by Miguel E. Rodriguez

DIRECTOR: Nicholas Meyer
CAST: Malcolm McDowell, David Warner, Mary Steenburgen

PLOT: Before he wrote any of his famous novels, H.G. Wells pursues Jack the Ripper to the 20th Century when the serial murderer uses the future writer’s time machine to escape his time period.

There are two scenes in Time After Time that are genuinely shocking from a story perspective.  One involves a newspaper headline.  The other involves a bloody crime scene.  The first I should have seen coming, but the second I never would have guessed in a million years, and I literally yelled at the TV when it happened.  That’s good plotting.

Those two scenes are the only things that prevent me from giving Time After Time a lower score.  That, and the fantastical, thought-provoking nature of the story itself.  Too bad both those scenes and the plot are buried under layers and layers of hackneyed dialogue and the kind of forced situational comedy that would be more at home in Three’s Company than in a sci-fi adventure.

First, the good stuff.  After a credits sequence that looks inspired by countless grade-Z movies before it, the story starts back in London, 1893, two years before H.G. Wells would write his first novel, The Time Machine.  A prostitute is murdered in a dark alley, victim of the infamous Jack the Ripper.  Later that night, Wells hosts a dinner party at his house for some friends and shows them something he’s been building in his basement: a fully functional time machine.  It doesn’t quite resemble the famous machine from the 1960 classic The Time Machine – it looks more like a ride vehicle from an amusement park than a chair with attachments – but the Victorian details are all there.  There’s some talk about a vital key needed to return to their present and a VERY important device that is discussed without being precisely explained, at least not to my satisfaction.  When it makes a reappearance late in the film, I was still mystified as to its actual purpose other than a convenient deus ex machina.

Suddenly, Scotland Yard appears.  Turns out they tracked Jack the Ripper to Wells’ doorstep.  Tricky Jack awaits his chance and uses the time machine to escape…though, without that handy key mentioned earlier, the machine returns to its point of origin on its own, leaving Jack stranded in a world 86 years in the future.  Wells feels duty-bound to bring Jack to justice, so he follows Jack, setting up the meat of the next few reels: a man from 1893 London struggling to adjust to daily life in 1979 San Francisco.

(It must be noted that the bulk of this film’s budget was clearly NOT devoted to the visual effects department.  The effects on display as Wells travels through time are cheesy at best.  I’d try to describe them here, but my words cannot possibly do them justice.  I couldn’t even find a decent still shot to embed here that would accurately convey just how low-rent they are.  I recently watched 1974’s execrable Zardoz, and I’m here to tell you, from a VFX perspective, Time After Time makes Zardoz look like Interstellar.)

H.G. Wells chasing Jack the Ripper through time?  This is a great plot from a sci-fi perspective, a thrilling “what-if” tale.  I had heard about this film for years but was never able to find a copy until recently.  The scores on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes are decent.  Not stellar, but decent enough that I was pretty sure I would enjoy it.  The movie was directed and co-written by Nicholas Meyer, the mind behind The Day After, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.  That’s not a bad track record.

But, man oh man…for most of the film’s middle section after Wells arrives in 1979, the movie’s brain goes on sabbatical.  Example: he walks into a McDonald’s, takes careful note of how the customer in front of him orders a meal, then does his best to literally impersonate the customer.  He doesn’t just order what he orders…he gives an impersonation of the customer’s voice and accent.  Why?  He doesn’t do that at a pawn shop or a bank.  No, it’s just there because someone thought it would be a laugh to see Malcolm McDowell do a broad American accent.

I can’t deny that the potential is there for real humor.  I couldn’t find it.  I thought these scenes were completely at odds with the tone of the first third of the film.  Wells meets a bank teller, Amy, (a very young Mary Steenburgen) who inexplicably falls in love with him at first sight.  She’s so taken with him she impulsively asks him to lunch, an act that, in 1979, was directly at odds with 99.99% of all other screen romances, so kudos to that, I guess.  But why?  I’m not saying Malcolm McDowell is an affront to the concept of human beauty, but…really?  As Wells, he’s the 19th-century version of a science nerd.  Amy is not a character so much as a cardboard placeholder to be moved and manipulated according to the whims of the plot.

