TIME AF­TER TIME

HG WELLS AND JACK THE RIP­PER WALK INTO A TIME MA­CHINE... AN­DREW OS­MOND RE­MEM­BERS A HIGH CON­CEPT CLAS­SIC

SFX - - Time machine time after time -

you haven’t gone for­ward, herbert, you’ve gone back… You, with your ab­surd no­tions of a per­fect and har­mo­nious so­ci­ety. It’s drivel. the world has caught up with me and sur­passed me. ninety years ago, I was a freak; to­day I’m an am­a­teur. the fu­ture isn’t what you thought; it’s what I am.” So de­clares his­tory’s most in­fa­mous (though elo­quent) se­rial killer, Jack the Rip­per, to sci­ence fic­tion au­thor hg Wells. at this point in Time Af­ter Time, the two leg­ends are sit­ting in a ho­tel room in 1979 San Fran­cisco – the fu­ture for these vic­to­ri­ans – and watch­ing the world’s hor­rors on tv.

It’s an anti-Star Trek les­son, about hu­man­ity’s in­abil­ity to es­cape its vi­o­lent her­itage. Fit­tingly, both char­ac­ters are played by fu­ture Trek vil­lains. Jack the Rip­per is played by David Warner, who would tor­ture Pi­card in The Next Gen­er­a­tion (“how many lights do you see?”). hg Wells is played by fel­low Brit ac­tor Mal­colm McDow­ell, who’d ki­bosh Kirk in the film Star Trek: Gen­er­a­tions.

lon­don fog

Time Af­ter Time doesn’t start in San Fran­cisco, but in the Lon­don of 1893. It’s dank and foggy, but McDow­ell’s youth­ful Wells is an op­ti­mist. he fer­vently be­lieves the world will be­come a ra­tio­nal utopia of world peace and broth­erly love. In fact, Wells is so con­vinced of this that he builds his own time ma­chine (a charm­ing steam­punk cap­sule that looks like a min­isub­ma­rine) in the base­ment of his house.

Sum­mon­ing his gen­tle­man friends to a farewell sup­per, Wells an­nounces his de­par­ture, but there’s an in­ter­rup­tion. Po­lice ar­rive, an­nounc­ing there’s been a mur­der nearby by Jack the Rip­per. to Wells’ as­ton­ish­ment, damn­ing ev­i­dence is found in the brief­case of one of his guests, Wells’ friend and chess-play­ing ri­val Doc­tor John Steven­son (played by Warner).

Steven­son seems to have van­ished from the scene, till Wells has a dread­ful thought. Sure enough, his time ma­chine has van­ished from his home, and Wells re­alises he’s let the Rip­per loose on the fu­ture, on the utopia of his dreams.

how­ever, the ma­chine re­ma­te­ri­alises, empty. (Wells has built it so that it will al­ways make a re­turn trip, ex­cept when a spe­cial key is used.) gird­ing his loins, the shy au­thor em­barks on his pur­suit of the Rip­per, end­ing in the year 1979. he’ll find that the 1970s aren’t the utopia that he ex­pected. But at least San Fran­cisco’s sun­nier than Lon­don…

Time Af­ter Time was re­leased amid the ’70s wave of SF/fan­tasy block­busters: Star Wars,

Close En­coun­ters, Su­per­man. But Warner didn’t think of Time Af­ter Time as a sci-fi film. “I saw it as a ro­man­tic thriller, with slight sci­ence fic­tion con­nec­tions,” he tells SFX. Warner adds, “Some years later I met Robert Ze­meckis (Back To The Fu­ture) who said Time Af­ter Time was his sec­ond favourite time travel movie! I be­lieve at the time it was mar­keted as a ro­man­tic film, which per­haps didn’t re­flect its mix of gen­res.” Ze­meckis would bor­row one of Time Af­ter Time’s ac­tors to up the ro­mance in Back to the Fu­ture. We’ll get to her later.

flight of fancy

two of Time Af­ter Times’s tricks were to rein­vent a clas­sic story – Wells’ 1895 novella The Time Ma­chine – and to blur fact and fic­tion, conflating the real Wells with his own name­less hero. (In the orig­i­nal book, the pro­tag­o­nist is called the “time trav­eller” and he trav­els not to the 20th cen­tury, but to the 8,000th cen­tury and be­yond.)

Time Af­ter Times’s di­rec­tor, ni­cholas Meyer, had al­ready used these kind of story tricks in a best­selling novel that wasn’t SF. Called The Seven-Per-Cent So­lu­tion, it imag­ined Sher­lock holmes as a psy­cho an­a­lysed by Freud. Pub­lished in 1974, the book was filmed two years later (directed by herbert Ross). then Meyer re­ceived a phone call from an old univer­sity ac­quain­tance, Karl alexan­der. he was writ­ing a story about hg Wells and Jack the Rip­per, in­flu­enced by Meyer’s ap­proach when writ­ing Seven-Per-Cent So­lu­tion. Meyer read the early pages and an out­line, and swiftly op­tioned it as a film. to com­pli­cate mat­ters, alexan­der’s novel had orig­i­nated as a short story that he co-wrote with an­other au­thor, Steve hayes, who has a “story” credit on the film. thirty years later, alexan­der wrote a se­quel novel, Ja­clyn The Rip­per. no doubt the Rip­per an­gle helped to sell the film. Meyer, though, had lit­tle in­ter­est in the enig­matic Jack. In a con­tem­po­rary in­ter­view, Meyer said, “as a crim­i­nal he was strictly small po­ta­toes com­pared with hitler or Idi amin – which is what he re­alises, of course, in the film. he was only

Jack the Rip­per was in­ter­est­ing to me as a sym­bol of malev­o­lence and de­struc­tion

in­ter­est­ing to me as a sym­bol of malev­o­lence, of the de­struc­tive side of man’s na­ture.”

