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Focus on the Frightful: Time After Time

Time After Time seems to be a largely forgotten entry in the time travel genre. In a way, it feels kind of cheaply made. Some of the time travel effects are pretty iffy looking. Sparkly after-effects that were clearly added post-production. talk about time travel. But it’s still a fun movie with some good acting. So let’s talk about it!

Spoilers beware!

Time travel is such a cool and interesting concept. But it’s best if not thought about too much. At least for me. Take the movie I mentioned above, Time After Time, H.G. Wells (played by Malcolm Mcdowell) is friends with a man named John Leslie Stevenson (David Warner) who also happens to be a guy known as Jack the Ripper (yeah, I know, just hear me out). Wells has created a time machine but hasn’t quite gotten up the courage to use it yet. When the police catch up to ‘Jack’ at Wells’ house, Jack takes the plunge and uses the machine to evade capture.

Somehow, though, they leave London, England and end up in San Francisco, USA. There are no coordinates other than dates and times on the machine. Yet, somehow, it ended up there. Although, now that I’m thinking about it there is an explanation. The physical location of the machine in 1979 is at a museum in San Francisco on loan from London for an HG wells exhibit.

I think they actually do a pretty decent job with the movie. The time travel aspect is really quite a small portion of it. Just the plot device to kick off the movie. Which is basically a chase/adventure movie. You see, Wells has the key t the time machine and Jack wants it. So Wells can’t bring 19th century police to the 20th century, I suppose. Wells, of course wants Jack to do the right thing and go back with him and turn himself in. Jack has a bit of an issue with that. So they get in a tussle and in a very epically orchestrated chase scene (even though they’re just running around on different hotel levels. Jack gets hit by a car and Wells thinks he’s died. Which should mean that he would go back right away but, he also runs into a good looking banker (who pointed him in the direction of Jack’s hotel in the first place).

David Warner as Jack the Ripper

So they go out to eat, see a movie, have dinner together and spend the night together. Amy is played by Mary Steenburgen. And while I’m not a great fan of Steenburgen’s acting in general I think she plays her part well. Especially her interactions with Wells. They are adorably awkward on their first date and they do have a light chemistry together.

Things go well for the first night but the next morning Wells learns that Jack is alive and well due to Jack coming back to Amy’s bank window. When Jack first got to town he changed some money at her bank and that’s how Wells found him. This leads to a scene that is unintentionally hilarious. But it’s supposed to be an intense, scary scene.

Amy freaks out and calls Wells to let him know that Jack is at her counter. And she looks utterly petrified. Jack outs together how Wells found him at the hotel and figures out that Amy has just told Wells that he’s there. And she looks so deer in the headlights at him when trying to deny it that it’s unintentionally funny. There’s also a weird moment when Jack whispers in her ear but it looks like he’s teleported to her side of the counter (which, I believe the security guards ould have a teensy issue with) and then walks off at an angle that makes it look like her back is to the lobby. It’s just weird looking.

Seriously, this is literally her face for the whole scene

Wells tells Amy who he really is and, of course, she doesn’t believe him. So he asks for a chance to prove it. Which he does by taking her to the museum and showing her the exhibit. She’s still iffy on it though. So as a last resort he takes her on a brief trip with the time machine to the next day. Personally, I would have gone with something a bit more dramatic like the 1600s but that’s just me. At first, she’s dismissive because, obviously, nothing seems out of place because it’s literally the next day. But then she sees a conveniently placed newspaper and uh-oh. There’s a report of another woman having been killed. Surprise! It’s her. Bet you didn’t see that coming.

They go back to their time and discuss their options. Wells wants her to come back to his time with him. This leads to a spat over him asking if her career is worth her life to which she says yes, her career is important to her. She proposes going into the future but he can’t leave Jack the Ripper loose in San Francisco. So there goes your place or mine. Wells comes up with an alternate plan. Since the police were very little help to him earlier (in fairness to the SFPD Wells telling the detective that he was Sherlock Holmes probably didn’t help matters much) they decide to try to stop the murder of Jack’s next victim.

Thus begins a race against TIME to try to save the woman Jack picks up at the local disco. However, Amy gets a flat tire on the way to the park where they know the murder is going to take place. Seems to me that they’re cutting it awfully close when they know exactly where she’s going to be murdered. Wells calls the police from a payphone but they’re seconds too late (again, they could have called before they left the house).

The next day Wells goes out to prepare for the evening. He tells Amy that if he’s not back yet to go to the hotel they agreed on. Which leads to the most frustrating display of plot stupidity to reach the climax. They’ve known what’s going to happen for at least two days at this point. Amy decides to take a freaking Valium to take a nap. A Valium. When you know a madman is going to come kill you. Seems legit. While Amy is blissfully snoozing away Wells has gone out to purchase a gun from a pawn shop.

Just before he returns home, literally as he’s about to walk through the door, the police nab him. Because in his call to the police about the park murder he gave the name Sherlock Holmes and had previously given the police Amy’s address. He tries to call to Amy but she’s in the arms of Prince Valium and doesn’t hear him.

He tries to tell them who he really is but, of course, they don’t believe him. They think he murdered the other girls. Meanwhile Wells is begging them to go send someone to help Amy. They finally do but the detective returns to the room looking sick. He says he’s sorry he didn’t believe him. Wells thinks that Amy’s dead.

Jack confronts wells near Amy’s house. He has her hostage. It turns out that she’s not the one who was murdered but the friend she invited for dinner was killed because they forgot to mention “Oh hey, we can’t do dinner tonight because Amy’s going to be murdered.

Jack wants Wells to meet him at the time machine where he will exchange Amy for the key. At first it looks like he’ll kill Amy anyway but Wells pleads convincingly. Jack shoves Amy into Wells’ arms and hops in the machine. He forgot, however, about the key that, if pulled, will send the traveler bouncing around through time and space. Jack and Wells exchange meaningful looks and Wells pulls the key.

Amy and Wells agree to say goodbye but at the last minute, Amy changes her mind and decides to go with Wells. The movie wraps up with some facts about Wells and his wife that are interesting if they’re true. Which, I haven’t looked it up so I can’t really say but they’re interesting. Such as Wells’ wife being a big proponent of women’s liberation.

I don’t know for sure but I’ve always thought of Time After Time as a tv movie. It has that feel to it despite the relatively big named stars in it. The effects spell tv cheese and the soundtrack screams the same. The violence is relatively minimal, as well, even though Jack kills several women, at least three of them onscreen.

But what sets it apart for me from easily dismissed fluffernutter is the sincerity behind it. You can tell they at least tried to make it good. The actors are not just reading their way through the lines and there are some genuinely cute moments between Amy and Wells and some interesting scenes between Jack and Wells. They actually feel as though they were friends and are now bitter enemies but that friendship is still there, underneath the surface.

There are even a few artful shots that tell me someone was putting effort into it. Such as a scene where Jack kills a girl he met. The blood spatter is on his face as though he were crying blood. Does it look a little cheesy? Yes, but the good gouda kind, not the plastic container with a smidgen of cheese for your pretzels kind. In the bank scene you can see Jack look from the phone to Amy then off to the side and you can see the character visibly connecting the dots in his head from Amy to the hotel to Wells and back to Amy. Also the scene near the end where Jack and Wells look at each other before Wells pulls the key out is done very well. You can almost see a whole conversation with their eyes.

If you want a fun movie that you don’t need to take too seriously then I urge you to check it out. It’s been unfairly overlooked.

Published inFocus on the Frightful

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┬ęSci-Fi & Scary 2019
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