Andy's Anachronisms
Time Travel Film Reviews


Time After Time (1979)
"Imagine! A scientific genius named H.G. Wells stalks a criminal genius named Jack the Ripper across time itself, in the most ingenious thriller of our time..."

Directed by Nicholas Meyer

The Basic Plot

At a dinner party he is hosting, H.G. Wells announces to his guests that he has created a working Time Machine, and explains how to operate the machine. Wells and his guests are suddenly interrupted by a group of policemen at Wells' door. An attack by Jack the Ripper has taken place in the neighbourhood and the constables believe they have traced the Ripper to Wells' doorstep. During the confusion Jack the Ripper, a guest of Wells, escapes using the Time Machine.

Fortunately for Wells, he has built in an automatic fail-safe into the time machine which causes it to return to the place it was launched from after a specified period of time. According to Wells this is intended to prevent an unconscious operator from being stranded in a hostile environment. Seizing the opportunity, Wells follows Jack the Ripper to the preset destination that is some 90 years in the future.

So begins a great suspense thriller, in which a cunning and evil Jack the Ripper stalks women in modern day (1979) San Francisco. Driven by a sense of moral responsibility for stopping Jack the Ripper from reeking havoc on a different time, H.G. Wells is befriended by Amy Robbins a pretty, young bank teller whose modern attitudes challenge Wells' proper 19th century British upbringing.


An all around gripping movie, with great performances by a still youthful looking Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange, Star Trek Generations, The New Fantasy Island) and an even younger (around 25), and better looking Mary Steenburgen (Gulliver's Travels, Nixon, Back To the Future Part 3, and Parenthood). David Warner (Time Bandits, Tron, and The Omen) as the evil Jack the Ripper is no slouch either.

Prior to Time After Time, Director Nicholas Meyer had worked on another historical fiction piece in the same style called "The Seven Percent Solution" (1976). Well worth checking out, the Seven Percent Solution features Watson trying to assist a deranged Sherlock Holmes kick his cocaine habit by enlisting the aid of Sigmund Freud. Meyer's ability to place historical characters (real or literary) in real settings may account for some of the success of this picture. Meyer has since directed such pictures as the television event of the early 1980s "The Day After" as well as such motion pictures as Volunteers (1985), The Deceivers (1988), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991).

Granted there are a few plot holes in Time after Time, but the pacing of the movie doesn't give you much time to consider them until well after the final credits have rolled. An intense thriller that still manages to find time to have Wells explore this strange "utopia" and fall in love with Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen).

As a time traveler, H.G. Wells would seem an ideal candidate since he would be open to the concept of experiencing unknown worlds and his natural curiosity regarding science could conceivably help him adapt to a new and foreign environment. While Wells seemed to apply some scientific reasoning to the operation of a motor vehicle in this movie, he seemed more perplexed at the basic working of a telephone. While I am not an expert on the history of telecommunications, I do believe that Alexandar Graham Bell patented his phone in 1876. Given that the beginning of this movie is set in England about 1889 one would assume that in the approx. 13 years since the invention of the telephone Wells would have at least heard of the invention, if not tried one. In the movie he acts as if he had never imagined such a device could be possible.

Similarly Jack the Ripper, makes for an interesting fugitive in time. Contrasting the brutality of his crimes in context of 19th Century England, to the common place violence of Modern America, even Jack the Ripper is quoted as saying during Time After Time: "Ninety years ago I was a freak, now I am just an amateur."

As an exercise in practicality, creating a time travel movie that brings historic characters to a present day setting makes life easier for the filmmaker who obviously does not have to deal with expensive historical period sets and costumes. In some ways it also makes it more accessible for the viewer who can easily recognize modern day locations and social situations.

In a twist on the theme this time travel movie also plays out as somewhat of an alternate history piece as well. By proposing the question what if Jack the Ripper had escaped in time and was pursued by the inventor of the time machine, this movie allows the viewer to explore a possible explanation of the end of Jack the Ripper.

I'm not sure, but I suspect that H.G. Wells is the first historical figure to be portrayed as a Time Traveler (as he was again portrayed as a time traveler in the Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman series). Wells is also the first writer of time travel fiction that I am aware that it has been suggested (at least through fiction such as this) that he might be have obtained some of his knowledge of time travel first hand.

An entertaining tale, Time after Time still holds up well after 20 years and is well worth seeking out.

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