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Film / Time After Time

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"Ninety years ago I was a freak. Today I'm an amateur."

Time After Time is a 1979 novel by Karl Alexander and movie directed by Nicholas Meyer (which, while based on the book, was made before it was published) starring Malcolm McDowell, David Warner and Mary Steenburgen. The film was shot on location in San Francisco, showing off the cable cars, Bay Bridge, Golden Gate, the exterior of the Exploratorium, etc. It has nothing to do with the song by Cyndi Lauper (except that the movie apparently inspired the song's title).

In 1893, aspiring writer and inventor H. G. Wells (McDowell) invites some friends over to dinner, where he shows them one of his latest inventions — a device he claims can travel through time. Despite the general mockery he receives, one of them — a surgeon called John Leslie Stevenson (Warner) — takes particular interest in his claims, and not without reason; moments after, the police intrude into Wells' home, claiming to have traced none other than Jack the Ripper to the premises. When a search reveals that Stevenson has disappeared, Wells realises that not only is Stevenson the Ripper, but that he has used Wells' time machine to escape into the future and evade justice.

Appalled at the thought of having unleashed a monster onto the social utopia he believes the future will be, he decides to follow Stevenson into the future and bring him back to face justice. Arriving in San Francisco in 1979, Wells finds that the future is not everything he thought or hoped, befriends an attractive, feminist bank clerk called Amy (Steenburgen) and discovers that Stevenson is up to his old tricks — and that Amy may be his next victim.

The book and movie were later reimagined as a 12-episode ABC TV series, Time After Time. Its trailer can be seen here.

Provides examples of:

