TIME AFTER TIME cleverly spins a different take on H.G. Wells classic ‘Time Machine’ idea, turning the 1979 outing into a thriller with romance and humor that also took the coarseness of modern culture to task. Though not a big hit–the gross of $13,200,000 placing 57th for the year—it pleased those who caught it, showed up well against the other mostly limp sci-fi offerings at the cineplexes, and ticked off several noteworthy accomplishments for cast and crew. *
London, 1893. Social-minded writer H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) unveils his time-travel machine to friends at a dinner party. One of them, ‘Dr. John Stevenson’ (David Warner) turns out to be not just a surgeon, but ‘Jack the Ripper’: he steals the gadget and whisks off into the future. Wells incorporated a return mechanism to the device, which he then uses to go after his friend-turned-fiend, who he finds happily on the loose in San Francisco (never mind how) nine decades up the line. Mild-mannered H.G. charms “liberated” bank officer ‘Amy Robbins’ (Mary Steenburgen), and the feeling is mutual, but John/Jack has his own agenda that’s less sweet.
“Ninety years ago I was a freak. Today I’m an amateur.“
Written & directed by Nicholas Meyer (his first in the latter category), it only touches briefly on the sci-fi side, with some passable special effects for the actual “tripping”, and divides almost equally between the bill & coo of Malcolm & Mary and the high stakes pursuit of Mr.Ripper, complete with a string of victims (not overly graphic, which would have killed the tone). It was a welcome role for McDowell, whose other 1979 pictures had him rampage as despicable characters in the vile crud of Caligula and The Passage. It was boost for newcomer Steenburgen, 25, in her second film. The two hit it off and then some—their kissing scenes can be filed under ‘devour’—:they married the year after and stayed together for ten. Warner aces the deceptively charming killer, although the sequence where he’s being chased on foot by McDowell is truly odd—he looks more uncomfortable running than anyone this side of an octopus.
Miklos Rózsa provides a lush score (devotees will recognize his signature) and San Francisco fans will enjoy all the location work. With Charles Cioffi, and in bit parts Patti D’Arbanville, Corey Feldman (age 7) and Shelley Hack. 112 minutes.
* Apart from Alien, 79’s other science-fiction showcases were real drags: Star Trek:The Motion Picture, The Black Hole, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, Meteor. The success with this project helped ensure Nicholas Meyer’s next assignment: fan favorite Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan. He later did the enjoyable Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.