By:Frederick C. Szebin Date: Tuesday, November 07, 2000
1980 was a pretty bad year for movies. It's also the year when most of the movie-going public missed out on Somewhere in Time, a sweet picture scripted by SF-horror legend Richard Matheson, based on his award-winning novel, Bid Time Return. Directed by Jeannot Szwarcthe film was a gift from Universal for Szwarc's having brought the troubled production of Jaws 2 to an endSomewhere in Time is a time travel tale with a difference. Bypassing any kind of impressive technology, Matheson's story has playwright Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) fall in love with the picture of once-famed actress Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour) that had been taken in 1912. After getting some info from a former professor, Collier sends himself back to that long-ago year through a mixture of self-hypnosis and sheer force of will. Once there, he not only has to meet Elise but also get her to fall in love with him, all while avoiding Elise's agent (Christopher Plummer), who will do anything to protect the career of his prized client.
The film's biggest problem was its very nature. Somewhere in Time is a sweet and gentle work, a gossamer entertainment that was very sensitive for its day. It is rather refreshing in its old fashioned (I mean that in a good way) narrative. Critics lambasted it, while the audiences that did get to see the film during its very brief run in October 1980 fell in love with it. It was the best Szwarc ever did, and it has fond memories for those who made it, as well as with anyone (unjaded) who gets to watch it. Although it has been released on DVD before, this is a 20th Anniversary Widescreen Edition, with extras not previously available.
You get a handsome print of the picture with Director of Photography Isadore 'Izzy' Mankofsky's cinematography looking its best since 1980, although some of the soft-focus stuff is a little too soft for my taste. The disc contains the usual languages and scene access stuff, but also has 47 photographs of stars Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour, and Christopher Plummer in posed and behind-the-scenes shots; there is commentary with Szwarc, a film short about the Somewhere in Time Fan Club who gather at the film's magnificent Mackinaw Island Grand Hotel every October to share their love of the film, often with special guests from the film, and there is the original documentary, 'Back To Somewhere in Time,' which traces the movie's creation from Matheson's novel, through casting and production, into its failed theatrical run, and up to its rediscovery on cable, video and through the fan club, the International Network of Somewhere in Time Enthusiasts (INSITE; www.somewhereintime.pair.com).
It is a fine, very detailed production that includes interviews with Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour, Christopher Plummer, Jeannot Szwarc, producer Stephen Deutsch, Richard Matheson, Teresa Wright, actor Bill Erwin, DOP Mankofsky, editor Jeff Gourson and composer John Barry, who did his compositions merely months after losing both his parents. If the sweeping score doesn't mist you up, you're dead. Reeve, speaking from his wheelchair, even relates a personal incident to back up the picture's out-of-body-experience ending. Seymour's beauty hasn't changed in two decades, and all the other film veterans express their genuine emotions about this film, which remains a special memory for them all. We also learn Matheson's inspiration for the story: he saw a picture of once-famous stage actress Maud Adams, who worked through the teens and 1920s, fell in love a bit, then got to wondering, 'What if...'
This is a special picture, with few special effects, and the time travel is represented by nothing more than editing, lighting and sound. It's pure cinema, ultra-romantic (which is something critics, those cynical curs, really hated about it), with a story that comes from dialogue and character actions, not special effects or overblown production values. It was a brief return to the old-time Hollywood love story filmmaking that makes studio executives nervous, allowing them to give the lame excuse, 'We don't know how to sell that.'
Somewhere in Time deserved to be rediscovered, and this DVD gives the whole story from the very people who made it happen. If you don't shed a tear by the end, then try to watch Reeve in his wheelchair, pausing every sentence or so to gather a breath so he can talk about one of his favorite experiences in acting. If that doesn't raise a moistness around the eyes, get some therapy. Jane Seymour sums it up best in 'Back To Somewhere in Time': 'Isn't it nice to know that something that didn't cost a lot and had everyone's creativity and enthusiasm and love pout into itthat this little jewel not only still exists, but that it still is brilliant and shines to new generations to come? That's what's exciting.' And the DVD format is used to its best effect in the celebration of this charming fantasy that continues to find its lovers. Also on the disc is this address; Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, 500 Morris Avenue, Springfield, NJ, 07081; 1-800-225-0292; www.paralysis.org