  • An Arm and a Leg: There's a severed hand at the scene of one of the Ripper's murders.
  • Artistic License – History: There is no evidence that Jack the Ripper was active after 1888. Of course, the movie does say that the Ripper hadn't struck in years.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: If not actually the first story to be built on the idea of 'hey, what if H. G. Wells really did have a time machine?', then certainly one of the Trope Codifiers.
  • Big Bad: John Leslie Stevenson, our time-travelling Jack the Ripper.
  • Born in the Wrong Century: Stevenson. He finds out that being Jack the Ripper in the Twentieth Century makes him an amateur when it comes to killing, and feels right at home starting up his killing spree again.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The "send the passenger to infinity" key, explained in an early scene. It winds up sending Stevenson drifting through the void for eternity.
    • Amy's comment about how the door to her apartment needs to be slammed hard to close. This is how the Ripper gains entry to the place.
    • Wells carefully watches Amy to see how she drives the car. Later, he puts that lesson to use.
  • Chess Motifs: Starting with an actual game between Stevenson and Wells, and continuing with the theme of thinking ahead.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: Fortunately, the TV shows that Stevenson flips by when he wants to make a point about the depravity of 1979 society are mostly filled with disturbing violence, not, say, The Price Is Right or a soap opera.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Aside from Victorian-era prejudice, prejudices of 1979 are also seen, showing that Earth still has a ways to go.
  • Did You Just Have Sex?: Amy's friend Carol immediately figures this out and starts peppering Amy with questions when an unusually cheerful Amy shows up for work.
  • Disney Acid Sequence: The machine traveling through time is very trippy, especially the end.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: Serial killers like to target hookers, whether it be 1893 London or 1979 San Francisco.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Wells, due to never having driven before.
  • Dutch Angle: Used when Wells gives up on trying to get the cops to believe him, and starts "confessing" to the murders.
  • Fake Shemp: During chase scenes at the hotel, David Warner is replaced with a stunt double for far shots because he was still on the mend from two broken ankles. In close-up shots, he can be seen running very carefully as not to hurt himself. Also, for scenes where Malcolm McDowell is running through the columns, he is also replaced with a double because of a sprained ankle.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: Wells finds that the future isn't the utopia he'd thought. This leads to many gags, like his utter terror the first time he rides in a car.
    • Also, he has this exchange with Amy:
    Wells: Much superior to that Scottish place where I breakfasted.
    Amy: (Looks at him in confusion)
    Wells: MacDougals.
  • A Foggy Day in London Town: Coupled with Ominous Fog, as we see the mandatory foggy streets of London when Jack targets a prostitute in the opening scene.
  • The Future Is Shocking: The film has H. G. Wells and Jack the Ripper taken to modern times. Jack changes the channels on a TV to show constant scenes of violence to claim that he belongs here and Wells doesn't.
  • Genre Savvy: Wells is savvy about a few things, such as:
    • There is a distinct possibility that he may need to trade jewelry for money in the future.
    • A museum exhibit of his desk may also have a perfect replica of his glasses.
    • Oddly, he doesn't consider the possibility that his currency might be worth more to a collector, even when the guy at the bank suggests it.
  • Get It Over With: Stevenson, having seen that Wells has hold of the infinity key, and knowing that he is now screwed, merely nods to Wells, who yanks it out.
  • Good Is Dumb: Wells, during the Hostage for MacGuffin scene.
  • Good Is Old-Fashioned: Stevenson considers Wells to be this.
  • Hollywood Law: Despite the film's portrayal, California had enacted waiting periods for handgun purchases many years before 1979. Victorian London had fewer restrictions on gun purchases.
  • Hostage for MacGuffin: Giving his word as a gentleman, Stevenson offers to trade Amy for the anti-return key Wells holds. He naturally fails to deliver the hostage, and chides Wells for not realizing that he is no gentleman.
  • The Idealist: "The first man to raise a fist is the man who's run out of ideas."
    • But then Wells finally caves in and buys a gun. Which goes badly for him.
  • I'm Mr. [Future Pop Culture Reference]: Inverted and subverted. To blend in, Wells adopts the name of a period fictional character he's sure will be forgotten ninety years later. Unfortunately, this fictional character happens to be Sherlock Holmes.
    • Also, despite still being famous in the future, being known by his initials allows him to blend in quite nicely with his real name Herbert Wells.
  • ISO-Standard Urban Groceries: Well, of course the grocery bag that Wells is toting to Amy's apartment has a loaf of French bread sticking out.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Wells confidently asserts in 1893 that "within three generations the social utopia will have come to pass", predicting that war and violence and poverty will have been eliminated. Stevenson is skeptical of this even before he is exposed as the Ripper, and Wells for his part is quite disappointed when he sees what modern society in 1979 is actually like.
  • Love at First Sight: Amy has this for Wells.
  • Murderer P.O.V.: Opening scene.
  • My Car Hates Me: Amy's car has a flat as they are racing to stop the murder of a prostitute, which they know about from traveling three days into the future.
  • Nerds Are Sexy: H. G. Wells, at least as perceived by Amy.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: While preparing to portray Wells, Malcolm McDowell obtained a recording of Wells speaking, and was horrified to hear that Wells spoke in a high-pitched, squeaky voice with a pronounced Southeast London accent. McDowell felt would have resulted in Narm if he tried to mimic it for the film.
  • Ominous Music Box Tune: Stevenson has a pocket watch that plays music. He uses it to relax his victims and cover up the sounds of his murders.
  • P.O.V. Shot: A fuzzy one from Wells' perspective after Stevenson yanks his glasses off.
  • Protector Behind Bars: A variation. The hero is caught by the police with him being suspected of Jack the Ripper's latest murder spree. He begs them to send someone to protect his girlfriend.
  • Right Man in the Wrong Place: A double-whammy. Wells eventually has to accept that his pacifism can't prevent Stevenson from killing more women, and he buys a pistol to stop him and protect Amy. Unfortunately, he also finds out that if the police already suspect you of being the murderer and want you for questioning, it's a pretty bad time for them to catch you with a gun in your pocket.
  • Red Herring:
    • Stevenson is hit by a car after a chase scene and Wells, upon hearing of an unidentified man who died from a car, believes him to be dead. He's not.
    • Amy sees a newspaper report of her own death, but only learns after the fact that Stevenson killed her friend Carol, not her.
  • Red Light District: Whether it be Whitechapel in 1893 or the Tenderloin of San Francisco in 1979, the Ripper knows where to go to find victims.
  • Sadist: Dr. John Leslie Stevenson, better known as Jack the Ripper, kills for fun and steals a time machine to keep killing throughout time with nobody to stop him.
  • Shout-Out: Wells marvels at the wonders of technology, saying "O brave new world, that has such people in it!"
  • Smart People Play Chess: Wells and his friend John Stevenson play chess, establishing that Stevenson is an intellectual as well.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The lighthearted music box tune during the murder in the opening scene.
  • Stealth Pun: Herbert misremembers the name of that "Scottish restaurant" as MacDougals.
  • Steampunk: Quite the snazzy time machine that Wells constructed in 1893.
  • Taking the Heat: When the cops refuse to listen to Wells's Jack the Ripper story, he gets so desperate that he confesses to the killings in an attempt to get them to check Amy's apartment and make sure she's safe.
  • Terminator Twosome: When Wells realizes that Stevenson has gone to the future in his machine, Wells goes after him.
  • Time-Travel Romance: Between Amy and Wells. And in the ending, Wells takes Amy back with him to become the historical Amy Catherine Robbins.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Where the hooker that Jack picks up in the first scene puts his coin, right before he kills her.
  • Villains Blend in Better: Provides the above quote — H. G. Wells struggles to fit in (although to be fair to him, in practical terms he adapts a lot better than most; it's mainly culture shock over the idea that the future isn't everything he'd built it up to be), while Jack the Ripper of all people acclimatises comfortably.
  • Wham Line:
    "But my friends... call me JACK!"
  • You Will Be Beethoven: Amy Robbins goes back in time with H.G. Wells, marries the writer, and becomes Amy Catherine Robbins of the historical record.