Time After Time

A subjective camera version of the Ripper attacking a prostitootsie in the Hammer manner opens the film. The second theme is The Time Machine’s introductory dinner: one of the guests is a doctor who has committed the crimes. The police arrive; he escapes in the machine and turns up in modern-day San Francisco. H.G. Wells follows him.

The critics were at a loss to follow this, apparently. The original idea is a Star Trek episode, and significant aspects of the treatment reappear in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Meyer’s elegant remake of The Time Machine takes a fast cab ride in hilly San Francisco to arrive at the Hyatt Regency, which is filmed to accentuate the influence of William Cameron Menzies. Wells enjoys listening to Mozart from a stereo, the Ripper has that pocket watch from For a Few Dollars More.

Wells’ novella goes beyond the Eloi and the Morlocks to unimaginable futurity (Borges has a nuance of it in “Utopia of a tired man”). Meyer modulates this passage into the dramatic crux of the newspaper discovered by Amy, which has the story of her death at the hands of the Ripper on page one below the fold.

The Palace of Fine Arts is filmed to accentuate the influence of Alfred Hitchcock. Wells is interrogated by the police (his innocent nom de guerre is “Sherlock Holmes”), which gives Charles Cioffi as a detective the chance to deploy a deadpan so dry it’s Canada Dry.

The acting has been universally commented upon. Malcolm McDowell as Wells in a present-day kitchenette holds his own, which is precisely what is required. Mary Steenburgen is infinitely charming as Wells’ future bride Amy, and David Warner is quite the blond and square-jawed Ripper.



Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan

First and foremost, this is genuinely Star Trek, which is to say a work of the highest genius. It deploys itself by the cunningest of means, and is not only able to find in the wrath of Khan the demon of Ahab, it caps this with the subtle introduction of Sydney Carton’s own epitaph from A Tale of Two Cities, and so adds the Reign of Terror to a complex image of Khan.

And this, mind you, leads to the twofold benefit of Spock’s burial in space at the planet struck by Genesis, which not only engenders a new continuation but provokes a re-engagement with Star Trek’s original source, the science-fiction film of old.

Add to all this some perfectly fine special effects, and Meyer’s eye for primæval nature at the close.


Company Business

Company Business is so extremely fast and complicated that it went right by the reviewers, who cited it as “dull and simplistic” with a script “lacking in Meyer’s usual subtlety”, thereby overlooking a major masterpiece and a great performance by Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Meyer has many sources for the screenplay and much related material in Frantic, The Fourth Protocol, Rollerball (the future corporate state), The Killer Elite (even Bringing Up Baby, for the restaurant with a ceiling of dinosaur bones).

A U-2 pilot is exchanged in Berlin for a Russian mole, two million dollars in Colombian drug money sweetens the deal. The pilot is recognized as someone else, the exchange is aborted. The American operative and the mole are ordered killed, lest Time magazine get wind of it. “It’s no longer fashionable to trade drug money for hostages.”

The operative was cashiered after a similar trade for defective Stinger missiles in Nicaragua. He and the mole make their way to Paris. The pilot was turned in Moscow, then served in the U.S. running the mole. His own control is a mysterious “Donald”, who has a sweet tooth.

So does the military attaché overseeing this “company business” to “get Congress off our backs” with a returning hero. The mole knows the pilot, “he’s not a Commie, he’s a Yuppie”, in it for the money.

After Nicaragua, the mole went to prison, the pilot went to ground as an economics professor at Texas A&M. The professor vanishes mysteriously just before the exchange.

Meyer’s filming is uncommonly good, benefiting enormously by a detailed screenplay in freshness and immediacy. The operative walks alone and unarmed through Berlin at night, looking for a CIA safe house, the camera views each lighted street number à la Resnais.

Checkpoint Charlie is in a museum, the future (says the mole’s girl in Paris) is a world corporation, “what’s good for Toshiba is good for” etc.

A message for “Donald” ends the affair, his U-2 pilot is working for America once more.

Company Business records an event of historical importance. It was around this time when one began to find in places like the Hammer Museum emergency exits with the words “Alarmed door” painted on them.

SAM BOYD: (Referring to a car.) Is it alarmed?
PYOTR GRUSHENKO: Only if you frighten it.

Many critics have remarked upon the subway scenes. The conclusion on the Eiffel Tower is far superior, demonstrating how these two secret agents lost in the wilds of Europe effect an escape in broad daylight.


Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Expository material appertaining to the raison d’être is curtailed. This is clearly advantageous.

Essentially, this is a defense of the realm in view of Chernobyl and the overtures of Gorbachev. The extraneous satire of Captain Hikaru Sulu commanding the Starship Excelsior “cataloguing gaseous anomalies” serves its purpose, and there is the Klingon “bird of prey”-class vessel capable of firing while “cloaked” (sc., invisible), an innovation.

The name of the Klingon Chancellor, Gorkon, is said to combine “Gorbi” and “Lincoln.” He wears an Honest Abe beard, and utters this fantastically egregious Sovietism: “You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.” The crew of the Enterprise once met Abraham Lincoln, as they met the god Apollo and Jehovah, which is to say simulacra.

General Chang is a slimmer, taller Wo Fat with an eyepatch. He is excessively fond of quoting Shakespeare. The conspiracy to foment war on the eve of peace includes him and Admiral Cartwright of Starfleet, as well as the Vulcan officer Valeris on the Enterprise.

Kirk and McCoy are imprisoned by the Klingons in a place called Rura Penthe, described by the Klingons themselves as a “gulag.” Their escape attempt is abetted by a changeling out of Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading. Speaking of translators, the funniest scene pictures that worried breed to the life as Uhura, McCoy and Chekov thumb through dictionaries to communicate with a Klingon guard station surreptitiously (the funniest joke is the changeling’s answer to Kirk when they are fighting, she now transformed into the likeness of him—Kirk says, “I can’t believe I kissed you,” and his double answers, “It must have been your life’s ambition!”).

The Enterprise crew stop the assassination of the Federation President in a scene anticipating In the Line of Fire. There are numerous precedents for the main action, and one of them is Seven Days in May.

General Chang tells Kirk, “in space, all warriors are cold ones.” This is mere humbug, and he dies in battle, with the opening words of Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy on his lips.

The critics liked this best of all the Star Trek films because it’s most like a Star Trek episode, whether they were aware of it or not. The crabbed quills complained of the actors’ superannuation, which is absurd. (What they mean is, there has been no repeat of the miracle which transformed Star Trek from the grand Fifties science fiction of the unaired pilot into the anthological stylebook of the Sixties, which realized the import of all the science-fiction films that went before. Jerry Goldsmith’s trumpery theme—not used in this one—with all due respect to the creator, is not a patch on Alexander Courage’s.) No critic seems to have divined the purport, let alone the significance, of the various and very highly articulated satire. Some had the presence of mind to lament the end of the Enterprise and hope for a sequel. TV Guide’s hireling now labors under the delusion that it was merely a ploy to turn a fast buck.

A composite shot of the Golden Gate Bridge and a hypermodern house at dusk prepares the revelation that Spock has in his cabin the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden by Chagall, which I believe is presently in the Musée National Message Biblique Marc Chagall (Nice). “A reminder that all things come to an end,” he calls it, but when the order for decommissioning comes, he counters with, “If I were human, I believe my response would be, ‘Go to hell.’ If I were human.” Kirk orders the helm directed toward the “second star to the right, and straight on till morning,” an odd locution in outer space.