Wednesday, February 28, 2007

If you’re lost you can look and you will find me...

Nicholas Meyer has a strong imagination. He, quite frankly, is everything that is right about the Star Trek films. (Yes, I said it.) More importantly, let’s not forget the humor of his Company Business [1991] and the comprehensiveness with which he penned perhaps the only Sherlock Holmes pastiche to bob above a sea of impersonations.

One of my goals, if one to which I have failed to devote too much energy, is to view every film written or directed by Mr. Meyer, at least once. To that end, I was very pleased when a coworker lent me his VHS copy of Time After Time [1979].

Time After Time happened to be atop my list of unseen Meyers. I mean (forgive me, but), it’s H. G. Wells chasing Jack the ripper through the folds of time!

I must admit, however, to being disappointed. The time machine is revealed and explained with only cursory attention, basically nothing more a standardized suspension-of-disbelief plot mechanism. I have come to expect more. However, this is certainly a very excusable complaint—it is a film, after all. Sadly, however, the vehicle was made with apparently very little effort to place it in the late 19th century.

Far worse, however, was Mr. Wells himself, played so sympathetically by Malcolm McDowell. Mr. McDowell does a creditable job, but the job he has been given is not that of practically reproducing Herbert George Wells. The dialogue and indeed the story itself preclude any real resemblance to Wells’ (rather less personally sympathetic) essence. (Don’t get me wrong, the geek in me loves and respects Wells as an imagination and a writer, but the soul in me vaguely resents him as a person at this point.) Oh, they got the broader strokes right: Humanist, socialist, hazily naïve wit. But the very nature of his naivety is essentially a reverse image of what it should be. And where is the chauvinism? And, wait, he comes out of this experience cleansed of his utopian forecasts? So why was he still propounding them decades later?

I am almost certainly being too harsh; this is not a particularly bad film (certainly not when contrasted to the average thriller of our era). But neither is it a film of the pseudo-historical brilliance I had hoped and expected. My too-high hope in such fictionalizations is that their aberrations from known fact will actually explain and not contradict historicities, to the point that no historian could systematically rule out the fiction.

But, as anyone who has seen Time After Time can tell, the filmic Wells’ largest sin is his failure to realize in practice what he has himself stated in theory (not to mentioned observed with his own eyes): that the machine can go backward through the course of time and not just forward. Lunkhead.

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