I was so impressed by The Seven-Per-Cent Solution that I decided to pop in another Nicholas Meyer film that’s been collecting dust on my Blu-ray shelf: Time After Time, the future Wrath of Khan helmer’s directorial debut.
It’s certainly a handsomely-shot picture, but Meyer is a writer first and foremost, so it’s true strength lies in its razor-sharp screenplay. Once again, the subject matter reflects the scribe’s fondness for classic literature: Malcolm McDowell stars as an endearingly nerdy H. G. Wells, who in this fictionalized universe has actually managed to create a working time machine. Unfortunately, his invention is hijacked by his friend and frequent chess opponent John Stevenson, who has just been exposed as the notorious Jack the Ripper. Horrified at the thought of the madman butchering his way through history with impunity, Wells pursues him to the far-flung year of 1979. Of course, he quickly discovers that reality falls far short of the idealized utopia he’d imagined—sure, he’s surrounded by incredible technological marvels, but wherever he looks, he finds sensationalized reports of terrorism and senseless slaughter.
This leads to a fascinating dialectic, pitting our protagonist’s naive optimism against is foe’s stone cold pessimism. Wells is so thoroughly shattered by (what he perceives to be) society’s lack of meaningful progress that he’s barely able to function, despite his considerable intelligence; Stevenson, on the other hand, revels in the new century’s unrestrained savagery—from his point-of-view, the end of Victorian repression has caused humanity to revert to its naturally violent state, and he feels right at home. As is often the case with these kinds of stories, the resolution to their conflict lies somewhere between the two extremes… and that philosophical journey is significantly more entertaining that the temporal one (which sometimes leans a bit too heavily on familiar “fish out of water” gags).
[Originally written November 22, 2018.]