Somewhere in Time (1980)

8 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

If you can get past the strange concept that allows the possibility of time travel in “Somewhere in Time,” you’d be watching an admittedly cute movie about how one man falls in love…but only 68 years in the past.

Christopher Reeve, the likable star of the “Superman” movies, plays the man, named Richard Collier. He’s a playwright who is celebrating his first play when he’s approached by an elderly woman who hands him a gold pocket watch and simply says, “Come back to me” before leaving. Who is this woman? Richard finds that out eight years later as he stays at the Grand Hotel, after getting over a breakup and while suffering writer’s block. He sees a picture of a beautiful young actress, becomes enthralled, looks up her biography, and finds the latest picture of her, revealing herself to be the woman who gave him the pocket watch, which he still carries around with him.

Richard becomes obsessed with the idea of traveling backward through time, after discovering that the woman has read a book about the subject of time travel. The book was written by one of Richard’s old college professors, so he asks him how he can go back to the year 1912 and see that actress, named Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour).

And so, because this method of self-hypnosis could work for him, and because the movie doesn’t want any past/present misunderstandings, Richard buys an early 20th century suit, cuts his hair for the appropriate time setting, and rids himself of any modern conveniences. He goes to sleep, forcing himself to actually believe he’s no longer in his own time—he’s in the year 1912. It works, and he’s well dressed for the period. Now it’s time to find Elisa and win her affections.

So I guess the idea of this time travel method is that you have to record yourself saying that you’re where you want to be and if you have to keep anything modern out of sight (so you keep the recorder under your bed), or it won’t work. That may sound ridiculous, even confusing (for example, if it’s a dream, then how is there an effect in Richard’s present? Apparently, it’s not a dream, in that case), but getting down to it, it’s more noble than creating a time machine. It’s power of the mind, to say the least.

Eventually, Richard does meet Elisa and they fall in love, as Richard decides to stay in a time not his own just to stay with her. The developing relationship between these two is nicely done, especially considering the possibility that she’s been waiting for him to come along. The chemistry is there between these two actors—Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour—and you root for their characters to be together. Both actors are good. In particular, Christopher Reeve shows more range here than in “Superman,” and he’s still as likable.

There is a villain in this movie—Elisa’s manager William Robinson (Christopher Plummer). He’s been keeping track of Elisa’s career since she was a teenager and keeps her isolated in order to keep her career going. He resents the arrival of Richard from the moment he sees him, believing that he’ll be the one to take her away from stardom to love. What doesn’t work about his character is that there are hints are to whether or not he knew about Richard’s real presence, but are never addressed. He’s either a time lord or a man obsessed with his managing job.

I should also credit the set and costume design by Jean-Pierre Dorleac for creating the feeling that we have indeed traveled back to 1912.

“Somewhere in Time” isn’t a great movie—aside from somewhat confusing time travel elements and a too-mysterious villain, I didn’t buy the ending very well—but it’s intriguing and sweet enough to win me over.

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