Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Please note: this review contains spoilers!

Richard Matheson's novel Bid Time Return forms the basis for an emotionally charged gentle science fiction romantic drama, scripted by the author himself.  Matheson is well-known for his ability to offer his readers or viewers something different and Somewhere in Time is a good example of that ability, blending romance, obsession and a rather unique take on time travel to give us a tragic love story with a bittersweet ending.

The film opens with a rather bizarre event – an old woman giving a young playwright a watch with the plea for him to “come back” for her – which really only gains significance eight years later when the playwright decides to return to his old college.  He decides to take a room at the neighbouring hotel and so the events set in motion eight years previously are set on their inevitable and tragic course.

The playwright, Richard Collier, played to perfection by the late Christopher Reeve, becomes obsessed with the photograph of an actress, Elise McKenna (played by Jane Seymour), he finds in the hotel’s museum and which provide the cue for a number of sleepless nights and lingering glances at the said photograph.  Driven by his obsession, he seeks out every bit of information he can find out about her and discovers that she is not only dead but was the old lady who gave him the watch eight years earlier.  Further investigation leads Collier to the Ms McKenna’s assistant and the few surviving items of personal belongings which include a book on time travel, written by Collier’s old philosophy professor.  Using the technique described in the book, Collier travels back in time to 1912 to meet his actress love.

During the 1912 scenes we meet the third pivotal character in our drama, W F Robinson, Ms McKenna’s agent (played by Christopher Plummer) who seems to have a very strange relationship with his client.  Equally obsessed with the young actress but for very different reasons, the two men find themselves at loggerheads throughout the two or three days Collier has with McKenna before he is yanked back to the present day.

A portrait of obsession, Somewhere in Time provides each of the main characters an obsession of sorts – Collier’s obsessive love for a woman he has never really met drives him to travel in time to meet her but will eventually lead to tragedy, McKenna’s obsessive love based on their short relationship in 1912 affects her life to such an extent that she willingly waited a lifetime to set in motion the events that would lead to their meeting and Robinson’s obsession with McKenna’s career (and not, as we are led to believe, a romantic obsession) finally drives her away.

Christopher Reeve gives the viewer the sense of his character's obsession with his love interest at just the right level that it remains believable even when the ultimate payoff ends in bittersweet tragedy whilst no one could fail to be enthralled by Jane Seymour’s performance as a woman who was willing to give up everything for a man she barely knew.  The scene in which Jane Seymour playing McKenna onstage in a play, going completely off-script to talk directly to Collier sitting in the audience, telling him just how much his presence had changed her life and how much she loves him, could melt even the stoniest heart.  Christopher Plummer gives an equally good performance, making the viewer at first despise his apparent ill-treatment of his client and then come to accept that what he was doing was not a malicious act of a romantically obsessed suitor but that of a man who wanted only the best for his client.

Somewhere in Time is much more than just a story of obsession though; it is a story of love at first sight, of love conquering all, of the lengths one will go to in the pursuit of love and it is a story that gives us a philosophical look at the consequences of time travel.  It is a character piece that manages to question our notions of time travel by giving us a ‘time travel through force of will’ method that also makes us question whether such a method would be possible because of the largely unknown potential of the human brain.

And with everything else this film gives us, Somewhere in Time also offers us both tragedy and joy in the final scene when the two lovers are reunited in death.  No words are needed, just the simple act of holding hands against a completely white background.

Somewhere in Time’s soundtrack perfectly brings to life the emotions for the viewer and continues to haunt the mind long after the film is over without overpowering the performances of the actors, something that more recent films are prey to.

Yes, the film has a bittersweet ending.  Yes, it is based on the well-worn cliché of love at first sight.  Yes, it has a method of time travel that people could argue is implausible.  However, this film is a beautifully shot piece of cinematic heaven for those who love romantic films and, as such, demands a place in any self-respecting romantic’s collection.

The version reviewed is that released by Anchor Bay Entertainment on Region 2 DVD.


  1. Nice review, I remember watching this as a kid. It had "Superman" in it and I knew it dealt with Time Travel. I may need to re-watch this film as I have not seen it since.

    1. Hi Jeffrey! Thank you for your kind comment. "Somewhere in Time" is a rather under-rated movie to be honest. I'm sure most men would classify it a 'chick flick' but I still think that there's something for everyone in it.