Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Somewhere in Time Film Review

“Good afternoon, Miss McKenna. I’ve just come 68 years, may I please speak to you?”

One more time, the blogger otherwise known as the Scientist Gone Wordy and I will add another of our duo posts in the series we started way, way back in 2010. For this one, we took on a novel/film pairing that could well be the definition of romance, at least for the 80s and going forward. As usual, the wordy one will look at the text of a famed novel later adapted to film, which I will review. In this case, she’ll be looking at the 1975 source novel from a writer my blogging buddy Bryce Wilson says in his recent post… does not inspire mere respect in his fellow authors but something very much like love”, Richard Matheson. His novel Bid Time Return served the 1980 film adaptation of Somewhere in Time. As part of the movie tie-in, publishers re-titled subsequent book editions to that of the film. Rachel’s book review can be found here:

Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson

A brief synopsis of the film: A young aspiring college playwright, greeting his play’s opening one night in 1972, is approached by a mysterious elderly woman. Her words to the young Richard Collier, “Come back to me.“, dismay him in a way he cannot comprehend. Eight years later in Chicago, the prosperous dramatist is at an impasse — stuck with writer’s block, which parallels his own bogged love life. In an attempt to re-capture whatever magic he thought he knew, Richard returns to the college town of his youth and checks into the mainstay Grand Hotel. There, frustrated and traipsing about, he finds an old picture of a beautiful woman in the historical section of the old lodge which enthrall him beyond measure. It is the renowned stage actress of yesteryear, one Elise McKenna. The mystery that was her life, one hinted in books and periodicals of the time the playwright researches, will become a loving obsession for Richard like no other in the present, or the past. Where it will take him, and the effects upon the two separated by time, is the gist of the story.

[spoiler warning: some key elements of the film could be revealed in this review]

“Is it you? Is it?” ~ Elise McKenna’s question to Richard upon their first meeting.

Where to begin with this one? I guess since the story is one that involves time travel, the past is best. Simply put, Richard Matheson remains one of the preeminent writers of sci-fi, horror, and fantasy for the latter part of the 20th century (across the mediums of TV, film, novels, and short stories). Like another famed author, Harlan Ellison, the imaginings and concepts of his stories have influenced generations of scribes, regardless the genre they work in. I think I’ve been most surprised by the broadness of the work Matheson has produced. I knew and experienced many of his Twilight Zone episodes and sci-fi classics like The Incredible Shrinking Man growing up. However, it’s been only in the last few terms that I’ve learned of his western novels (Journal of the Gun Years, The Gunfight, The Memoirs of Wild Bill Hickok and Shadow on the Sun) and his stories of ethereal attachment (Bid Time Return and What Dreams May Come). And surely in the case of Somewhere in Time, whoever has watched the work recognizes the unabashedly romantic nature of the film (to their happiness or dismay).

The film, now regarded as something of a cult classic, will either work for you, or it won’t. My wife refers to the picture, directed by Jeannot Szwarc, as the definition of goopy (see gooey). I can’t argue that with her (nor would I… being the happily married man that I am). Some have referred to it as silly and overly earnest in the telling of its tale of true, fated, and ultimately enduring love. Check and double-check. Yet, its story of a young man (Christopher Reeves, freshly coming off his Superman film[s] début) falling in love with a deceased actress of a bygone era (Jane Seymour, never more beautiful), by way of discovering a wistful old picture, somehow does work for a great many of its admirers. And it has a loyal fan base, indeed. While I’m not a card-carrying member, I guess I have to admit to still enjoying the film. Though, let it be stated for the record I saw this upon its release to movie theaters (I can’t remember where, go figure…). A rather empty one, at that. Noticeably, it did not get the best of reviews and under performed at the box office when it premiered. Thus, this film continued my penchant for catching flops that eventually became popular.

Nevertheless, if you’re a sucker for such fare (and it’s not my normal métier), the pitch this one throws is right in the heart’s wheelhouse (the baseball metaphor is for the benefit of my duo post partner). I believe there are a couple of reasons it’s resuscitated itself in the decades since its box office foundering and nurtured a devoted following. First, Richard Matheson himself adapted his book for the film (something not for the faint of heart, even if he does have screenwriting experience). Plus, he skillfully jettisoned aspects of the story that may or may not have worked in the novel (in building character and situations) that clearly would have mired the story on film. Relocating the story, too, from California’s Hotel Del Coronado to Michigan’s Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island also brought it to a distinct place and moment (one now forever frozen in time on celluloid for devotees). And it’s those last two aspects that really distilled the narrative to its lovelorn essence.

