Sunday, February 8, 2015

Time Travel Time #11: Somewhere in Time

"Somewhere in Time" is a 1980 time-travel opus, adapted by Richard Matheson from his novel, "Bid Time Return", and directed by Jeannot Szwarc ("Jaws 2"/"Supergirl"). It stands as not only a fine fantasy yarn, but a touching love story, admired by many for its heartfelt execution. Unlike most love stories, it progresses with conflict and intrigue, while including characters determined to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles to consummate their love. 

Like Rod Serling's "Walking Distance", "Somewhere" doesn't include a time machine and commences humbly enough with young playwright Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) meeting an elderly woman (Susan French) after the premiere of his first play. She gives him a pocket watch (a most symbolic gesture, considering the story's context) and requests "Come back to me": a vague, but passionate plea that remains in Collier's memory.

Years later, during a creative crisis, Collier flees his posh apartment to find refuge at Michigan's quaint Grand Hotel, at Mackinac Island: a quaint spot ideally suited for placidity. Once there, he wanders into the hotel museum and spots an alluring portrait of a women taken in 1912: an actress named Elise McKenna (Jayne Seymour). The portrait mesmerizes Collier, and he begins to obsess over it, feeling not only an amorous connection to the woman, but the belief that he has met her before.

He researches McKenna's life and learns that she was, in fact, the now deceased woman who gave him the watch. He also learns that she was fond of a book on time travel, penned no less by his former professor, Gerard Finney (George Voskovec): the character's name a tribute to Jack Finney, acclaimed time-travel (and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers") author.

Collier touches base with Finney, hoping to gain personal insight into the subject matter. Finney informs Collier that, yes, time travel is possible and can be accomplished through the sheer power of one's mind. The professor explains how he traveled back (albeit for a short duration) to Venice 1571 via such concentration. He explains that, to succeed in such an endeavor, one must immerse oneself in the proper atmosphere and restrict present-day reminders from one's surroundings, focusing exclusively on the time period one wishes to visit.

Collier takes the professor's advice and strips his lodgings of all modern attributes, except for a recorder which loops his voice to hypnotize him into thinking it is, in fact, the past. He also purchases a vintage suit and coinage, so that if he does travel back, he won't appear conspicuous to the inhabitants of the time.

In that his initial attempt fails, he searches for proof that he did, in fact, make the trip at some point and locates a 1912 guest book, in which his signature does appears. Inspired, he tries again and this time, awakens in the designated year (and the precise time of McKenna's visit to the hotel) and proceeds to scope the premises for her. 

The two cross paths soon thereafter: their rapport initially reserved but promising. However, he faces a frustrating obstacle. McKenna's manager, William Fawcett Robinson (Christopher Plummer), is an overly protective type, not wishing any man to court her, claiming that such will certainly derail her career.

His objections in no way stop Collier and McKenna from becoming more acquainted. She becomes smitten by the young man's gracious ways and their relationship blossoms. At one point, it even leads to Collier being present during the taking of the photograph which so enchanted him.

The burgeoning affair outrages Robinson, and after one of McKenna's performances (where she confesses her love to Collier via an impromptu soliloquy), the older man arranges Collier's kidnapping and ushers McKenna away from the hotel. Collier escapes his bonds, and the couple meets again, but not without further consequence: a subtle, unforeseen turn that could keep them forever separated. 

Reeve is excellent as Collier, bringing a dash of his gallant Superman portrayal to the character. Seymour is equally endearing as she embraces her fish-out-of-water suitor. Plummer, on the other hand, is a realistic villain: not over-the-top, but sophisticated, cunning, and in his own way, woeful. 

Matheson and Szwarc especially deserve credit for their efforts, with the former's script playing like an extended, top-notch "Twilight Zone" and the latter's direction smooth and ethereal. Seasoning these elements is John Barry's score: a joy to absorb, and one that many consider his best. The score is also enhanced by Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini", which stands as the film's overriding theme.  

Upon its release, "Somewhere" made little impact at the box office and was generally scorned by critics. It was only through cable and VHS rentals that it gained acknowledgement, proving that if a film is of quality, its audience will inevitably grow. 

While other romantic movies have long since fallen off the map, "Somewhere" has mounted in fame, growing more popular with each subsequent generation: an indisputable sign of a classic. Discover or revisit it this Valentine's Day. You (and your significant other) will surely succumb to its charms!

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