London 1893 is home to a killer with a macabre nickname... and also to a visionary genius who would write The Time Machine. But what if H.G. Wells' invention wasn't fiction? And what if Jack the Ripper escaped capture fleeing his own time to take refuge in ours - with Wells himself in pursuit?
From writer/director Nicholas Meyer, Time After Time is a marvelous entertainment of shivery suspense and sly social comment. In modern-day San Francisco, the Ripper (David Warner) finds our violent age to his liking. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) dislikes the brave new world of fast food and television, far from the utopia he envisioned. But he is cheered by the emancipation of women, particularly one irresistible banker (Mary Steenburgen). For mystery, romance and excitement, Time After Time is time well spent.
Imagine if writer H.G. Wells hadn't just written about a time machine, but had actually built one? Now imagine further if noted serial killer Jack the Ripper had stolen such a time machine and propelled himself into modern society, leaving Wells the only man who could follow and stop him? That's the premise of Nicholas Meyer's 1979 film, 'Time After Time', which holds up remarkably well today, thanks to its examination and commentary about mankind's history of violence.
Malcolm McDowell stars as H.G. Wells, and this film does a pretty good job of characterizing him as a pacifist who believes the future will bring a "utopia" of world socialism and peace. David Warner is the antagonist, Jack the Ripper – identified here as Dr. John Leslie Stevenson, a local London surgeon (not based on any one real-life person, but the character does fit the theory that the real Ripper may have been a doctor). The two men are acquaintances in the movie, and the Ripper is actually ID'd by police at the home of Wells (where he's invited Stevenson for a gathering) shortly after one of his latest murders. Wells soon learns that the doctor has used his time machine to escape and must now follow him into the future – 1979 San Francisco to be exact – to try and bring him to justice.
After a very serious opening, Meyer's film has some fun with the fish-out-of-water premise of Wells arriving in (the then) modern-day San Francisco (an idea he would use again in 1986's Star Trek IV, which Meyer co-wrote). He begins to visit all the city's banks to try and find out where Stevenson might have exchanged his British currency for American cash. He finally arrives at a bank where the currency officer, Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen), informs Wells that the doctor was there and she even recommended a hotel for him to stay at. Tracking down Stevenson at the hotel, Wells tries to use common sense for him to return to the past – saying that they don't belong in this time. But Stevenson points out to Wells all the violence, murder, and mayhem of the late 20th century, stating that Wells may not belong here, but he certainly does.
As Wells continues to find a non-violent way to deal with the Ripper, he also engages in a newfound romance with Amy – who, being a liberated woman of her day, pretty much has to take the lead in their relationship. Of course, once Stevenson finds out about the connection between her and Wells, he uses it to his advantage – putting Robbins in grave danger and forcing Wells to consider having to stop him using violent methods that he has shunned his entire life.
'Time After Time' didn't set the box office on fire when it hit theaters back in 1979, but it certainly was a huge influence on more popular time travel films that followed it (it's certainly no coincidence that perhaps the best time travel film ever, Back to the Future uses a time travel destination clock remarkably similar to the one in this film or that the calendar date (if not the same year) that Marty McFly travels back to is November 5. And, of course, Mary Steenburgen was brought on to co-star in the third movie of that trilogy primarily because creators Bob Zemeckis and Bob Gale had fond memories of her in this film). And while nitpickers can certainly pick out logical flaws in this movie (not the least of which is why doesn't Wells just travel back in time to stop Stevenson?), there's no denying that 'Time After Time' is a well-written, well-acted film that, at its core, is really a love story.
It's a shame that the powers-that-be over at Warner Bros. didn't think enough of this title (which gets a decent new transfer here, as I indicate below) to give fans of the movie a more specialized release on Blu-ray. There are no new bonus materials here, despite the fact that the main actors and the director of this movie are all still around and – I'm guessing – more than willing to re-visit their memories of this great film. Regardless, I can't imagine anyone who loves time travel flicks that wouldn't want this disc in their collection.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Time After Time' clocks in on Blu-ray via Warner Bros.' Archive Collection. The 50GB disc is held inside a standard Elite keepcase with no inserts. There are no front-loaded trailers or advertisements on the disc, whose main menu is a still image that matches that of the box cover (including the title, but minus the text description), with menu selections across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is region-free.
'Time After Time' was shot on 35mm film and reportedly this new Blu-ray is the result of a new 2K scan of the movie. It is presented here in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The results are pretty impressive, with the most noticeable improvement over the prior DVD release being a boost in both the color and detail that this 1080p image provides. The Blu-ray also manages to maintain the look of film, with grain evident, but nicely pushed to the background so it's never obtrusive. Noise, aliasing, banding or other defects aren't a problem here, and while black levels aren't the strongest in some of the nighttime sequences, they're not so bad that viewers won't be able to distinguish images.
One thing that does stand out – and isn't any fault of the transfer – is the fact that Director Nicholas Meyer (and Director of Photography Paul Lohmann) haven't done the best job with their depth of field focus. While objects in the background are almost always out of focus (not uncommon for the lenses and cameras used at the time), sometimes stuff in the foreground right next to an actor (who is in focus) is also out of focus. Rest assured 'Time After Time' has always looked this way and these issues have nothing to do with the transfer provided.
This is a really nice looking transfer of the movie...so much so that it's almost a shame Warners didn't see the need to make it part of a more prominent Blu-ray release. Regardless, fans of the film should be pleased.
The only audio option here is a 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio track that sounds remarkably good, considering the two-channel stereo limitations. The musical soundtrack is nicely aggressive throughout, dialogue comes off as crisp and clear, and there's not a hint of muddiness or lack of clarity throughout. As 2.0 DTS-HD tracks go, you'll be hard-pressed to find one more nicely rendered...I don't have any complaints about what Warners has delivered here.
The only available subtitle option is English SDH.
Of all the popular movies about time travel, 'Time After Time' is one of the earliest and still one of the best. Its message about violence is still relevant today, and it's one of the better love stories you'll find in any genre. Warners has done a good job with this new transfer, and even though this release sadly doesn't offer any new bonus features for fans, it's a title that still comes recommended.