The dialogue is clunky, to say the least.  There is a foot-chase between Wells and Jack that is devoid of suspense.  The score by Hollywood legend Miklós Rózsa feels utterly out of place, as if someone simply lifted Rózsa’s score from some other film and plugged it in where necessary.  There is simply no romantic chemistry between McDowell and Steenburgen, as evidenced in a painfully unfunny scene when they sit on a couch and she declares: “Herbert, if you don’t take me into your arms, I’m going to scream.”

Another actual line of dialogue: “My mother was rather an atrocious woman in her own way, but her many failings did not include raising mentally deficient sons.”  That’s not a real person talking, that’s a writer trying to imitate George Bernard Shaw.

No doubt someone out there will tell me I missed the boat with this movie somehow.  Perhaps Rózsa’s score is intentionally “retro” to make the whole movie feel as temporally displaced as its characters.  Perhaps the intention was the same with the hopelessly amateurish visual effects.  Who knows.  It’s possible.  Maybe there’s a better movie here somewhere and I’m not equipped to find it.  I doubt it, but it’s a possibility.  In the meantime, I’m going to keep this movie in my collection as an example of how a great story can be derailed by poor execution.

And maybe I’ll bring it out if my fellow Cinemaniacs are in the mood for a “So-Bad-It’s-Good” movie day.

[P.S. Keep your eyes open for the screen debut of an 8-year-old Corey Feldman.]


By Marc S. Sanders

I got the urge to watch Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country after seeing the compelling HBO miniseries Chernobyl. The Star Trek franchise succeeds best when it applies current and true-life events to its fictional future set in the 23rd century.

Like the USSR, the savage Klingon empire suffers a terrible accident at one of their most powerful energy planets, that spirals them into possibly having only fifty years of life left to survive. Therefore, Klingon Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner) reaches out to representing Ambassador Spock of Starfleet (Leonard Nimoy) to begin peace talks that will help prolong the alien race’s survival.

Captain Kirk (William Shatner) however, is not so keen on the idea, especially after he blames them for the murder of his son. It turns out many other factions are not enthused either, as Gorkon is assassinated and Kirk and McCoy (DeForrest Kelley) are sentenced to an ice like Siberian prison planet.

There’s much to think about in the original Star Trek cast’s final film together. Beyond the sentiments of the crew retiring and the Enterprise being put out to pasture so to speak, there’s an interesting story to ponder about how we map out the future for upcoming generations when we are still living with the past that we’ve grown accustomed to. It’s telling, considering much of the real-life events happening twenty-two years into our new century with historical statues being removed and minorities fighting for fairness among their communities.

As well, is one country or people too proud and always wanting to be at odds with another by relishing in being a super power? Can we think beyond that nature? I think that’s maybe where the curious title, The Undiscovered Country, stems from. We just haven’t seen the possibility that could be truly within our reach, if we all wanted it that way.

Christopher Plummer plays Klingon General Chang who vows revenge for the assassination. Plummer is spectacular; a villain not recognized enough on all of those on line top 10 lists of bad guys. Plummer brings his theatrical training to the role as he relies on Shakespearean quotes to take in the scene at hand. He’s at least as good as Ricardo Montalban’s Khan is remembered.

The crew is adored as usual. The supporting cast are given their fair share of lines and moments in the spotlight. Kim Cattrall joins as a Vulcan Federation Officer who’s helpful to uncover the true criminals at play.

Director Nicholas Meyer contributed to the best of the Star Trek films, and this is a perfect example of his strength within the franchise. The story was partly conceived by Nimoy with Meyer credited on the screenplay. Cold War politics really lend to this film. It’s interesting to see how the Klingons are initially in denial of assistance or the desperate problem they face which is similar to Russia’s response following the horrifying nuclear accident at their power plant in Chernobyl. I just love how the ideas within The Undiscovered Country parallel the world’s response and effects of what was happening just a few years prior to this film’s release, in 1986.

Never let it be said that movies can’t teach you anything.


