of Malcolm McDowell and David Warner, and Mary Steenburgen and Malcolm McDowell. First of all, Steenburgen’s Amy (who totally sounds like Harley Quinn) is kind of adorable in her extremely forward kind of way next to McDowell’s quiet but shyly confident Herbert, and somehow even though it’s completely ridiculous it works. And I’m not sure if there is or isn’t supposed to be a subtext between Herbert and John, but I wish there was more lines between McDowell and Warner. They’re only in four scenes together (three if you think of the ending as just one), but they really do bring the feeling of two guys who have known each other for a long time, John being more dominant and Herbert looking up to him. McDowell’s eyes while watching the TV, or Warner’s face when he realizes how important Amy is to HG are worth the price of admission.

I think what’s changed between when I was a kid and now is I have a better grasp of history, literature, and movies and get the little nods and homages, and I can appreciate that character chemistry a lot better. At heart, Time After Time is a neat little time travel movie, a piece of fantasy, and, even with the Jack the Ripper angle, there’s something very fun and intentionally light about it. With a little imagination it can be enjoyed by anyone, and is pretty darn rewatchable.

Intermission!

  • I love the time travel sequence
  • For anyone thinking, ‘Is that Corey Feldman? He’s just a baby.’ Yes it is. This is his first movie.
  • McDowell and Warner may be the skinniest actors in British history.
  • If the running chase scene looks off, David Warner had a body double due to having broken his ankles
  • Notice all the references to Sherlock Holmes
  • While Herbert and Amy are eating, the spoon in his hand is there in one shot and –voila!– the spoon disapppears. Only to repeatedly appear and disappear.
  • Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen met during this movie and would marry in 1980.
  • The movie is based on Karl Alexander’s novel of the same name, which was influenced by Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. It was followed by a sequel in 2011, Jaclyn the Ripper.

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