In 1893, Jack the Ripper claims a female victim amid the fog of London. At the same time, H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) hosts a party. Wells is a pompous visionary who espouses free love and socialism in his writing, which finances his scientific experiments. With the arrival of Dr. John Leslie Stevenson (David Warner), Wells unveils a time machine he’s constructed in his basement.
Wells announces his intention to travel into the future. “Within three generations, the social utopia will have come to pass. There will be no more war, no crime, no poverty, and no disease either. Men will live like brothers on terms of perfect equality, with women as well.”
Stevenson does not share his friend’s rosy outlook on mankind’s potential. Scotland Yard interrupts the party and identifies Stevenson as the Ripper. The doctor is nowhere to be found, and Wells later discovers that his time machine has vanished.
Due to a key still in Wells’ possession, the time machine returns, empty. Wells fills his pockets with English pounds and heads 86 years into the future. He arrives in San Francisco, where the time machine is now part of an H.G. Wells exhibit at the Palace of Fine Arts. Wandering around the city, he realizes that his grand vision of a utopian future has not come true.
Wells enters the Charter Bank of London and attracts the attention of a daffy currency exchange officer named Amy (Mary Steenburgen). She reveals that Stevenson came to the bank and that she sent him to the Hyatt Regency on Drum Street. She also offers to show Wells around town.
After confronting Stevenson, chasing him and believing him to be dead, Wells spends the day with Amy. The two fall in love, but Stevenson resurfaces, and threatens to kill Amy unless Wells turns over the key to the time machine.
Nicholas Meyer was a novelist and screenwriter who had attended the University of Iowa with a playwright named Karl Alexander. After moving to L.A., Alexander approached Meyer with 55 pages of a novel he was working on called The Time Travelers, partly inspired by Meyer’s novel The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. Meyer read it, loved the central idea Alexander had co-written with Steve Hayes, and optioned it.
Meyer adapted the screenplay and took it to producer Herb Jaffe, telling him that it was so simple, they’d have to allow him direct it. Meyer was a fan of I, Claudius and considered Derek Jacobi as Wells, but cast Malcolm McDowell against type as the good guy. He met with Mick Jagger about playing Jack the Ripper, but couldn’t see the rocker as a surgeon, and cast McDowell’s friend from Stratford, David Warner, in the part.
Time After Time definitely has a charm to it. It’s a nice entry in the “stranger in a strange land” genre, a novel time travel picture, and gets a few laughs by inserting a Victorian Era gentleman into modern day, urban America. My favorite is Wells’ comment to Amy that their dinner is “far superior to that Scottish place where I breakfasted.” “Scottish?” “MacDougal’s.”
This was Meyer’s first film as a director, and while it’s respectable that he didn’t glam this up with sex or graphic violence, much of the film feels flat, even amateurish, particularly the way a lot of the scenes are shot. Instead of going in for a close-up, or lingering a bit longer on McDowell as he gawks at something, scenes move by too fast to make an impact.
Meyer’s take is that of a lighthearted comedy romance, and the movie doesn’t have a whole lot to it. The dialogue is passable at best, and other than McDowell, Warner (who does make a memorable villain) and Steenburgen, Victorian Era London and modern day San Francisco seem almost depopulated, at least by interesting people.
The lack of direction would have been okay if the script was great, but once you get past its concept, Time After Time leaves a lot to be desired. It didn’t make sense to me why the time machine would end up in San Francisco, or that its safety features would conveniently allow Wells to defeat Stevenson so easily at the end. Both female characters (there are only two) are woefully underwritten, and I was left with the feeling that so much was missed out on here.
Becca at No Smoking In The Skull Cave proclaims Time After Time one of her favorites. “If you only see one of the movies I recommend, it should be this one.”
Ryan Cracknell at Apollo Movie Guide counters, “Full of potential smarts, failed intrigue and a dated survey of the 20th century.”
A.J. MacReady at Horrorview confides, “my favorite romantic flick ever. What, like I’m gonna pick Dirty Dancing or something? Hell, no – my idea of a love story’s got Jack the Ripper in it.”