Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Movie vs. Book: Time After Time

The movie, Time After Time (1979), is not a horror story. Sure, you have women being slaughtered, dismemberment, stalking, terror. You have Jack the Ripper in one of his most chilling portrayals. But when you get down to the meat of the matter, it is not a horror story. It is a love story.
The plot begins with H.G. Wells, in 1898, having a dinner party to unveil a new invention—a time machine. During the dinner party, Scotland Yard investigators come looking for Jack the Ripper, and find him as one of the party’s guests…who immediately disappears in Wells’ machine. Wells must then chase after him into the future. They both arrive in 1979 San Francisco where Jack continues his killing spree and Wells must find him and put a stop once and for all to the murders.
That is the base for this story and the whole reason for the plot to exist. Yet, that does not the movie as a whole. When first in 1979, Wells is learning about life in the future where some of his predictions have come true (such as technology and women’s liberation) and some have not (world peace, Utopia). As fascinating as this part is, again that sense of discovery really isn’t what the movie is about.
Time After Time finds its identity when Wells meets Amy Robbins, a banker and thoroughly modern woman. While rather sudden, the two fall in love in a matter of days, come to terms with the reality of Wells’ situation, and must find a way to stop The Ripper, especially once Amy comes in his murderous sights.
This plot could easily become a contrived bit of fluff. The actors are what make this movie work. David Warner puts in a chillingly amoral and very real turn as Jack the Ripper. However, Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen as Wells and Amy are what make this a great movie. The honesty and vulnerability in their performances and the chemistry of their screen time together is fantastic, and rare. As unrealistic as it is that two people would fall so deeply so quickly, the way the two work together on screen make you forget your doubts within moments. In real life, Steenburgen and McDowell were married after filming this, so perhaps the chemistry wasn’t so much of an acting stretch.
There are other fun aspects to the movie. The special effects are top of the line…for 1979. By today’s standards, they’re laughable. But if you keep in mind when this was made, it’s easy to overlook the cheese factor and enjoy the psychedelic ride of the time travel. Also of note—watch for an extremely young Corey Feldman’s screen debut.
While this is a love story, this is by no means a “chick flick”. There is enough action and suspense with the Ripper factor to keep you interested, and aside from one gratuitous use of violin scoring, the love story keeps from getting saccharine-sappy. I completely and totally recommend this movie, as long as you know going in you are in for a frightfest, but a story about falling in love with a little horror in the background.

- Jen

BOOK: Time After Time by Karl Alexander

If there’s anything more appropriate than reviewing a book and movie with significant romantic elements shortly after getting married, it’s probably when the person doing the other half of the review is your new spouse. So, the choice in this case was perfect.

The book, unlike the movie, is not primarily a romance. Instead it is a look at the difference between idealistic visions: one, the utopian vision of H.G. Wells, presented as believing that scientific progress would bring a socialist paradise of equality, peace and riches for all and the base expectations of Jack the Ripper, presented here as a sociopath who believes that all of mankind is in a constant battle for dominance and supremacy as represented through violence.

Wells in the book is fundamentally spiritual, though not religious, and also fundamentally libertarian although grounded in his Victorian-era morality. There are minor discrepancies between the Wells of the novel and the Wells of reality, but these are easily attributable to dramatic license, used to further the analytical difference between the primary characters.

There are many parts of the book which are shaved or combined to make the movie, but the writer/director did a wonderful job in keeping most of the key elements present. This is, as a book, a love story. It is also a suspense thriller and is filled with commentary about the nature of humanity.

The earliest third of the book is concerned with how the time travelers react to the world around them, with H.G. Wells alternately thrilled with the scientific wonders, pleased with their use to benefit humanity, and dismayed by the treatment of people by other people. The author effectively uses the visitor to our time (or at least the time of 1979) to illustrate some of what he considers the best and the worst of our society. You may not agree with his conclusions, but you’ll enjoy the trip and you’ll be presented with thoughtful commentary.

Five stars out of five.