PG, but 1979 PG. There's a moment or two of almost nudity. There's some hilariously unrealistic blood effects. But there is one thing that is amazing that sneaks into a PG movie. The movie has Jack the Ripper as an antagonist. He murders prostitutes. That means that there are gutted prostitutes in this movie. Someone's severed hand is in the middle of the floor, indicating that they were just torn apart. But again, PG.
DIRECTOR: Nicholas Meyer
There were some movies that I was born to like. Time After Time is a movie where I can see every crack because it is staring me in the face. It is just a flawed mess at times. What should I have expected? It's about H.G. Wells chasing Jack the Ripper in 1979. I should have been prepped for that. Why would I have expectations that everything would have worked like, pun intended, clockwork? I didn't. I think I heard about this movie first on Star Trek special features. It was directed by Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek might be the perfect fit for him, in retrospect) and has David Warner in it. Oh, and Malcolm McDowell. That's a tangent Star Trek thing. But I did enjoy it. I actually enjoyed it a lot. But that doesn't mean that I'm going to point out all the things that drove me up the wall about the movie.
I love the premise so much. It's the right level of kind of dumb and pseudo-intellectual. Honestly, the premise of Jack the Ripper lost in time is cool enough. I think that idea might actually work better. But for the perfect cross-section of what is silly, adding H.G. Wells to the mix is just the most hilarious idea in the world. I've had my ideas for absolutely insane historical fiction. There's a sweet spot in my heart for grounded absurdity. Anyway, one thing about writing this is that I just have to make peace with one of the silliest premises ever and move onto the actual film. The actual film is very watchable for the beats. Everything that is needed in a time-travel chase movie is there. It hits many of the same moments other time-travel stories do. These moments are to be expected. We often get the time-traveler from our present going to the future or the future time-traveler going back to our time. I like the inversion of a past time-traveler coming to visit what was then the present. Mr. Henson pointed out why The Brady Bunch Movie now has another element that it didn't have before. Because the movie is now dated, it is interesting to see what was critiqued as contemporary in 1979. That McDonald's scene (which made me gag in conception and squirm thinking about how Malcolm McDowell probably hated filming it) is adorable to think that it was the height of the future. A time-travel narrative is fundamentally a fish-out-of-water story and it can really set the tone of the film. I know there was a cancelled show about Time After Time that seemed to give the film a dark edge. Honestly, Meyer could have made this movie bleak and gruesome. The movie has it in it to do so. I mean, it is about trying to stop Jack the Ripper from murdering prostitutes. But the way a film handles the fish-out-of-water elements determines the tone. Meyer really has a good time with this. I know that Leonard Nimoy directed Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, but Time After Time makes a closer companion piece to Star Trek IV than something like Back to the Future or something like that. I think it might have to do with urban environment and how much the protagonist sticks out. There's no frame of reference for Wells and that's really fun.
Structurally, this movie is all over the place. The A-plot, the one involving Wells chasing down Jack the Ripper, keeps taking a backseat to character interactions with the present. Honestly, this could have just been a romantic comedy about a time-traveler falling in love. The whole action thriller element could easily be edited out. I don't actually hate that idea that much. Mary Steenburgen (whom I've been referring to as Andie Macdowell in my head this entire time) is really young and fun in this role. Some of her character stuff is really dated. It is adorable what 1979 considered progressive back then. There are these moments that you can tell were written by a dude who thought he was woke at the time. It really comes off as clunky and almost more sexist than if he had avoided it, but for the sake of the film that isn't technically a romantic comedy, it kind of solves some problems. Steenburgen's Amy Robbins is intensely aggressive about her relationship with H.G. Wells. I'm not saying that's impossible, but it is hilarious that she falls so hard for Wells so instantly. There is no attempt at an organic relationship. Amy sees Wells and just goes full fury after him, despite the fact that he is a customer at the bank where she works. I'm sure management would frown if they saw how intensely she pursued this man. I also find the coincidence that the woman who knows the location of Jack the Ripper is also the one who finds Victorian Malcolm McDowell so dreamy. But I'm ignoring this because I also want to talk about McDowell's choices that make him odd. WAIT! Before I do that, I want to say that the only choice I found weird about Jack the Ripper, played perfectly by David Warner, is his choice of "blend-in outfit." He buys a suit in 1979 and looks fine. He looks like a '70s businessman and that's what he should look like. But then he's trying to blend in (even more?) and he buys this turtleneck and vest combo that I couldn't stop giggling at. He stays in this outfit for the majority of the film. Okay, now Wells as a character. His character is so tied to this notion that the future will automatically be a utopia. I don't mind that Wells is an idealist in this film, but more along the lines that he thought it would happen in less that one hundred years. In 100 years, there's no way the future is going to be a utopia. I'd be surprised if it is even still here. (Sorry, grandkids, I'm gonna be long dead.) Like, a baby from Wells's time could hypothetically still be alive in 1979. How quickly does he think change can happen? Is he assuming that the Vulcans were going to meet Zephram Cochrane by this time? (There's a lot of Star Trek references. Sorry, I blame it on Nicholas Meyer.)
Now my big thing. I get hung up on time travel logic. I try talking to my wife about these things and she just tells me it isn't real. Maybe I missed something, but how did the time machine return to Victorian London? Does that have to do with the key? If so, why is there a gap in return? Shouldn't it be instantaneous? Also, the Wells version of a time machine, one where the occupant can see time fly before his eyes? That time machine shouldn't disappear. If he's watching everything in fast forward, the world should be viewing him in slow motion. I think that Meyer even knows this because the time machine is a relic in an H.G. Wells exhibit in the future. (A very convenient H.G. Wells exhibit in the future.) Did it appear before Wells? The core powers are also remarkably stupid. Also, this movie infodumps and foreshadows even harder than Back to the Future and I didn't know that it was possible to do that. This is the stuff that makes Time After TIme ultimately not a great film. I mean, I really enjoyed it and that's saying a lot for me. Time travel logic really has to work for me to get on board and the movie was fun enough for me to enjoy it despite some of the wonkiest time travel logic I've seen. But ultimately, it was just a good time. It isn't a good movie. Heavens-to-Betsy, it is a long way from that. But that didn't mean that I couldn't enjoy it for what it was. This was a fun action adventure time travel rom-com historical fiction.
Wow, that's a lot of genres.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.