Director – Jeannot Szwarc, Screenplay – Richard Matheson, Based on his Novel Bid Time Return, Producer – Stephen Deutsch, Photography – Isidore Mankofsky, Music – John Barry, Special Effects Supervisor – Jack Faggard, Production Design – Seymour Klate. Production Company – Rastar/Stephen Deutsch/Universal
Christopher Reeve (Richard Collier), Jane Seymour (Elise McKenna), Christopher Plummer (William Fawcett Robinson)
At the opening of his first play, college student Richard Collier is puzzled when an old woman approaches him and gives him an old-fashioned pocket watch and says “Come back to me” before leaving. Eight years later, Collier is a successful playwright. Unable to work, he signs into the big, old Grand Hotel. There he becomes mesmerised by a photo of the beautiful Elise McKenna who stayed at the hotel in 1912. Trying to find out more about her, Collier discovers that she is the woman who gave him the watch. With the use of hypnosis, he convinces himself to travel back in time to 1912. There he romances and woos Elise. However, Elise’s possessive manager is determined to stop Collier at all costs.
Somewhere in Time is a strangely old-fashioned film. Turn the colour contrast on one’s video down and it would look just like it had been made in the 1940s – indeed, director Jeannot Szwarc admitted his model for the film was the 1940s classic Portrait of Jennie (1948). Not too surprisingly, the audiences of 1980 took one look at its old-fashioned weepie melodramatics and stayed away in droves (although Somewhere in Time has since become a Chick Flick cult classic).
Jeannot Szwarc, whose previous film was the brazenly commercial Jaws 2 (1978), pulls all the emotional heart-strings at his disposal – the photo that is Christopher Reeve’s object of adoration is outlined in tangible beams of light; the camera lens goes misty and soft-focused as Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour wander through the grounds of the Grand Hotel; there is even a shamelessly sentimental ending where the two lovers are reunited in an ecumenically neutral white hereafter. For all that, the direction seems flat and the emotions never particularly click. Maybe it is the actors – Christopher Reeve, who had just become a big star with Superman (1978), plays his nice-guy role likeably enough, although his comic fish-out-of-water turn during the period scenes seems self-conscious, and Jane Seymour plays with a distant upper-class reserve – but the two never quite connect as romantic lovers.
Genre veteran Richard Matheson does an okay job in adapting his own novel Bid Time Return (1971) – something that, unlike the film, does ride up and down an emotional escalator with full conviction. Where the script works is in its twist revelations – about Christopher Reeve finding the photo of the aged Elise and finding that it is the woman who gave him the watch, or his own name in the register, and meeting the aging porter as a young child. However, the film is still a blandly pared down version of the wonderful romantic story that Richard Matheson conveyed in his book. The idea of travelling in time by hypnotising oneself is silly, although the scenes with Christopher Reeve sitting in his room trying to hypnotise himself are among the most convincing ones in the film.
Jeannot Szwarc’s other films include:– The Devil’s Daughter (tv movie, 1973), Bug! (1975), Jaws 2 (1978), Supergirl (1984), Santa Claus – The Movie (1985) and Murders in the Rue Morgue (tv movie, 1986). These days, Szwarc works back in tv, directing episodes of series like JAG, Ally McBeal, The Practice and Seven Days, among numerous others.
Richard Matheson’s other genre scripts are:– The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) based on his own novel, Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations The House of Usher/The Fall of the House of Usher (1960), Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Tales of Terror (1962) and The Raven (1963), the Jules Verne adaptation Master of the World (1961), the occult film Night of the Eagle/Burn, Witch, Burn (1961), the mortician’s comedy The Comedy of Terrors (1963), The Last Man on Earth (1964) based on his novel I Am Legend, the Hammer psycho-thriller The Fanatic/Die, Die, My Darling (1965), the classic Hammer occult film The Devil Rides Out/The Devil’s Bride (1968), the historical biopic De Sade (1969), Steven Spielberg’s first film Duel (1971), The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night Strangler (1973) tv movies, the haunted house film The Legend of Hell House (1973), the tv adaptation of Dracula (1974), the tv movies Scream of the Wolf (1974), The Stranger Within (1974), Trilogy of Terror (1975), Dead of Night (1977) and The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver (1977), the tv adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles (1980), Jaws 3-D (1983), Twilight Zone – The Movie (1983), and numerous classic episodes of The Twilight Zone, Thriller and Star Trek. Works based on his novels and stories are The Omega Man (1971) from his I Am Legend, the afterlife fantasy What Dreams May Come (1998), the fine ghost story Stir of Echoes (1999), I Am Legend (2007), The Box (2009) and Real Steel (2011).