VHS Review: Time After Time

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After falling in love then disappearing out of my life for over a decade, you’re finally back in my arms in pristine condition and I couldn’t be happier. How amazing. My mother showed me this 1979 film in my younger years and I fell in love but could only remember bits and pieces until I got older. It’s not a well known film among younger and even older audiences and it doesn’t have a cult following but I imagine film nerds like me consider it to be a timeless classic with an ingenious plotline. Despite a few inconsistencies, it’s all pulled together tightly with time travel, a serial killer thriller, romance, and comedy. Nicholas Meyer managed to craft an elaborate and adventurous project that unfortunately has been abandoned for quite some time. Combining all of these elements for its time seems to work fabulously.

Here’s the gist of the story; H.G. Wells has invented a time machine in London, 1895. Before he’s given a chance to use the machine, Jack the Ripper misappropriates the contraption while the police are after him, sending him to the future. The time machine is able to return to Wells as he chases Jack the Ripper all the way to 1979 in San Francisco.

There have been a slew of films made on Jack the Ripper’s behalf. I think the obsession stems from the fact that he was never caught, the nature of the crimes, and the time period. It’s fascinating that we will never know who was responsible for those heinous crimes against street walkers in the late 1800s. Of all the films covering the subject, Time After Time has always been a favorite of mine because of the comedic tone and fine actors. Malcolm McDowell was brilliant as H.G. Wells. It’s quite the role reversal after playing a rapist thug in A Clockwork Orange. McDowell doesn’t come across as a human of higher intelligence but his performance is adorable and comical. David Warner played Jack the Ripper so impressively. I have always been a fan of both actors. I love seeing Warner popping up into horror films here and there through the years. The man is extremely gifted.  Warner has made a career out of playing the bad guy in films. He has such a strong presence of evil, it seems to suit him.  Mary Steenburgen steps in as Wells’ new love toy living in the future as a city girl. Try as I may, I just cannot get into her. Steenburgen simply does nothing for me. She has never had a role that just grabbed me and I will never be able to accept her as a sex symbol.

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Visually, it’s striking with blood splatter as we see the first prostitute ripped apart by Jack the Ripper but the majority happens off screen. The cinematography is pretty amazing but not as amazing as you would imagine for its subject matter. Still, I will never forget the sound of the ripping during the opening scene. It sent chills down my spine. The special effects for the time travel were not all that in a tub of cheese balls but still worked for its time.

There are major holes in the script and I would have liked to see more on the murders performed by the Ripper but there’s a lot of comedy involved in McDowell’s exploration into the 70s. Most particularly, the scene taking place in a McDonalds. Then there are fun inside jokes like Wells using the name Sherlock Holmes, the detective, in the 70s.

Time After Time is far from perfect and not as fascinating as I remembered from my younger years but it still holds its own and manages to keep me entertained. If you’re going to see a film with similar subjects, see From Hell, Somewhere in Time, The Time Machine, Primer, Hands of the Ripper, The Lodger, or 1988’s Jack the Ripper starring Michael Caine.

The downside to my VHS copy is that it doesn’t come with extras which I am dying to see. The downside to hanging out with Malcolm McDowell is not interviewing him over this prodigious, forgotten sci-fi comedy.