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All-Time Favorites: TIME AFTER TIME (1979 PG)

June 23, 2008

H.G. Wells’ classic story of THE TIME MACHINE has been a favorite of science fiction fans for generations. But what if Wells’ extraordinary machine were REAL? Not only that, what if one of the most notorious murderers in history stole it to travel into 20th Century America? That’s the hook of Nicholas (THE DAY AFTER) Meyer’s TIME AFTER TIME.

Malcolm McDowell plays the legendary H.G. Wells, and David Warner takes on the role of the notorious Jack the Ripper. As the story opens, Jack has just claimed another victim. Meanwhile, Wells is waiting to reveal some big news to his closest friends about his latest creation. There’s only one person missing, Wells’ friend Dr. John Leslie Stevenson. When Stevenson finally arrives, Wells reveals that he HAS perfected his time machine and plans to travel into the future. Wells believes that in the future, the world is a perfect place, and he wants to witness this for himself. The dinner party is interrupted when the police report that Jack the Ripper has struck again. The discovery of a bloody surgeon’s glove in Stevenson’s bag reveals the horrifying truth. Wells’ esteemed doctor friend is the notorious Jack the Ripper.

The good news is that the police know after whom they are going. The bad news is that there is no way they will be able to capture him. Stephenson has escaped in Wells’ time machine to San Francisco 1979. Fortunately for Wells, tracking Stephenson to 1979 will be simple enough, as the machine records the last trip on the dials. Finding Stephenson himself will be a different prospect altogether.

Wells arrives in San Francisco to discover that he is the subject of a museum exhibit. As impressed as he is, Wells has to find Stephenson and bring him back to 19th Century London. Part of the fun of this movie is watching Wells try to adapt to modern life. One of my favorite scenes involves Wells discovering McDonald’s fast food. He may not like Big Macs, but give him an order of fries and he’s delighted. Sad to say that not all of Wells’ discoveries are happy. When Wells DOES find Jack, thanks to a beautiful bank employee played by Mary Steenburgen, Jack shows Wells that the 20th Century is not only a far cry from Utopia, humans seem to have become even MORE violent than Jack himself. Jack feels perfectly comfortable in the 20th Century, and wastes no time in pursuing his thirst for blood.

Meanwhile, Wells romantically pursues the bank employee, only to discover that Jack is now going after her because of her kindness to Wells. Wells has no choice but to reveal to this lady who he really is, and he has only three days to convince the police that Jack the Ripper is alive and well and stalking the City by the Bay. Can Wells save his new love and defeat Jack the Ripper in three days’ time? You’ll have to see for yourself.

What I love about this movie is McDowell’s portrayal of Wells. As I said before the fun of this movie is watching Wells learn all about 20th Century living and technology. He never loses his sense of wonder and curiosity. But make no mistake: this is NOT a movie for young children. When Jack strikes you do see the blood, you DO hear the sound of flesh tearing in an early scene, and you may see a severed body part. It’s not overly gory, but it may make you uncomfortable. At least it’s kept to a minimum so as not to interfere with the story.

I also like the fact that it got me to ask myself which historical figures would be most curious about our times? I’d like to think that Thomas Jefferson would, and I’ll tell you why. Jefferson was a man of science and invention, and I like to think that he would be fascinated with such things as computers, cell phones and digital TV’s. Besides, you gotta love a guy who introduced fries to the U.S.

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