TIME AFTER TIME
The same conceptual game-playing behind Nicholas Meyers Holmes pastiches infects Time After Time, which he based on a synopsis presented to him by two film students. In Time After Time, noted science-fiction writer H.G. Wells has built his time machine in reality, his best friend turns out to be Jack the Ripper and the two take a trip to modern day San Francisco. Nicholas Meyer is less interested in the possibilities of the time travel device than he is in the possibilities offered once he gets the two characters into the present-day. (Although there are a couple of clever time paradox twists afforded by the script). The fun to be had is in Meyers placing H.G. Wellss quaint Fabian idealism against the modern world. What have I done? Ive loosed that bloody maniac upon Utopia, Wells recoils in horror as he learns Stephenson has escaped into the future. The joke for us is the idea of Wells regarding modern day San Francisco as his Utopia. Later Wells, with his self-assured talk of free love, becomes distinctly embarrassed about Amys talk of her sex life, and frankly incredulous at her mention of a Sexual Revolution. There is a potent moment where David Warners Jack the Ripper sighs This century has a home for me and turns on the tv showing Warner Brothers cartoons, Jimi Hendrix smashing his guitar, war footage and the nightly news to make his point.
Nicholas Meyer tends to the journeyman-like as a director, but Time After Time is carried by the adroit ingenuity of the script and by the buoyant playing of all three of his principal cast. Malcolm McDowell gives a wonderfully perky performance (one of his best) as H.G. Wells. Opposite him, Mary Steenburgen is a ditzy delight. In a real world, she and Malcolm McDowell, cast here as lovers, met on set and were married soon after the film, and the romance between the two gives the film an authentic centre. David Warner turns on the dangerous intensity with a script that gives him full rein to go for all his worth.
Time After Time is less effective when one tries to consider it as historically credible. For one, it is hard to believe that an H.G. Wells who travelled forward to the present would then return to write such works of naively earnest future speculation as A Modern Utopia (1905), Men Like Gods (1923), The Shape of Things to Come (1933) and the film Things to Come (1936). Wells and Jack the Ripper almost but do not quite mix. The Jack the Ripper killings occurred in 1888, although the film has them still continuing in 1893. In 1893, H.G. Wells was only 27 years old, had married his cousin and was working as a schoolteacher. Wells had only began publishing short fiction in 1893 and his first science-fiction novel The Time Machine, which made him famous, was not published until 1895. Here however the film casts Wells with Malcolm McDowell who was 36 years old, a decade older than Wells was in 1893, and has him already published and appearing to be making a reasonable success as an science-fiction writer some time earlier than in real life. Similarly, the life of Amy Catherine Robbins, who became H.G. Wellss second wife, is well documented she was a former student from a middle-class background and the two did not meet until 1895 and it seems historically preposterous to suggest that she was a time traveller.
The film seems to have gone to assiduous lengths to avoid any design likeness to the time machine in the George Pal adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel The Time Machine (1960). The machine is now a more anonymous winged and hooded contraption vaguely resembling the head of a hawk rather than a splendid piece of rococo Victoriana. In a similar attempt to avoid any connection to the Pal film, which memorably depicted the time travel experience by speeded-up action taking place from the time travellers point-of-view, Meyer offers a more banal journey that is depicted via abstract plays of light and soundbite snippets from various historic radio broadcasts, which only draws attention to the concerted effort to differentiate itself from the Pal film and fails to hold the same imaginative thrust.
The George Pal film was also the first to directly associate H.G. Wells with his own time traveller. The sharp-eyed can spot a small brass plate on the time machine in the Pal film, which notes that the real name of the time traveller, who is only known as George, is H. George Wells. Since Time After Time, the idea of H.G. Wells himself as a time traveller has become a cliche as perpetuated by episodes of tv series such as Doctor Who (1963-89) and Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-7), even Warehouse 13 (2009-14), which featured a Helena G. Wells.
Time After Time (2017) was tv series remake with Freddie Stroma as Wells and Josh Bowman in the Jack the Ripper role, although this was poorly received and lasted only twelve episodes.
Nicholas Meyer subsequently went onto develop a modestly successful career as a director. His next, best and most successful film was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), regarded by most Trek fans as the best of the film series. Meyer then went onto the controversial tv movie The Day After (1983) about nuclear war. His other genre entries include script input on The Voyage Home: Star Trek IV (1986), the little seen Merchant-Ivory production The Deceivers (1988) about Indian Thuggee cults, before returning to helm the last of the classic Trek films Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). He has also made a couple of comedies, the literary pastiche Volunteers (1985) and the spy spoof Company Business (1991), which did no business. From the late 1990s, Meyer moved away from directing to writing scripts such as Sommersby (1995), The Prince of Egypt (1998) and The Human Stain (2003), as well as producing the epic tv mini-series The Odyssey (1997) and the Arnold Schwarzenegger action vehicle Collateral Damage (2002). Meyer has also returned to writing books with a further Sherlock Holmes pastiche The Canary Trainer (1993) where Holmes encounters The Phantom of the Opera.