Published July 26, 2010

WORDSLINGER’S NOTE: This series features reviews of some of my favorite films, many of which – while not forgotten – have been out of the mainstream so long, they’ve been neglected.  If I can introduce someone to a great film they’ve never seen before my work will not be in vain.

In 1979, three years before director and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer saved the Star Trek franchise with his masterful second film incarnation, The Wrath of Khan, and five years after his debut novel, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (where Sherlock Holmes meets Sigmund Freud), he made his directorial debut with a nifty little time travel thriller called Time After Time. Meyer also wrote the screenplay, based on a novel by Karl Alexander and a story by Steve Hayes.
Time After Time DVD
The story posits that British science fiction author H.G. Wells (The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds) actually created a real and functioning time machine, and intended to use it to visit what he believed would be a Utopian future. Before he can do so, however, the machine is stolen by one of Wells’ distinguished colleagues who turns out to be Jack the Ripper. When the machine returns to its place of origin, 1893, Wells pursues this deadly enemy into 1979 San Francisco.

The story isn’t much more complicated than that. While such a magical mix of reality, fantasy, and fish-out-of-water shenanigans is, of course, a great deal of fun, where this picture really shines is in the performances of its three leads. Malcolm McDowell is excellent as H.G. Wells, and one gets the idea that he is relishing the opportunity to play anything other than a villain. His “Herbert” Wells is sweet, smart, and a bit befuddled by the 20th century, never more so than when he meets Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen), a liberated currency exchange manager. The love story between this mismatched couple is quite touching and believable probably because McDowell and Steenburgen were actually falling in love on the set (they married in 1980, had two children, and later divorced in 1990). British actor David Warner portrays Jack the Ripper with the same gravitas and intensity that he has brought to many of his other roles (The Omen, The Island, Tron, Star Trek VI, Titanic, etc ).

Malcolm McDowell
Since this was his first directorial effort, director Meyer stumbles a bit while staging crowd scenes and other complicated plot devices. Also, after 30+ years, some of the special effects no longer hold up. And yet this story is so winning, and the performances so charming, one can easily overlook these quibbles. Meyer chronicles the making of this movie in his very entertaining memoir The View From the Bridge – Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood (highly recommended). Time After Time also received its first DVD release in the fall of 2008. While there isn’t a whole lot of bonus content on the disc, it is nice to be able to see this film in its original 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. There is also an entertaining commentary by Meyer and McDowell.

On a side note, there is some weird synchronicity going on with this film. Meyer, McDowell, and Warner all had Star Trek in their future, but didn’t know it. Meyer, who in addition to directing Star Trek’s II and VI, cowrote Star Trek IV, which also involved time travel in modern day San Francisco. Steenburgen would also find herself in another time travel romance when she met Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd, another Star Trek vet) in Back to the Future III. I don’t know what it all means, but I do find it of interest.

The original theatrical trailer is posted below – unfortunately, it is one of those trailers edited by a moron who didn’t know what the film was supposed to be about. It gives away too much, features too much slapstick, and damn near spoils the ending. Watch if you dare, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

While not a perfect film, Time After Time is a little gem whose charms far outweigh its flaws – connoisseurs of time travel stories will love this Forgotten Classic. Seek it out.