single person who visits this site fancies themselves a film
fan. From the nameless readers who don’t interact to
the regular Chewers on the Boards to every single person on the staff –
we love film. We live for it. We watch as much of
it as we can. But, sadly, we’ll never be able to see
everything. We’ve missed a lot over the years and
sometimes we’ll miss one of the big ones. One of the
classics or cult favorites that has had everyone talking and
proclaiming their love for years. That’s what this
column is all about – the big ones that we‘ve
missed. Every week a different member of the CHUD Crew is
gonna play their own little game of catch-up and tell you about it
here. Maybe it’ll get you to rewatch an old favorite
you haven’t seen in years, maybe it’ll get you to
catch up on your own list of shamefully neglected films.
Either way, we hope you enjoy it.
This is exactly the type of film I’ve always liked, smart science fiction/fantasy films utilizing great actors and an inspired story. Throughout the years I’ve only ever maybe about 5 minutes at a time of this film on TV, but never got around to actually watching it all the way through. No reason, really, other than it never seemed to be on at a convenient time for me. But now I finally made the time to sit down and watch what many consider a classic, and what was Nicholas Meyer’s directorial debut back in ’79.
Time After Time (1979) – Buy it from CHUD
Having never seen him in a role like this, it’s weird at first watching Malcom McDowell play a rather bumbling, fish-out-of-water hero. Add to the fact that he never gets the chance to overact and you get an absolutely fantastic H. G. Wells character, who totally comes into form as soon as he arrives in San Francisco on the heels of Jack the Ripper. While he’s able to convey the intelligence and poise of Wells, McDowell does an equally amazing job of showing the vulnerability and child-like curious nature of the time traveler. He’s believable in both the silly and serious moments, and it was refreshing to see him tone it down like this and deliver a great performance.
Then there’s David Warner, magnificently crawling turn as Jack the Ripper. Contrary to Wells, Jack takes no time whatsoever in adjusting to the violent atmosphere of modern San Fran. I particularly loved Meyer’s decision to show how different the two characters are by having Jack blend in almost immediately. By the time Wells catches up with him a day later, he’s already adapted to modern life in not just his style but in his manner and speech. It’s great how the film uses these two to contrast each other: Wells, the forward thinking utopian is far more resilient in changing with the times (and actually never gets around to it), as opposed to Ripper. Warner’s character is the chameleon, who blends in virtually immediately and is “right at home”, whereas McDowell’s is appalled at how things have turned out in the future and rejects it.
Another great element is how Meyer at times treats the film as whimsical and silly. It’s a terrific blend of humor and seriousness, but never delves too long in any particular tone. It’s a testament to how tight the script was – written by Meyer but based on Karl Alexander’s novel and Steve Hayes’ story. Plus, having a great cast helps as well (Mary Steenburgen is very good, although she seems to be in a constant daze throughout the film).
I’m so very glad I finally made the time to see this. I agree entirely with the “this is a classic film” assessment often heaped on it. You can certainly tell Meyer was working on a limited budget during the filming, but he never let it hinder him. The effects are perfectly suitable for the film in how old-fashioned they are. While they’re not great even by 1979 standards, they’re wonderfully simplistic and harken back to George Pal’s 1960 The Time Machine, especially during the first 20 minutes or so. The time travel sequence is a great example of this, and it’s a wonderfully realized event. Even the heavy use of lens flares somehow seem to fit perfectly with the theme of the movie: it’s an old-fashioned beast in every way.
In the end Time After Time deserves the love and praise it’s gotten since the release. It’s a small film with big ideas, all executed in such a fine manner that the film manages to remain lodged in your mind long after seeing it. And they way in which the ending is resolved is another deft touch. It’s a classic ending to a classic film, and I’m glad to have finally seen it.