29 October 2001 | imddaveh
A Fun Twist on H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine"
Often overlooked, "Time After Time" is probably one of the best time travel movies (if there is such a genre) ever made. The time travel effects are cheesy and mercifully few, but the film puts story and character way above visual effects, making for a good trade off.
Malcolm McDowell is H.G. Wells who, in this movie, actually invents a time machine rather than just writing about one. "The Time Machine" is told in flashback as "the time traveler" emerges from his time machine and recounts his adventures to a gathering of friends at his home. "Time After Time" borrows that scene from the book, having Wells announce that he has built the time machine and will embark on an adventure to the future utopia as soon as he works up the nerve. The proceedings are interupted by police at the door conducting a search in the wake of a new attack by Jack the Ripper. As it turns out, one of Wells' guests, Dr. John Leslie Stevenson (played by David Warner), is the Ripper. While the police comb through the house looking for him, Stevenson makes his way to the basement. There, he enters Wells' time machine and escapes to the future.
Feeling responsible for having turned the maniacal Jack the Ripper loose on the future utopia, Wells enters the machine (which returns to it's point of origin unless a special key is used) and follows Stevenson 90 years into the future. The time travel sequence consists of cheesy optical effects accompanied by a clever audio montage that depicts most of the 20th century. Wells emerges from the machine shocked to find himself in San Francisco, California in the year 1979. The time machine, as well as most of his possesions, are on display in a San Francisco museum.
While searching for Jack the Ripper he meets Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen), a foreign currency exchange officer at a bank. She reveals that she exchanged very old pounds for dollars with another Englishman, wearing similarly antiquated clothing. This leads Wells to find Jack the RIpper, now decked out in 70s threads, well integrated into modern society...and continuing his fiendish deeds.
From there, the movie engages the audience in Wells' and Robbins' pursuit of the Ripper through the streets of San Francisco with an entertaining mix of close-calls, sly humor, and the inevitable romance between Wells and Robbins.
Malcolm McDowell plays the part of H.G. Wells with his usual intensity and skill, and comes off as very believable. Mary Steenburgen is well cast as the feminine but strongly independent bank employee, and is adorably frail but surprisingly tough. As for David Warner....well, villians don't get much better than Warner. A fine actor, Warner plays Stevenson/Jack the RIpper as a cool, sophisticated psychopath - exactly, in my humble opinion, as Jack the Ripper should be played.
"Time After Time" makes good use of artistic license to integrate fact with fiction. Scotland Yard has always suspect that Jack the Ripper might have been a surgeon, as he is in this film. Also amusing is the fact that in real life, H.G. Wells did marry an Amy Robbins who was an outspoken feminist. All in all, 'Time After Time" is a well written and acted romantic adventure, and remains one of my favorite time travel movies.