Many people are familiar with HG Wells’ classic novel The Time Machine. But less well known is the fact that the story was inspired by the authors’ real life adventures through time! Or so Nicholas Meyer would have us believe in his second film Time After Time.
It is the late 19th century; Jack The Ripper is again on the prowl, but this need not concern Wells who is busy with a few close associates, demonstrating to disbelieving eyes a time machine of his own construction. But little does he realise that one of his guests is the Ripper, who uses the device to escape the police. This leaves Wells with no choice but to pursue him, after all he cannot have that murderous cad loose in the utopian future! Arriving in a museum hosting a HG Wells exhibition in modern day San Francisco the chase is on.
From this premise Meyer weaves a tale of a man out of time. Wells was known for his musings on free love, women’s rights and the belief that the future would be a utopian one. He discusses these themes briefly in the beginning of the film and the fun begins when these ideas are contrasted with the less than harmonious age he finds himself in. The plot changes pace and style at this point, becoming more comedic and lighter with our hero’s attempts to adapt to the modern world. Although the main reason for his arrival takes a bit of a backseat there is much enjoyment to be had with the visionary author facing the strange realities of our age. The irresistible urge to put Wells into whimsical situations is not missed by Meyer; hailing cabs, using the telephone and best of all dining in McDonald’s – “pomme frittes!” – are just some of the better fish out of water moments.
Malcolm McDowell is excellent as Wells, giving both a likeability and believability to the role that holds the film together when it may otherwise falter. He expertly portrays Wells’ initial thrill and wonder at the future, which turns to despondency as he realises how wrong he was in his idealistic theories as to mankind’s destiny. Mary Steenburgen as his guide and inevitable love interest Amy Robbins borders on the annoying at times, which alas doesn’t really make her a very sympathetic character when the plot calls for it. David Warner may be given little to work with but does an impressive job as Dr. John Leslie Stevenson, AKA Jack The Ripper. He is a pretty ruthless character who has adapted to the future much quicker than Wells with a standout scene between them highlighting this. In a hotel room he flicks through the channels on a telly with its stream of violent images and proclaims to the astonished Wells, “90 years ago I was a freak. Today I’m an amateur!”
On the whole Time After Time is an entertaining movie, although the film suffers from a slight inconsistency in tone. In its first and final acts it comes across as a thriller, with some fairly mild (by today’s standards) gory moments. But in the midsection it goes for a much lighter touch with Wells adapting to the modern world and his blossoming romance with Amy. As a consequence it feels like there are two separate styles at odds with each other. The script is a bit obvious, with an early signpost as to what will happen in the finale and of course, as with any time travel movie there are a few plot holes. Having said that it is a fun romp, held together by an enticing premise and a first rate central performance.
Time After Time is a good indicator of the themes and plots that would recur in Nicholas Meyer’s films. The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, a Sherlock Holmes movie adapted from his own novel, portrays a meeting between the drug addicted detective and Sigmund Freud. He would also lend his filmmaking talents to a couple of Star Trek films, most notably Star Trek IV, which would see him return to the more comedic time travel situations established in HG Wells’ adventures in the 20th century.