Second, director Szwarc and cinematographer Isidore Mankofsky brought crucial ingredients to this adaptation (one that didn’t have a large budget). Both helped to shape key scenes in the movie. They deftly and visually emphasized details that I’d best describe as presenting, uniquely, a man’s lovestruck perspective. That facet alone doubtless tells you that a male wrote this story. It’s at times a little heavy-handed, but what the hell. “The heart wants what the heart wants.” ["Eewww!", says my wife when she recognizes who said that] Here are three of those instances that hopefully prove my point:

  1. Elise’s presentation in the Hall of History – the camera moves from the audience viewing Richard directly to then following his line of sight as he’s lured toward her portrait — one that is seen at a distance so that his (and the audience’s) eye is drawn to it (a motif repeated throughout the movie).
  2. Elise’s introduction by the lake shore – again, it’s the long shot that first gathers the audience’s attention (corresponding to Collier’s own timing) by way of a closing window-shade. It offers a point of reflection (along with the music cue) to the faraway silhouette of the subject he’s desperately seeking.
  3. Elise’s first re-appearance – as the crestfallen Richard, mourning the departure of the woman he’s fated to love, slumps on the hotel’s veranda, she enters the frame far in the background and has the perceivable impression of her walking back to him (at heart-level, I might add — these guys didn’t miss a trick).

Man, does this sound schmaltzy as all get out as I write this! And it is. There’s no doubt whatsoever. But, it is that same earnest, heart-on-its-sleeve manner that has endeared it over the years to the film’s followers. Lastly, I don’t believe the movie would ever reach the notes it hits with viewers if not for John Barry‘s accompanying score (credit goes to Ms. Seymour as she suggested and got him to do it under the film’s small allowance). His core melody echos throughout the picture and has to be one of his most recognizable and sentimental orchestral pieces he’s penned for a soundtrack. As well, the authoritative composer (the OO7 films and others wouldn’t have been as memorable without him) surely was responsible for changing the classical song centered in the novel (Gustav Mahler’s Ninth Symphony Adagio) to the perhaps more recognized and reachable Rhapsody from Paganini by Rachmaninoff. All of it registers in way that only promotes the emotional keynote in Matheson’s story.

Somewhere in Time remains a tender cinematic adaptation of an unexpectedly passionate story by Richard Matheson (the idea of which came from the author finding the portrait of a famed stage actress in Piper’s Opera House in Nevada while traveling). For sure it is one of the high points in director Jeannot Szwarc’s modest career. The movie is nothing more than it claims to be: an unashamed love story. The author himself has said about it (and bookend second novel):

Somewhere in Time is the story of a love which transcends time, What Dreams May Come is the story of a love which transcends death…. I feel that they represent the best writing I have done in the novel form.”

Its standpoint of time travel does make it noteworthy, though (deploying a method author Jack Finney used first in his 1970 novel, Time and Again). As a rule, I don’t read romance novels (I caught myself almost writing bodice-ripper novels, but my associate Rachel made an effective point about such moniker use in a very good post from last year). And I don’t count the film’s source novel as one, either. Still, I’ll admit to have been moved by this book and film, even after all these years. Like Starship Troopers (what a connection, huh?), the film doesn’t gather indifference. There’s little middle ground for beholders. Sure it has one glaring plot-hole (the conundrum of the pocket watch), but who cares? Whether or not the film works for the viewer (I can see those of you rolling your eyes out there), it has been influential. “What?!?“, say some of you. Well, ponder this: do you think SiT‘s last scene, the one where Richard Collier meets up with Elise McKenna after his death, didn’t have sway 17 years later with James Cameron and his script for 1997’s Titanic film and its finale? I’d answer:

“Yes.” ~ Richard Collier’s response to Elise’s question.

BTW, note Richard doffs his hat in the climatic scene as he did in his initial encounter with Elise.

Parallel Post Series

30 Responses to “Somewhere in Time Film Review”

  1. Naomi Johnson

    I’ve not seen this one. Can’t say why it never appealed to me. Maybe if I’d known Matheson wrote it, I’d have been more interested.