From this per­spec­tive, the ho­tel scene – which hap­pens af­ter Wells ar­rives in 1979 and tracks the Rip­per down – is the cen­tral scene in

Time Af­ter Time. ac­cord­ing to Meyer, the scene was in­flu­enced by his me­mory of see­ing tv re­ports of the mur­der of Martin Luther King in 1968, and how even this tragedy was hor­ri­bly nor­malised by tv ad­ver­tis­ing.

“I sat on my bed and was truly ap­palled by what I was see­ing,” Meyer said. “Peo­ple were scream­ing, and there was blood, and sud­denly all of this was in­ter­rupted by some­one who says ‘Mi­ami for 25 dol­lars less.’ It’s pre­pos­ter­ous, it’s ge­orge or­well time, it scares the fuck out of me.”

Warner thinks the ho­tel con­fronta­tion was a great scene, but for him, “It was the whole script that en­cour­aged me to do the film. the thing I re­mem­ber most about it was my strug­gle to re­mem­ber the lines!”

touch of evil

Warner’s ver­sion of the Rip­per is no eye-rolling car­i­ca­ture. For most of the film, he’s com­posed, charis­matic, and even per­versely dash­ing. at one point he dons a white disco suit that might have been bor­rowed from John tra­volta. It’s a very long way from a char­ac­ter skulk­ing around foggy Whitechapel.

While Warner has said in the past that he’s bored of be­ing thought of as a “vil­lain” ac­tor,

SFX won­ders how he’d rate the Rip­per among the evil roles he’s played. “If you in­sist on rat­ing it – I’d say num­ber one,” he says. “the whole script was quite su­pe­rior to any other vil­lain roles I’d played.

“When I first met ni­cholas Meyer and the pro­ducer herb Jaffe, they told me they wanted me to play the part, but Warner Broth­ers wanted Mick Jag­ger! thank­fully, some­how Meyer and Jaffe pre­vailed. also there was the op­por­tu­nity to work again with my old friend Mal­colm McDow­ell, who by then had be­come a bit of a star.”

Warner ap­pre­ci­ated Meyer’s no-non­sense di­rec­tion. “on the first day’s shoot­ing ni­cholas Meyer gath­ered the cast and crew to­gether and said it was his first film, so please don’t be afraid to come to him with any sug­ges­tions. I don’t re­mem­ber any talks with nick about in­ten­tion, mo­ti­va­tion or any of that kind of thing. We just got on and did it.

“there was a good at­mos­phere on set, and Meyer was easy to work with,” Warner adds. ac­tor and di­rec­tor would work to­gether again on the sixth Star Trek film, The Undis­cov­ered

Coun­try, in 1991. on the ef­fects side, the time-travel vi­su­als for Wells’ jour­ney to the fu­ture have dated – some are even rem­i­nis­cent of vin­tage Doc­tor

Who ti­tles. how­ever, they’re bol­stered by a won­der­ful sound­track, a sped-up his­tory of 1893 through to 1979, full of au­dio “glimpses” of mu­sic and world events.

“I won­dered how we could do time travel dif­fer­ently be­cause it’s usu­ally so bor­ing,” said Meyer of the scene. “the au­di­ence just sighs and waits till it’s over. I re­ally wanted to do it dif­fer­ently… I thought, could we turn the theatre into a gi­ant ra­dio set for a minute and a half? and I had the ab­stract im­ages all go­ing for­ward, a tun­nel type of ef­fect, with the ra­dio sounds of dif­fer­ent events in his­tory all go­ing around them.”

love springs

But Time Af­ter Time is re­mem­bered for more than its scenes of time travel and its Well­sRip­per duel. It has an enor­mously charm­ing love story, in which the timelost Wells draws the at­ten­tion of bank em­ployee amy, played by Mary Steen­bur­gen. her per­for­mance was a com­plete sur­prise for Meyer, who quipped, “I wanted a fast-talk­ing city-chippy and I got a slow-talk­ing kook in­stead.”

Steen­bur­gen and McDow­ell are su­perb on screen to­gether. the un­doubted high­light is a restau­rant scene where Steen­bur­gen chat­ters about modern sex­ual re­la­tion­ships, while an as­tounded Wells, that randy prophet of free love, looks like he’s been dropped into the restau­rant scene from When Harry Met Sally.

of course, it helped that the two ac­tors were hit­ting it off for real. Steen­bur­gen and McDow­ell shortly be­gan dat­ing and were mar­ried the fol­low­ing year. Steen­bur­gen would then ap­pear in a sim­i­lar role in the third Back To The Fu­ture film, directed by Time Af­ter Time fan Robert Ze­meckis, where she falls for the time-trav­el­ling Doc Brown.

But there’s an­other fa­mous ac­tor in Time Af­ter Time, or rather an ac­tor who would be fa­mous. Look closely at the scene where Wells first ar­rives in 1979, in a mu­seum ex­hibit about his own life, and a lit­tle boy spots him. the lad is Corey Feld­man in his first film role, not sus­pect­ing that his fu­ture in­volved films like Goonies and The Lost Boys. But then, as Time Af­ter Time re­minds us, the fu­ture’s never what we ex­pect.

i won­dered how we could do time travel dif­fer­ently, be­cause it’s usu­ally so bor­ing

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