The Archivist #58: HG Wells vs Jack The Ripper in TIME AFTER TIME (The 1979 Film That Inspired the…

The Archivist — Welcome to the Archive. As home video formats have evolved over the years, a multitude of films have found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Manufacture-On-Demand DVD operation devoted to thousands of idiosyncratic and ephemeral works of cinema. The Archive has expanded to include a streaming service, revivals of out-of-print DVDs, and Blu-ray discs (which, unlike the DVDs, are factory pressed rather than burned). Join us as we explore this treasure trove of cinematic discovery!

As ABC has recently kicked off its new Time After Time television series, we want to take this opportunity to shine a spotlight on Nicholas Meyer’s 1979 film version of the story (itself based upon a novel of the same year, written by Karl Alexander).

A wild, high-concept premise makes Time After Time the sort of film that’s easy to take interest in, and to want to share with others: We know H. G. Wells as the author of science fiction novels like The Time Machine, but this tale proposes that the real H. G. Wells did in fact create a working time-travel vehicle. But before he can even test it, Scotland Yard’s most wanted criminal Jack The Ripper uses it to evade capture. Wells pursues, transporting to modern San Francisco, 1979.

The film is a fun injection of Victorian science fiction and pulp adventure into modern-era romantic comedy, thanks to its novel concept and trio of stars.

Malcolm McDowell stars as Wells, who is deflated to find the world of the future isn’t the peaceful Utopia he had envisioned, yet manages to stumble right into love with modern woman named Amy (Mary Steenburgen).

Opposite McDowell is the always-excellent David Warner as the sadistic Jack The Ripper, who delights in a future where sex and violence are both history and entertainment. He quickly resumes his killing spree, prowling the neon-lit streets of the city’s nightlife for prey. When his nemesis catches up and threatens to end the fun, he turns his murderous attention toward Wells’ new lady love.

There’s one rather obvious way in which the film feels rather thoughtless, and that’s in the way its protagonist, ostensibly a genius, completely ignores the far-reaching implications of having a time travel device. Throughout the story, he acts with a sense of urgency and finality in all his actions, completely oblivious to the fact that he has the ability to turn back the clock and orchestrate events in his favor. It seems even sillier when contrasted with the intelligent and highly entertaining ways in which other films like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure or Back To The Future deal with similar chronomechanics. Heck, Groundhog Day and the entire Terminator franchise are built around the past-altering principles that this film completely ignores.

Despite this rather obvious defect, the movie is a successful genre-blending treat that has rightfully attracted a devoted fanbase. The primary cast members all excel in their roles — McDowell has made a career out of playing weirdos and villains and it’s rather endearing to see him play an affable gentleman for once. Mary Steenburgen is the paragon of “adorkable”, and David Warner reminds us why he’s one of the greatest and most underrated character actors of the 70s and 80s.

The Package

Time After Time comes to Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection.

Special Features and Extras

Audio Commentary
with Director Nicholas Meyer and star Malcolm McDowell

Theatrical Trailer (2:33)

Make It A Double

As I watched Time After Time, I was frequently reminded of another film in which time-travelers find themselves lost in the Golden City. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home finds the crew of the Enterprise traveling to 1980s San Francisco, albeit from the future rather than the past. Captain Kirk similarly strikes up a fast friendship with a smart, modern, professional woman who helps him navigate an unfamiliar society, and like Time After Time’s Amy, she makes a choice that changes her life forever.

A/V Out.

Get it at Amazon:
Time After Time — [Blu-ray] | [DVD] | [Instant]

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