By 1979, filmdom had delivered many great team-ups for audiences around the world, whether it was Frankenstein and the Wolf Man or King Kong and Godzilla. One of the greatest ones to ever make it to the silver screen would be featured in Time After Time, a motion picture that would see H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper come together and it would end up being such a natural occurrence and a fitting one, that a person has to wonder why it was never done previously. With both men having existed during the same period of time, it only made sense to have their respective worlds come into contact with each other and what ended up on the big screen was pure escapism; fun, exciting and suspenseful.
Written and directed by Nicholas Meyer and originating from an unpublished novel by Karl Alexander, the movie would star Malcolm McDowell as fabled author Wells and David Warner as the legendary killer. The two would bring a flair to the roles they would don and watching them was more than enjoyable. McDowell seemed to revel in his role as Wells and once Mary Steenburgen entered the picture, it was then that he really seemed to come into the performance as the two played off of each other with what seemed like a pure joy. Warner was excellent as Jack the Ripper and for the most part, it was chilling to see him on screen as you could sense that there was a subtle undertone of menace and violence just below the surface. A gentleman though he pretended to be, when he dropped the facade in the hotel room after arriving in the future and told Wells that he was finally home, it really painted that line between them and told you all you needed to know about him, if it was not clear already. It was this one scene that really defined the characters for the rest of the film – one, a man who saw endless possibilities for violence and the other a man horrified to discover what the world had become and determined not to add to it by letting his former friend, John Leslie Stevenson – the Ripper, remain abroad.
Despite the special effects lacking a little in certain spots, the movie had a lot going for it, specifically in the performances of its stars. While it framed everything as an adventure, and was compelling while doing so, it also begged the discussion of responsibility, of personal liability and what a person would do when finding themselves in a moral predicament. Do you accept the burden of your actions and right your wrong or take the easy way out? In Wells’ case, he decides the former. Though mankind has never been civilized even at the best of times, Meyer also managed to show the differences between the two time periods represented in the film quite well and to say that humanity had changed over the years is an understatement, something Wells finds quite troubling. That being said, while the picture made one think, it never stopped entertaining either.
As tense and exciting as it was, the film also took a little time out for a bit of humour to break up the slightly dour material. Even Warner had a bit of a sly, dry wit about him and it not only lightens the mood, but transforms the picture into something else entirely from what it could have been. The main problem with this movie has nothing to do with the film itself, but with how underrated and unknown it is. From the first moment to the last, Time After Time completely delivers on all fronts – a rare feat for a film, especially for one set in the science-fiction and adventure genre. All in all, it was a truly charming experience that may have interpreted things a little differently than they had actually happened, but whose to say that some of it could not have been true.
4.5 out of 5