31 July 2009

Somewhere In Time

Beautiful and Bittersweet Somewhere in Time

By Kristin Battestella

I hate romance movies. They’re so clich├ęd and sappy and overly girlie, and it’s all just too much. How then can I explain my praise of the 1981 love story Somewhere in Time? Jane Seymour, Christopher Reeve, tragic time travel, great costumes, and a tugging score can make romance look so good.

Eight years after a mysterious old woman gives him a pocket watch and says ‘Come back to me’; Chicago playwright Richard Collier (Reeve) can’t finish his latest play. On a whim, he ends up at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island and becomes quickly obsessed with the portrait of actress Elise McKenna (Seymour), who stayed at the hotel briefly in 1912. Richard contacts a local professor who wrote a book on time travel and prepares to travel back in time to be with Elise. Unfortunately, once Richard makes it to the past, Elise’s ruthless manager W. F. Robinson (Christopher Plummer) stands between them.

Perhaps now an oft used and familiar premise, Somewhere in Time’s story is based on the Richard Matheson’s novel Bid Time Return. The longtime Twilight Zone writer adapted his work for the screen-retaining his knack for intelligent, somehow realistic, but no less complicated tales. Naturally, we are dealing with one huge paradox-actually several ‘chicken or the egg’ dilemmas -but that’s the nature of most time travel stories. The ideology by Matheson is established enough for our belief to be suspended, yet there’s enough room for intelligent questions. Was Richard from the past and somehow moved forward? He’s a playwright and takes a class taught by a man who writes about time travel before he meets the elderly Elise and becomes obsessed with her portrait. How many times has he traveled to the past? I don’t wonder if we’re seeing the second time Richard has gone back. Robinson suspects him as the man who will ruin Elise, and even her first words to Richard are a cryptic, “Is it you?”

It’s bittersweet to see the late Christopher Reeve as a young, vital, and obsessive leading man, yes; but there’s also something about the magic of movies at work: Somewhere in Time has forever captured Reeve in the prime of his life. Richard is educated and talented, yet we believe Reeve’s obsession as Richard becomes maniacal about going into the past. We know him, we like him, and deep down, we don’t blame Richard for going to the lengths he does for love. Reeve sells Richard’s awkwardness in the past and the present-he’s of both, but belongs to neither. Much as we like Christopher Reeve, Christopher Plummer (The Thorn Birds, Counterstrike, Star Trek VI) is uptight and almost despicable as Elise’s ruthless and stern manager William Fawcett Robinson. He’s supposed to handle her career, but his old school man style thinks that applies to every facet of her life. He’s kept her sheltered until now-we don’t doubt he’s good at what he does-but his power is interfering with our couple. Plummer is tall and over bearing compared to Seymour, too. Reeve is also a big man next to his leading lady, but he convinces us of their perfect match. He’s traveled through time for it!

I’ve always liked Jane Seymour (Live and Let Die, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman) and her exceptional Elise McKenna is probably why. Her clipped English delivery and style go along way in bringing the romance in Somewhere in Time to life. In the first half of the picture, she’s so built up through her lovely portrait. When we finally meet Elise forty minutes into the film, it’s such a charming introduction-a whirlwind of music and magic and beauty. At last, we get to see her in the flesh-just like Richard. She’s innocent, yet a dynamo; the fabrics are sheer and effortless, yet there are hats, gloves, and etiquette. How can we not long for such youth, beauty, and grace?

Seymour can’t have any period piece charm, of course, without such breezy costumes and a heart wrenching score. The Grand Hotel has the perfect turn of the century charm, and the award winning dresses are a fine mix of Edwardian and Victorian styles. Somewhere in Time isn’t Titanic, but it isn’t flapper yet either. The 1912 timeframe is a beautiful and eclectic mix of that transitional time. McKenna is a stage actress, and the importance of the old-fashioned theater in its twilight before silent films is enchanting. Likewise, the Golden Globe nominated classical score by John Barry (Dances with Wolves, Out of Africa, The Lion in Winter) haunts the entire picture. Even when we’re in the eighties present, the trinkets, music, and Grand Hotel take us back.

Not for un-period piece fans, Somewhere in Time is sappy and melodramatic at times I must admit. All this time travel and intense romance actually happens in only a few days’ time; and all the upper crust emotion and romance is a little too mature for kids. Youthful viewers are better turned to Reeves’ wondrous Superman series. The seventies and eighties clothes and styles are a bit much for some today, too. I think we were more innocent back in the day, and I wore out my VHS copy of Somewhere in Time long ago. In fact, right after I made my mother a new tape, I found the DVD used at a very affordable $3! The behind the scenes feature on the Collector’s Edition disc is over an hour, with conversations from Matheson, director Jeannot Szwaerc (Jaws 2), and the entire cast and crew. There’s also a commentary option with Szwaerc, in addition to photos and a few other treats.

Audiences who enjoy old school styled films should try Somewhere in Time. If you watch one romance, this should be it. After all, it’s really about time travel, isn’t it?

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