    • le0pard13

      Yeah, Richard Matheson’s idea for this was unique. Plus, the cast in this film adaptation makes it worth it (Christopher Plummer plays the heavy), too. Thanks.

  2. Matthew Bradley

    Enjoyed your dual post very much, Michael; good to see you weighing in on Matheson again. You can tell Rachel the reason for the title change on the movie was, sad but true, that the producers feared audiences would mistakenly think it was a salacious film entitled BED TIME RETURN. I had the honor of writing the reader’s guide for the Tor edition she mentioned, so obviously I liked it a bit more than she did, but of course I respect her opinion. As noted in my book RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN (, the film’s relocation from the Coronado to Grand Hotel was one of necessity rather than an artistic choice, the Coronado looking too modern for the period scenes, but it was a happy accident, to say the least. That’s especially true for the owners of Grand Hotel, who now host an annual weekend held by the International Network of SOMEWHERE IN TIME Enthusiasts (INSITE)! :-) I’ve always remarked upon the irony that the one Bond film in which Seymour starred, LIVE AND LET DIE, was among the few not scored by her friend Barry, who had recently lost both of his parents when he composed SIT’s memorably wistful theme. And, for the record, I champion STARSHIP TROOPERS. Of course, I’m also the guy whose list of favorite love stories includes THE ABYSS and ALTERED STATES…

    • Rachel

      Thanks for the info on the title; what a bizarre bit of reasoning. Also, my Tor edition did not have a reader’s guide, which I probably needed since the material didn’t strike a chord with me. Ah well, as I’ve said before, we can’t like them all.

      Always happy to encounter another STARSHIP TROOPERS fan. Too few people seem to realize it was a book long before it was a movie.

      • Matthew Bradley

        My mistake—it was Tor’s 1999 trade paperback edition. They almost had to change the screen title of Matheson’s WHAT DREAMS MAY COME for the same reason, fearing it would be thought of as WET DREAMS MAY COME, but fortunately sanity prevailed in that case. As for STARSHIP TROOPERS, despite my obsession with comparing films and the books that inspired them, I haven’t gotten around to reading that one yet. But I do love the film, and always cite it as an example of the good side of CGI, although I think they were wise to use models for the ships.

      • le0pard13

        I need to take a look at that Tor edition. And Starship Troopers is one of those works that really gets better after you examine both the film and novel. Thanks, Rachel.

    • le0pard13

      Welcome, Matthew! Ever since our mutual friend, John Kenneth Muir, reviewed your Richard Matheson on Screen book last year, it’s been on my must read list. I really appreciate your insights on this film’s production. I recall an L.A. Times articles (around the time of the movie’s release) about the uniqueness of the Grand Hotel and Mackinac Island in MI. Though, I really like the Coronado Hotel (being a SoCal native), I could see how it could have been problematic (even decades ago). The end result really pays off as a location in the film. Someone put thought in to that worry about the title (though, I think Bed Time Return would have been even more of an attraction ;-) ).

      I didn’t know that composer Barry had lost both parents around that time. It sure is an wistful theme and quite an overall score, I think. Oh, great to hear about your fanship of Starship Troopers, Matthew. We’re in the same company, too, about The Abyss and Altered States. That last film became even more memorable around the time because of A-ha’s Take Me On music video in ’84 and it’s homage to Altered States by way of its final scene.

      It’s really great you could add to and comment on our duo post on the film! I hadn’t seen this movie in awhile and it was great to return to it. Thank you very much.

      • Matthew Bradley

        My pleasure, Michael. So glad I could add something useful to the discussion. Whenever I spot your byline on a comment from some Matheson post, I look forward to your take on whatever the subject. THE ABYSS in particular is one of my all-time favorite films for all sorts of reasons, not least because I love underwater photography (and thus, also, THE DEEP, for which Barry wrote another outstanding score). Of course, losing Barry himself recently was a real blow for all of us.

        • le0pard13

          Your comments and insights will always be welcome here, Matthew. Good of you to note Barry’s contribution to The Deep. Enjoying his film scores, even years later, help to offset his recent loss for film goers. Thank you for the kind words, my friend.

  3. Rachel

    Lovely review, Michael! I will be honest and say I didn’t have the guts to watch the film again. I remember liking it so much when I saw it many moons ago but, even when I was young, having to purposely look past the “goo” and the “plot oopsies.” I was afraid that my “adult” eyes would ruin my memories of the film. I decided I preferred my enjoyable memories so I didn’t watch again. (I have a few other films I will never watch again as I suspect they would be seen very differently now.)

