Friday, October 30, 2009

Disco Utopia

Jack the Ripper at large in present day San Francisco? That's the premise behind the time travel movie Time After Time starring Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen. In 1880s London, writer H.G. Wells shows off his newly constructed time machine to several of his friends. They are somewhat skeptical that it will actually work, but when the police appear, one of the men jumps in the time machine and transports himself nearly 100 years into the future. Wells quickly realizes that his former friend, John Leslie Stephenson, must be Jack the Ripper, and that it is his responsibility to catch him.

Wells is somewhat excited about traveling into the future, because he is certain that people will have reached utopia due to continuing development and societal changes. When he arrives in 1979 San Francisco, he is, of course, astounded by all the new inventions that greet him. He is also saddened at the news reports of wars, shootings and violence. Naturally, he has no trouble tracking down the Ripper, and he confronts him in his hotel and attempts to force him to return to Victorian England. Luckily, there happens to be an H.G. Wells exhibit on at a local museum, which includes the time machine as one of the displays. Not surprisingly, the Ripper has no intention of going back. He escapes and continues his murderous deeds.

Wells is assisted in his search for the Ripper by an American bank clerk named Amy.
Unfortunately, the police are no help when he attempts to inform them that he knows the identity of the killer. This is likely due to the fact that when the police ask Wells for his name, he tells them it is Sherlock Holmes. There is some predictable action and some suspense as Wells and Amy close in on the Ripper. Since the film dates from 1979, the special effects are somewhat amusing and consist mostly of flashing lights and colorful swirls as the "time machine" lifts off.

The story is mostly enjoyable, except for the performance of Mary Steenburgen. I've seen her in many film and TV roles, and she's always done a wonderful job but something was clearly amiss here. She looks dozy and speaks in a strange, almost drugged manner. It's very annoying.

At the end of the movie there is a statement which points out that Wells was greatly ahead of his time. In his writings he anticipated many social and technological changes, including space travel and socialism. It's amusing that this film suggests that the reason he knew about those things was that he had visited the future and seen them firsthand!

Final Verdict for Time After Time: Two Gherkins, for being an interesting concept, but a rather dated look

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