Thursday, April 7, 2016

1980 Week: Somewhere in Time

          Received indifferently during its original release, this time-travel romance subsequently gathered a cult of devoted fans who succumbed to the pleasures of the movie’s lush music and sentimental storyline. Despite being penned by one of the great sci-fi writers of the 20th century, Richard Matheson, the movie is outlandish, slow, and syrupy, with direction that’s serviceable at best, and the actors playing the leads render questionable work. What the movie has in its favor, however, is utter sincerity: The filmmakers strive valiantly to create an immersive illusion. Additionally, the aforementioned leading actors are both classically pretty, the Great Lakes locations are resplendent, and composer John Barry suffuses the movie with his signature strings. In short, Somewhere in Time is just the thing for imaginative viewers eager for a good cry. Think of it as a predecessor to Ghost (1990), only without the jokes.
          Matheson adapted the movie from his own 1975 novel, Bid Time Return, making significant adjustments along the way. The film begins in 1972, on the night that budding playwright Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) celebrates the premiere of his new play during a student workshop at a Midwestern college. Amid the regular crush of cast, crew, and well-wishers, a mysterious elderly woman walks up to Richard, hands him an antique watch, and says, “Come back to me.” Years later, during a melancholy moment in his life, Richard returns to the college town and takes a room at a posh hotel. He discovers a photograph, dated 1912, of beautiful actress Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour), and he eventually determines that she was the woman who gave him the watch. Becoming obsessed with Elise, Richard contacts a time-travel theorist who suggests that it’s possible for people to transport themselves across decades using self-hypnosis. Richard succeeds in doing so. Upon arriving in 1912, he courts Elise and tries to persuade her they’re destined to be lovers.
          The premise is loopy, but it’s easy to understand why fans of Somewhere in Time consider the movie intoxicating. What’s more thrilling than the idea of a beautiful, sensitive individual sacrificing everything for a chance to find a soul mate? Matheson’s script has more than a few rickety elements, including the contrived presence of Elise’s manager, William Robinson (Christopher Plummer), who impedes Richard’s efforts. Similarly, Jeannot Szwarc’s direction is slick but unremarkable. Somewhere in Time represented a test of Reeve’s box-office appeal and range after his breakout performance in Superman (1978), and he faltered on both fronts. The connection between his stilted performance and the movie’s lackluster box-office performance seems plain. As for leading lady Seymour, a great beauty without much dramatic power, this picture represented the latest in a series of failed attempts at becoming a proper movie star. On the bright side, her looks are incandescent throughout Somewhere in Time, so it’s easy to accept her character’s ability to beguile admirers.

Somewhere in Time: FUNKY


Will Errickson said...

A fair assessment, I think. As a kid this movie affected me deeply-- particularly when Reeve finds that penny in his pocket--but as an adult I found the same problems as you name here (the novel wasn't much better I'm afraid). Jane Seymour was helplessly, hopelessly lovely however.

Peter L. Winkler said...

An excellent review. Beginning with this film, I found it paradoxical that Reeve was so good in the role of Clark Kent/Superman, but a stiff in just about everything else he did.

Unknown said...

"Ghost" without the jokes! My proverbial hat is off, that's a decent summary.