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Before he was instructing William Shatner on the nuances of screaming “Khan!” into a communicator or having Christopher Plummer recite Hamlet in Klingon, Nicholas Meyer directed Time After Time. Time After Time stars Malcolm McDowell and David Warner as H. G. Wells and Jack the Ripper respectively. The film starts in London of 1893. H. G. Wells is unveiling his new invention, a Time Machine, to a group of colleagues including his close friend Dr. John Leslie Stevenson. Wells unveils his Time Machine and explains the ins and outs and plot points to come to the gathering. Sometimes having your characters explain how the device unfamiliar to your audience is supposed to work works really well and other times it doesn’t. This is one of the times it works. Wells almost giddily explains the workings of his device to the group and then the police show up looking for Jack the Ripper and they find him, at least they find his bag, and this is when we discover that Wells long time friend John Stevenson is in fact Jack the Ripper. Jack, however has disappeared and no one can quite figure out where he’s gone until after everyone leaves and Wells remembers he has a time machine in his basement. Jack the Ripper has stolen his time Machine and gone forward in time to 1979. Wells resolves to follow him and stop him and the adventure begins.

The premise the movie is based on is an interesting one: what if H. G. Wells had actually built a time machine and what if Jack the Ripper stole it to evade capture? The plot isn’t bad. The movie can be predictable, but not in a way that ruins the movie. There are plenty of exciting confrontations between Wells and Jack through the course of the story with sensible enough motivations for them to be after each other: Wells to stop Jack’s reign of terror and Jack to retrieve a key to the time machine to prevent it from returning to the past so he can continue to use it. Even the reason for the time machine, which unlike Doctor Who’s TARDIS only moves through time and not space, being in San Francisco instead of London where Wells left from almost makes sense.  He went 86 years and 8 hours into the future, so if the Time Machine is stationary it should actually be in a time zone +8 hours GMT. So, in general, the movie sets up some reasonable rules and follows them.

Underneath the plot you also have something of a philosophical debate, the idealism of Wells vs. the violence of the Ripper. Wells begins the movie discussing the wonderous socialist Utopia which will inevitably exist within 3 generations. Instead, when he goes 80 years into the future, he discovers a world that is on the surface horrible and violent a world that makes Jack look like “an amateur.”  Still, we see hints of the Utopia Wells hoped for in the young woman, Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen) whom Wells meets and falls in love with. There are pieces of Jack and pieces of Wells in the 20th Century. Wonderful social reforms and terrible violence. In the end the film seems to be saying that we don’t live in a Utopia or even a Dystopia but rather something in between.

The acting is good. Young Malcolm McDowell always reminds me of Ewan McGregor and I sometimes forget that I’m watching McDowell. Still, he does an excellent job of playing the man out of his time an unsure hero in a place far different from the world he knows. David Warner is always excellent. From Evil Genius in Time Bandits to Chancellor Gorkon in Star Trek VI or the photographer in The Omen his lines are always delivered in a way that makes the character seem like a man who measures his words. It works quite well for the methodical genius of Jack the Ripper in this film. Mary Steenburgen is always charming.

Time After Time has a solid plot, thoughtful philosophical undertones, and quality acting. I can’t think of any specific complaints I had about it, so I will give it 3 1/2 out of 4 stars.


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