By Marc S. Sanders

I was only a mild fan of the original Star Trek television show. Some storylines were flat and simply a bore. It had some thrilling moments though, including episodes that I’ve watched on repeat. (The Squire Of Gothos was always my favorite.) Unfortunately, the first big budgeted Trek film followed suit of the weaker, less interesting aspects of Gene Roddenberry’s series. Thankfully, Paramount Pictures with producer Harve Bennett had enough faith to try once more and get it right. Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan is one of my favorite science fiction films of all time.

Bennett invested time in rewatching the entire series looking for the return of a formidable foe against the crew of the famed Starship Enterprise, and he settled on the power mad muscled genius, Khan (played with gravitas and impressive pecs by Ricardo Montalban) from the series episode Space Seed.

Khan, along with his wife and crew were left marooned by Captain James T Kirk (William Shatner) on a barren planet for their crimes. Fifteen years have passed and Chekhov (Walter Koenig) along with his Captain (Paul Winfield) unexpectedly come upon the villain’s vessel. Now Khan has taken control of their starship with a vow for revenge upon Kirk.

Caught in the middle of this conflict is a new age device called “Genesis” which has the potential to create life from non life. Find a planet devoid of any living organism and allow the device to go to work. In Khan’s hands though, it could serve as a terribly destructive weapon.

Regardless of its ending, The Wrath Of Khan offers the best performance by Willam Shatner with his memorably storied character. There’s more depth than ever in Kirk. He is now ranked as an Admiral who in turn is denied of directly commanding a starship, his greatest career accomplishment. He’s fearful of aging as his birthday approaches. He also meets up with a past flame whom he shares a son with. There’s plenty of dimension devoted to Kirk, and it all works. None of it feels mired down. This is a story devoted primarily to Shatner’s character with the others in tow. He looks so comfortable in the role as he walks the halls of the Enterprise. Because he always looks like he knows where he’s going, so does the audience. He’s very casual in his manner. The setting of the starship has life when Kirk is populated within it.

Furthermore, the friendship he has with Spock (Leonard Nimoy) feels solid. When Spock gifts Kirk an antique copy of Charles Dicken’s A Tale Of Two Cities, you feel cozy in the history of these two people. It’s further noted in Kirk’s relationship with Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelly). It’s important to realize that this film is only the second film following three seasons of an episodic television show that more or less just showed villains of the week. We never had an opportunity to really get inside Kirk’s head before. So despite the vastness of Star Trek, it’s main players were arguably still quite green.

Director Nicholas Meyer (the best one of all the films), turns two sea captains upon one another amid an ocean of space as they play battleship. You get a strong idea of the tactician that Khan is. Montalban is great as a Captain Ahab seeking to destroy his Moby Dick, suitably relying on quoting Melville’s classic novel. Meyer is so good at drawing from the best of both sides. The adversity between Khan and Kirk works very effectively that you hardly realize that Shatner and Montalban never appear on the same set together. Both primarily work from their Captain’s chairs. The set ups play with much strategy and good back and forth dialogue as they communicate by screen images. Call it their “Zoom Session” if you must. Ultimately, this film demonstrates that how a movie is only as strong as its villain.

The Enterprise setting also looks superb with its elevators, curved and endless hallways, engineering platforms & alcoves and submarine like doors. The command bridge looks realistically functional too. Everything on the Enterprise seems like it has a working purpose. When crew members are running towards something or climbing a ladder, Nicholas Meyer makes it feel like you know where these people are going and what they are trying to do.

Composer James Horner also needs a good amount of credit. At times, his music comes off frightening. As Khan makes various approaches with his ship, Horner has this claw like thunder clap cued in to the danger. His more upbeat tempos feel like proud militaristic marches for the Starfleet characters. You get that feeling especially in the opening credits. During a sequence where the two ships are flying blind through a nebula, the music is eerily string like and quiet. Horner studied this film to get the absolute best notes.

The ending is heartbreaking and suitable to the character arc that Kirk experiences. While it is surprising, it’s also pleasingly foreshadowed, wrapping up the internal dilemma that Kirk grapples with over the course of the film.

I would argue that Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan turned out to be the most vitally important chapter in the famous franchise’s history. It succeeded in acting, writing, effects, setting, score and direction. Had this film not generated a response from audiences, I have to wonder if any more of Star Trek would ever have been seen again.

One thing for sure, you don’t have to be a die hard fan to really appreciate a great film like The Wrath Of Khan.