Really good science fiction answers a really cool question that begins with “What If.”
Sadly, since Star Wars, science fiction his been thought to be spaceships flying through the galaxy or if we go back as far as the fifties, spaceships landing or attacking Earth.
Some really good science fiction doesn’t involve space, aliens or ray guns.
Time After Time takes off on two really great “What if” questions.
The first: What if H. G. Wells, instead of just writing “The Time Machine,” actually built one?
The second: What if Jack the Ripper used it to flee into the future, with H. G. Wells chasing him close behind?
Everything is plausible, and Director/Screenwriter Nicholas Meyer makes it so. He is helped by a cast that could hardly go wrong, though no one would’ve known it at the time.
Malcom McDowell had just shot “Caligula,” which became one of the biggest stinkers to hit the big screen. David Warner, best known at this point for literally losing his head in “The Omen,” was only cast after many other choices failed, including Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. Mary Steenburgen was just off starring with Jack Nicholson in “Goin’ South” and was a year away from winning an Oscar.
They all play brilliantly. McDowell convinces you that he IS H. G. Wells. Warner is the only Jack the Ripper I can ever think of to this very day. And Steenburgen gives this movie its heart and its cheering interest.
“Time After Time” didn’t break the Top 40 at the box office in 1979. Despite some great reviews, this film never found an audience, and even today it seems stuck in the seventies a bit much for a film with a message that would still be relevant today.
It has one of the longest foot chases I’ve ever seen, and some of the subplots along the way don’t lead anywhere.
But for a science fiction film, this film grabs you and doesn’t let go. When Jack the Ripper realizes how he was discovered and who led Wells to find him, it’s as spooky as any horror film. And unlike other films with stalking killers, you actually want the good guys to catch this one.
The dialogue is crisp and snappy. The performances are spot on perfect.
This is a film worth watching time after time.
Like all great science fiction, this movie makes a statement about mankind that develops as a theme. It’s when H. G. Wells tracks down Jack the Ripper in his modern hotel room, and Jack explains that going back to his past wouldn’t fit. “The world has caught up with me and surpassed me,” Jack explains. “Ninety years ago I was a freak. Today I’m an amateur.” Says it all.