Before directing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (1982) and causing outrage in the US with his post-apocalyptic tele-feature The Day After (1983), novelist Nicholas Meyer directed this clever piece about a guilt-ridden HG Wells (Malcolm McDowell) pursuing Dr John Lesley Stevenson – aka Jack the Ripper (David Warner) – from London in 1893 to San Francisco in 1979 when the killer steals Wells’ time machine.
The modern city’s loose morals are just what the Ripper ordered, but come as something of a shock to the bewildered Wells, who (in a notable detour from biographical fact) falls in love with a timid bank clerk (Mary Steenburgen) and settles down back in the 19th century.
It’s a sometimes gruesome experience that’s wittily aware of anachronisms, as the blood-steeped Ripper, warped in nature as well as time, becomes gratefully aware that the present-day has many more killing devices.
It’s an advancement Wells was always pessimistically aware of when he contemplated the future, and it’s a point he would have relished being made in a film that never down-markets his genius even though it up-markets the action.
Herbert G Wells
Dr John Lesley Stevenson