Skip to main content

I can’t have you following me about eternity like the Flying Dutchman.

Time after Time
(1979)

(SPOILERS) It seems as if every even half-successful science-fiction movie has spawned at least a failed TV version at some point. I haven’t seen Time after Time’s spin-off, but I’m unsurprised its premise didn’t successfully lend itself to an ongoing series format. Indeed, by the time the credits roll on Nicholas Meyer’s directorial debut, I felt he’d run into the limits of his (Karl Alexander’s) idea.

Time after Time’s faux-Victoriana contrasted with late-twentieth century San Francisco provides the missing link between Meyer’s prior Sherlock Holmes pastiches and his later contributions to Star Trek. You can see his love for literature (Melville, Shakespeare) but more especially the fish-out-of-water qualities later exhibited by Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. For my money, that Trek outing is a more successful synthesis of the themes present here, even as it shuns some of Time after Time’s most essential features (the love story, a personified villain). The Voyage Home manages to deliver its excoriation of 1986 attitudes, lifestyles and values in a manner both pointed and humorous. In contrast, Time after Time is mostly just pointed.

I’ve tried to work out why the picture doesn’t quite work for me – this is my second go-round – and I think it’s cumulative. Partly, it’s simply that Meyer, a novice director, services his screenplay without much flair, very much learning the ropes as he goes. There’s little urgency engendered by his direction or the editing, which may assist the love story, but it does little for hunting the killer. Of whom, while David Warner is very good, there’s just too little of his John Leslie Stevenson, revealed as Jack the Ripper. It’s an attractively high-concept idea, and to be fair, is in another league to more recent genre mash-ups, but the most fascinating side of the equation – Jolly Jack loose in a modern metropolis – is largely left languishing.

Meyer himself said he wasn’t very interested in the Ripper side of the plot, or dwelling on his actions; he took the project on after Karl Alexander sent him pages from his unfinished novel, having been impressed with The Seven-Percent Solution. As a consequence, Stevenson is left stranded in terms of motivation; he loves 1979 because it’s so violent (“Ninety years ago, I was a freak. Today, I’m an amateur”), but when Wells, who in 1893 had confidently predicted “In three generations the social utopia will have come to pass”, decides to bring him to book and back to 1893, Stevenson seeks to escape the period (why not just off Wells, so stopping him “following me round eternity"?) Then he starts killing in 1979. And inevitably, Wells’ love interest is kidnapped. Stevenson’s fate also feels like a missed opportunity; something closer to a riff on Wells’ works, either past or future, might have been more fitting (“I sent him to where he belongs – infinity”).

Once he has set it up for all to be impressed by, Meyer fails to find anywhere interesting to take the premise. There’s some amusement seeing how well Stevenson responds to the fashions and forms of the era (disco especially), but this adjustment is mostly reserved for Wells. As played by McDowell, he’s a rather stuffy Englishman in a Holmes deerstalker – he even gives Doyle’s detective as his name at the police station, unaware that it’s known by all – the actor having elected not to play with him with a broad south-east London accent.

Meyer signposts the various areas where Wells was ahead of his time, most notably the emancipation movement, while also emphasising his emotional formality. But this is, to some degree, rather clunky in the playing. I didn’t find it especially sweet or charming, even knowing a real romance blossomed during filming between McDowell and Mary Steenburgen. It’s all amiable enough, but Steenburgen comes on like a Quaaluded Kate Bush and Amy seems to spring more from 60s liberation clichés than the cusp of the 80s (“My work is my life, just like you or any other man” she says, objecting to the idea of being transported, disenfranchised, to the nineteenth century – although, her bank job isn’t all that – and later she exclaims “My God, Herbert. I’m practically raping you!” when he expresses concern he might be taking advantage).

Wells’ scenes with the police were surely an influence on Kyle Rees’ interrogation in The Terminator, but elsewhere Meyer seems as flippant towards the mechanics of time travel as he is towards the motivation of the Ripper. At one point, Herbert and Amy travel three days into the future, where a newspaper headline announces her murder, which would assume that they return to the present, which they haven’t yet done (I know, it’s a regular time-travel conceit, but there isn’t even a discussion of the parameters here; I even wondered if the headline was intended to be a mistaken identification of the murder of Amy’s co-worker).

I have to admit too, that I’m not entirely sold on McDowell. Cast him as a character with an edge, and he’s riveting. As a buttoned-down hero, he’s perhaps too good at observing such strictures (perhaps if he’d been more like the actual Wells, especially with regard to the romance; this is a very romanticised portrait). Warner, in contrast, had been going through his bad guy paces in The Thirty-Nine Steps and would follow with a string of such villainous parts (The Island, Time Bandits, Tron) leaves you wanting more. Perhaps they should have swapped roles (the studio wanted Mick Jagger for Wells). Other notable incidentals are Corey Feldman in his second movie appearance (“Boy at Museum”) and Exorcist IV showing at a local cinema (what 1979 is this?)

Generally, I’d recommend Sherlock Holmes’ big screen attempts to bring the Ripper to justice (A Study in Terror, Murder by Decree) over HG’s; Pauline Kael may have been onto something that Meyer too inherently recognised in his attempts to shy away from the stark horrors of the Ripper’s acts: “The movie doesn’t full succeed… the Ripper… is too frighteningly sociopathic to fit into the film’s romantic framework”. Meyer had come on in leaps and bounds as a director by the time of his next effort, but Time after Time both sparks with its what-if conceit and then slightly underwhelms with how it pays if off.




Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016) (SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

You know, I think you may have the delusion you’re still a police officer.

Heaven’s Prisoners (1996) (SPOILERS) At the time, it seemed Alec Baldwin was struggling desperately to find suitable star vehicles, and the public were having none of it. Such that, come 1997, he was playing second fiddle to Anthony Hopkins and Bruce Willis, and in no time at all had segued to the beefy supporting player we now know so well from numerous indistinguishable roles. That, and inane SNL appearances. But there was a window, post- being replaced by Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, when he still had sufficient cachet to secure a series of bids for bona fide leading man status. Heaven’s Prisoners is the final such and probably the most interesting, even if it’s somewhat hobbled by having too much, rather than too little, story.

Oh, I love funny exiting lines.

Alfred Hitchcock  Ranked: 26-1 The master's top tier ranked from worst to best. You can find 52-27 here .

Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody loves a tax inspector. They’re beyond the pale!

Too Many Crooks (1959) (SPOILERS) The sixth of seven collaborations between producer-director Mario Zampi and writer Michael Pertwee, Too Many Crooks scores with a premise later utilised to big box-office effect in Ruthless People (1986). A gang of inept thieves kidnap the wife of absolute cad and bounder Billy Gordon (Terry-Thomas). Unfortunately for them, Gordon, being an absolute cad and bounder, sees it as a golden opportunity, rather enjoying his extra-marital carry ons and keeping all his cash from her, so he refuses to pay up. At which point Lucy Gordon (Brenda De Banzie) takes charge of the criminal crew and turns the tables.

Well, it must be terribly secret, because I wasn't even aware I was a member.

The Brotherhood of the Bell (1970) (SPOILERS) No, not Joseph P Farrell’s book about the Nazi secret weapons project, but rather a first-rate TV movie in the secret-society ilk of later flicks The Skulls and The Star Chamber . Only less flashy and more cogent. Glenn Ford’s professor discovers the club he joined 22 years earlier is altogether more hardcore than he could have ever imagined – not some student lark – when they call on the services he pledged. David Karp’s adaptation of his novel, The Brotherhood of the Bell is so smart in its twists and turns of plausible deniability, you’d almost believe he had insider knowledge.

They wanted me back for a reason. I need to find out why.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) (SPOILERS) I wasn’t completely down on Joss Whedon’s Justice League (I had to check to remind myself Snyder retained the director credit), which may be partly why I’m not completely high on Zack Snyder’s. This gargantuan four-hour re-envisioning of Snyder’s original vision is aesthetically of a piece, which means its mercifully absent the jarring clash of Whedon’s sensibility with the Snyderverse’s grimdark. But it also means it doubles down on much that makes Snyder such an acquired taste, particularly when he has story input. The positive here is that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell. The negative here is also that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell (with some extra sprinkles on top). This is not a Watchmen , where the unexpurgated version was for the most part a feast.

Now all we’ve got to do is die.

Without Remorse (2021) (SPOILERS) Without Remorse is an apt description of the unapologetic manner in which Amazon/Paramount have perpetrated this crime upon any audiences foolish enough to think there was any juice left in the Tom Clancy engine. There certainly shouldn’t have been, not after every attempt was made to run it dry in The Sum of All Our Fears and then the stupidly titled Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit . A solo movie of sometime Ryan chum John Clark’s exploits has been mooted awhile now, and two more inimitable incarnations were previously encountered in the forms of Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber. Like Chris Pine in Shadow Recruit , however, diminishing returns find Michael B Jordan receiving the short straw and lead one to the conclusion that, if Jordan is indeed a “star”, he’s having a hell of a job proving it.

A drunken, sodden, pill-popping cat lady.

The Woman in the Window (2021) (SPOILERS) Disney clearly felt The Woman in the Window was so dumpster-bound that they let Netflix snatch it up… where it doesn’t scrub up too badly compared to their standard fare. It seems Tony Gilroy – who must really be making himself unpopular in the filmmaking fraternity, as producers’ favourite fix-it guy - was brought in to write reshoots after Joe Wright’s initial cut went down like a bag of cold, or confused, sick in test screenings. It’s questionable how much he changed, unless Tracy Letts’ adaptation of AJ Finn’s 2018 novel diverged significantly from the source material. Because, as these things go, the final movie sticks fairly closely to the novel’s plot.

I don't think this is the lightning you're looking for.

Meet Joe Black (1998) (SPOILERS) A much-maligned Brad Pitt fest, commonly accused of being interminable, ponderous, self-important and ridiculous. All of those charges may be valid, to a greater or lesser extent, but Meet Joe Black also manages to attain a certain splendour, in spite of its more wayward impulses. While it’s suggestive of a filmmaker – Martin Brest – believing his own hype after the awards success of (the middling) Scent of a Woman , this is a case where all that sumptuous better-half styling and fantasy lifestyle does succeed in achieving a degree of resonance. An undeniably indulgent movie, it’s one I’ve always had a soft spot for.

To our glorious defeat.

The Mouse that Roared (1959) (SPOILERS) I’d quite forgotten Peter Sellers essayed multiple roles in a movie satirising the nuclear option prior to Dr. Strangelove . Possibly because, while its premise is memorable, The Mouse that Roared isn’t, very. I was never that impressed, much preferring the sequel that landed (or took off) four years later – sans Sellers – and this revisit confirms that take. The movie appears to pride itself on faux- Passport to Pimlico Ealing eccentricity, but forgets to bring the requisite laughs with that, or the indelible characters. It isn’t objectionable, just faintly dull.