    However, I very much remember getting sucked into the love between the two characters. Something that, obviously, worked much better for me in a film setting than in a book. In a 2 hour film, it’s much easier to fill in character trait gaps that will make the film work better for you personally vs in a book where the character traits are there (or not there) already and they will either work for you or not.

    How does time travel work for you in general? I actually dislike time travel plots on the whole and usually avoid them. The plot holes are usually too much for my suspension of disbelief powers.

    • le0pard13

      Very kind of you, Rachel. I think, if you decide to give it a another chance for viewing, your initially reaction will still hold up. Tell me, has Jeff ever seen this one? I asked because of my spouse’s reaction to the film. Yes, your perspective and experience may cause you to look at it differently, but I believe you might appreciate it better now you’re older (you’re not old, of course). I know I did. You and I also on the same page, somewhat, in that we both saw the film awhile back, and before ever reading the source novel. Like Matthew, I like it more than you, but I’ll discuss the novel over on your site soon.

      The Somewhere in Time film does offer a vortex of passion, doesn’t it? And man, isn’t Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour a gorgeous couple in this?!? To a certain degree, Reeves (after his Superman debut) didn’t get much respect as as actor immediately following. Since his crippling accident (and later death) a lot of that has thankfully been reappraised. This film works, for most, because how great the leads are.

      As for time travel in stories, I’m a long time junkie for such fare. And this one had the benefit of doing it in an unexpected way that worked for the tale so well (no matter how sadly for the main character’s perspective). Matheson gathered me in because of it. I mean, the way the author built the parameters and had Richard Collier, rightly, come to believe he was fated to fall for this woman. Of course, when the heart becomes involved, Collier loses the control he thought he had. I mean, he thinks he can have Elise after finding her in time, forgetting that if you believe in fate, you must not fail to remember that Elise’s sad destiny must also come to pass. See, the story sucks you right in as evidenced by how I look at it all. Authors, especially sci-fi authors, have offered up so many time travel variation through the decades — all the way to back to H.G. Wells (at least as much as I’ve been exposed to in my readings). Still, if the author can weave their story effectively, not necessarily strictly scientifically, I can go with it.

      Thanks very much, Rachel. (I’ll see you soon over on your blog).

      • Rachel

        Jeff hasn’t seen this one and I was really surprised. I thought everyone had. But, then, I’m realizing that “everyone” in my life was obviously into this little film when, in general, it was not hugely watched initially. I will consider what you say and think about watching it again. :) Eep! Feels risky. Did I mention that I adore the poster? I think it’s fantastic! Gives me just the feeling that the movie did.

        I do think Reeve and Seymour are fantastic as the fated couple. I know it doesn’t make for a good story but isn’t it fun to think that if Collier had really done his studying he would have said I’d better not go back in time so that Elise can meet someone that she can spend her entire life with rather than moping over the day or so we get to have together. For someone who likes romance as much as me I’m not a very good romantic. Sweeping, fated romance works much like time travel for me, too many plot holes. :).

        Excellent point about the belief in fate being the pivotal point upon which the story rests. Collier’s story anyway. Very interesting!

        Looking forward to the next one!

        • le0pard13

          Ha! That would have been very chivalrous of Richard, if he took the route of not going back in time for Elise’s sake. I always enjoy your thoughts on these posts.

          And I’m very much with you regarding Somewhere in Time‘s movie poster. The one that I had as the lead graphic for this piece is absolutely my favorite among all the other versions available. I love everything about it: its elegant simplicity and as you say, that it gives “the feeling that the movie did.”

          The next entry is one I’m also looking forward to. Thanks, Rachel.

  4. Novroz

    Interesting review. I have never heard of both book and movie. Maybe because it’s romance, I never read romance ;)

    When are you planning to do King’s book?

    • le0pard13

      Very kind of you to say, Novroz. It is an interesting film and adaptation. One that enjoys a cast well suited to the material.

      I know you are a big fan of Stephen King. Are you suggesting a novel/film of his for a future duo post? If yes, which one?

      Thanks very much :-).

