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Time After Time

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Time After Time

Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Mary Steenburgen
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Rated: PG
RunTime: 112 Minutes
Release Date: August 1979
Genres: Action, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: David Warner, Charles Cioffi, Joseph Maher, Patti D'Arbanville, Kent Williams

Review by Dragan Antulov
3 stars out of 4

For many scientific purists, concept of time travel is so preposterous that they tend to bar time travel films and novels from science fiction domain. According to them, time travel books, comics and films should be branded fantasy instead. That position might find its arguments in the way that Hollywood usually treated time travel. Most of the time, that concept was nothing more than a convenient excuse for exotic, but standard adventures and films without any ambitions of seriousness. But, every once in a while, there comes a time travel film with brains. George Pal's classic adaptation of equally classic H.G. Wells' novel THE TIME MACHINE is one of them. TIME AFTER TIME, 1979 film and directorial debut by Nicholas Meyer, is perfect companion piece to it.

In George Pal's film, by naming the hero - Victorian time traveller - "George", the authors hinted that the real hero of the novel might be H.G. Wells himself. Meyer, who had already played with mixing fiction with real historical personalities in his novel SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION, goes even further - the time traveller in his film is really H.G. Wells (played with Malcolm McDowell). Same as his "George" incarnation, he invites his friends in London 1893 to present them his new innovation - the time machine. The presentation is, however, interrupted when Scotland Yard arrives. It turns out that one of the guests, Doctor John Leslie Stevenson (played by David Warner) happens to be Jack the Ripper. While Wells and his friends struggle with shocking revelation, Stevenson uses the confusion and, out of desperation, decides to test this new machine. Examining Stevenson's mysterious disappearance, Wells concludes that the killer managed to travel to year 1979. Feeling responsible for allowing bloodthirsty maniac to roam in future Utopia, Wells goes to future too in order to bring him to justice. His travel brings him to San Francisco 1979, strange new megalopolis that at first sight looks like an utopian society. But, soon he discovers that the Utopia has its bad side, and, most of all, his quest for Stevenson is failing. Things change when he meets Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen), bank teller and liberated woman, who decides to help him in his quest, mostly because she fancies bizarre but charming Englishman.

Although it is actually not based on H.G. Wells' novel, this film is closer to its spirit than 1960 version. When he wrote the novel, Wells was less interested in pure scientific speculations; instead, he saw science fiction as a way to talk about burning social issues of his time, as well as to offer some solutions. This film presents us Wells as a man before his time, socialist reformer who fought for free love, feminism, racial equality, people's rights, and many other things we now take for granted. Meyer uses time travel to confront Wells' ideals with reality - when he arrives in San Francisco during the zenith of ultra-liberal, hedonistic era of sexual revolution and counter-culture, he discovers that many of his ideals are reality. But, on the other hand, human nature hadn't improved and, all those ideals are paired with world wars, nuclear weapons, pollution, terrorism and other horrors Wells couldn't have imagined. While poor idealistic reformer has trouble fitting into this fascinating, but in the same time frightening world. On the other hand, bloodthirsty yet cynical and practical Stevenson makes 1979 his home without any difficulty.

Clever commentary is the reason enough to fend off all the critics of this film, who had considered TIME AFTER TIME to be nothing more than light- hearted fantasy. Their argument, of course, is valid only the movie is entertaining indeed - conflict between Victorian gentleman and the modern environment provided excellent opportunity for many subtle yet effective jokes. The humour in this film is really charming, and it is helped by Malcolm McDowell who uses this film as rare opportunity not just to play a good guy for a change, but also to express his comedic talents. His partner Mary Steenburgen shows her comedic talent too, and also the great skill that helps her in the transformation between strong modern liberated woman and classic damsel in distress. The romantic chemistry between the two is great, and it shouldn't surprise anyone that they transcended their partnership into real life.

Unfortunately, David Warner didn't feel particularly inspired in the role of Jack the Ripper. He lacks the charisma of pure evil that is necessary ingredient for any effective villain that this film required. Flaw in the characterisation is just one of the many of this film - cheesy and totally unconvincing special effects, scientific plot holes and implausibilities, some rather uninspired lines - that culminate in rather disappointing and ultra- conventional finale. The musical score of Hollywood veteran Miklos Rozsa, on the other hand, might have looked anachronistic in any other film of the period, but it was right on the target in this story. But, all in all, TIME AFTER TIME is more than good piece of science fiction cinema, that could outrank not only some of the time travel atrocities of its own time (FINAL COUNTDOWN comes to mind), but also some of the future films with much more fame (TERMINATOR, BACK TO THE FUTURE).

(Special note to x-philes: Charles Cioffi, who played skeptical FBI official in the pilot episode of the X-FILES appears in this film with similar role of skeptical San Francisco police inspector.)

Copyright 1999 Dragan Antulov

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