Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison. It may not keep me sane, but it will probably always involve one guy shouting, “This doesn’t make any sense!” And that’s good enough for me.

SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1980)

You’ll believe a man can talk about a Christopher Reeve movie without mentioning Superman– ah, well, there we go. Somewhere in Time is the curious story of playwright Richard Collier (Reeve), who is approached by a very old woman in 1972 and given a watch with the instructions, “Come back to me.” Eight years later, we find Richard struggling for ideas for his next play and taking a vacation at the Grand Hotel. While there, he sees a striking photograph of a beautiful woman named Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour) and begins researching her life for possible inspiration. As he digs deeper, he discovers that this now deceased actress is the woman who gave him the watch, and she’s apparently spent her final years making a music box that plays Richard’s favorite song and reading books about time travel. Does he somehow find a way to the past to meet her?

THE STORY:
Right off the bat, you either enjoy the method of time travel in this movie or you don’t.

Ouch, that is bulky. Do they have it for iBooks? Never mind, I’ll just skim the Wikipedia summary.

When Richard Collier finds this book at the home of Elise, he recognizes the author as his old Philosophy professor from college. No, not his Physics professor. Hell, not even his Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. He seeks out Dr. Gerald Finney (George Voskovec), who is sadly not baked off his tits and telling Christopher Reeve that he can hear all the molecules in his brain talking to each other. He tells Richard about a trip he took to Italy once, and, while surrounded by various old trinkets and in deep concentration, he, like, totally traveled back to the 1500s for a little bit. So Reeve completely believes this man, throws on a period costume, plays a tape of himself saying variations on the sentence “It’s 6:00pm on June 27, 1912, and you’re so gonna hit that,” and removes all elements of modern life from his hotel room as he tries to think himself back in time.

Raise your hand if you spot anything that would be out of place in 1912.

So yes, it’s magic time travel, but that doesn’t completely hurt the story. Somewhere in Time comes to us from the typewriter of Richard Matheson, whose name you may remember from the credits of many episodes of The Twilight Zone. It’s based on his novel Bid Time Return, which I haven’t read, so if there’s a robot dragon in it, feel free to be Mr. or Ms. The Book Was Better in the comments. His Twilight Zone work is significant, however, because I found the film to be a little too lengthy; ideally, this would make a great hour-long TZ story, in a season which, oddly enough, often suffered from episodes that should have only been 30 minutes. The pacing issue isn’t jarring, it’s just that romance… well, romance is tough to portray realistically in just two hours, especially when a good portion of this movie is reserved for the mystery and the procedures of time travel. Romantic connections are a sort of magic; if you don’t face east when you add the sexwort, the whole spell is ruined, and Somewhere in Time may not get the potion exactly right before the witching hour is at hand. (We’ll get into the chemistry between Richard Collier and the young Elise McKenna when we talk acting.)

The lengthy middle section isn’t a complete drag. Scenes in which Reeve interacts with the child version of his modern day bellhop are somewhat fun, and when we meet Christopher Plummer’s character, what we expect to turn into a tired old love triangle plot is revealed to be more complex. To its credit, the film has an interesting twist like you’d expect from The Twilight Zone, but then it tacks on an incredibly hollow extra “happy ending” that robs anything that came before it of the poetic, bittersweet feeling it worked so hard to create. Maybe you can pause it before the lesson that love always works out, because, you know, bullshit, and right after the lesson that time travel comes at a price.

And that price must be adjusted for inflation.

THE ACTING:
Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour are attractive people. That’s usually pretty helpful for a romance.

They might have sex? Okay, I’m listening.

I enjoyed, you know, some of that romantic stuff. Still, moments in their relationship didn’t click for me. I can’t quite pinpoint if it’s in the acting or the direction or the writing, but let’s focus on one specific detail of this movie’s performances: the difference between affection and stalking.

Granted, when you throw time travel into any situation, that adds tension, but Richard’s shaky but forceful approach to courting Elise doesn’t seem to come from any concern over restoring a timeline or keeping the past as it was: dude just seems to suck with women. His advances pretty much consist of following her everywhere. That’s it. Just because there seems to be some evidence that this woman will eventually fall for you doesn’t give you license to go stampeding in.

What makes this even more awkward is that, almost like someone flicked a switch, Richard suddenly becomes this very funny, charming fellow, mimicking a British accent and flipping around his hat and doing all that “fun date in a movie” shit. And I like that Richard, but where the hell was he before? If he’s changing up his moves, then he seems like a scumbag who’ll do anything to lock it down. You could argue that he’s just more comfortable after the shock of time travel has worn off, but little time is given to that initial surprise beyond a quick comment or two.

“Hotel, 1912, whatever, time to do the nasty.”

After Richard succeeds in wooing her, his character shifts yet again to that of a giddy schoolboy who so totally is gonna get laid all the time. And Seymour isn’t off the hook, either; when the two of them are eating chicken after an encounter, they both seem like a modern married couple that just ordered post-coital pizza. I thought they were about to bargain for weekend chores and then watch a little Netflix. It was weird.

But, you know, Jane Seymour looks really pretty in nice outfits.

This could be you, ladies. It’s fun to pretend!

THE SPECIAL EFFECTS:
Most of the special effects involve Christopher Reeve making this face…

…and then there’s a dissolve or a zoom. Good stuff.

OTHER STUFF:

  • Yes, Superman is also a movie about Christopher Reeve traveling through time for a woman he loves.
  • The fact that Richard’s method of time travel involves concentration and wantin’ it real bad made me think of The Secret, that stupid self-help book about how your thoughts are magic.
  • A romantic moment is created out of Elise ad-libbing a monologue about love during a play she is performing in. I’m assuming a scene in which the director beats her with his shoe for 45 minutes was left on the cutting room floor.
  • I remember hearing that it was a very conscious decision to use scientific time travel in Back to the Future rather than magical. Considering that Somewhere in Time was released just five years prior, I wonder if it was a major influence on this choice.
  • The DVD includes a special feature on INSITE, the International Network of Somewhere in Time Enthusiasts. I’d make fun of them, but this passage from their website beat me to it: “Our beautiful quarterly magazine is designed to be a respite for all who believe in the power of love and cherish old fashioned values.” That is violently adorable, single old people. I hope you all hook up at least once a year at SomewhereCon.

THE “NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE!” MOMENT:
Once Richard makes it to 1912, he couldn’t spare a single shit for the physical laws of the universe. However, he does collapse in a moment of doubt while trying to mindpunch a hole in time, causing him to scream at his own voice emanating from a tape recorder.

“Damn it! SHUT UP!”

FINAL THOUGHTS:
You’ve probably figured out that I chose this film because Valentine’s Day is coming up. Is it a great romantic flick to snuggle up to? I wouldn’t go that far. I certainly enjoyed the time travel and the mystery more than the romance, and that’s saying something, considering its goofy execution and horseshit final scene. Still, Richard and Elise aren’t a bad couple. They’ve definitely got an Old Hollywood appeal once the spark happens, but that spark takes its time to ignite. This Valentine’s Day, if you’re looking for a basic love story about two attractive people who meet up in 1912 and have to fight off a rich guy and his goon so they can prove their romance will live eternally even though they just boned the one time, Titanic at least has boobs and a giant boat that goes crunch.

Hehe, Timetanic.

NEXT WEEK:
Primer (2004)

Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.