  5. rtm

    Wahoo, beautiful double review, Michael, thank you! I love this film more than most as I’m a big fan of Christopher Reeve. He captured that longing and besotted look down pat, and Jane Seymour is perfectly believable as the subject of his obsession. Yes, it’s overly schmaltzy but I don’t mind it, and it’s what I would expect from an time-travel love story like this one. It feeds the hopeless romantic in me I suppose, though normally I’m not into something THIS ‘gooey’ as your wife described it, ahah.

    Your examples of ‘a man’s lovestruck perspective’ is spot-on, it is clear that this is Richard’s story and Richard’s quest to find the woman he loves. Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cameron copied that last scene of Richard & Elise reuniting in the afterlife.

    Btw, I adore the music by John Barry, perhaps more so than the film itself. It’s my favorite from his stellar resume… and one I still listen to from time to time to this day. Thanks again for this, Michael!

    • le0pard13

      As usual, you are very kind, Ruth. Reeve and Seymour seemed tailor-made for their roles here. It is really too bad first-run audiences and critics didn’t give the film a fair shot. Christopher Reeve was woefully underrated as an actor (Superman curse or not). I’ll confess I really didn’t like the last two Superman films (3 & 4), but Reeve in them was never the problem. And Seymour was Elise. There are two moments in the film she absolutely nails:

          Her look, as she catches the sight of Collier, that is captured by the camera (for the famed portrait) is just perfect.
          That monologue in the play while looking at Collier (a moment that IMDB reports that “Matheson was supposedly so moved and upset by the experience, he had to call his wife and return home immediately“) is simply wonderful.

      We’re in consensus with regard to John Barry’s stellar contribution, here. Watching this again for this review, I went out and picked up a copy of the soundtrack to add to my collection. It is a fine one, indeed. Thank you very much, Ruth.

      • rtm

        Hi Michael, thanks again for this lovely review. Oh yeah, that monologue in the theater and Elise looking at Collier is perhaps one of THE most romantic and ‘awwww’-inducing moment ever filmed!! They portrayed the feeling of longing and absolute enthrallment beautifully, so no wonder Matheson was so moved by it. I mean, that is quite a compliment coming from the author.

        The soundtrack is one of my all time favorite. It never ever fails to move me no matter how many times I’ve listened to it. This is one of those soundtrack that perhaps surpasses the film itself in its greatness, but at the same time CANNOT be separated from the film.

        • Matthew Bradley

          I don’t remember if the IMDb explains them, but the circumstances under which Seymour’s speech so moved Matheson are themselves noteworthy. The long shots of her on stage addressing Collier in the audience were, of course, filmed with all of the players in place. But when it came time to shoot Seymour’s close-up, the rest of the cast wasn’t around, so they needed a warm body to stand in for Reeve off-camera, and guess who happened to be available? That’s right, the close-up was delivered not to Richard Collier, but to…Richard Matheson. Easy to see why it had such an effect on him! Another excellent and heartbreaking Barry score was for Nicolas Roeg’s extraordinary WALKABOUT. His work on the Bond series is closest to my heart, but he was certainly adept at capturing many moods.

          • le0pard13

            That’s great info, Matthew! I don’t know how I would have reacted, but if Ms. Seymour have recited that to me, whoa. I haven’t seen ‘Walkabout’ in ages. And if Barry scored it, I have to revisit it. Thanks.

          • rtm

            WOW, thanks for that tidbit, Matthew! Yeah, no wonder it has such a profound effect on Matheson. Ha..ha.. Michael, I think a lot of guys might’ve fainted if Ms. Seymour looked at them that way :D

  6. Pop Culture Nerd

    It’s interesting how I always say I don’t like sci-fi or romance and you’ve pointed out this movie is both. I also went to see it when it first came out in theaters because I was a Reeve fan. (It was a morning matinee with only older women in the audience–this is where the frying pan story comes in.) I saw its flaws then but didn’t care because I was a teen and melodrama is where teens live. And I purposefully didn’t think too hard about the time-travel loopholes because I knew I’d make myself crazy. (My head hurt after thinking too much about 1979’s TIME AFTER TIME, though I enjoyed that movie as a whole.)

    Looking back now I see SiT for all its schmaltzy glory but for some reason, it still doesn’t bother me as it should, considering I have very low tolerance for “goopiness.” I think my nostalgic affection for Reeve, all handsome and vital and romantic here, helps. And you’re right in saying Seymour was otherworldly beautiful in this movie.

    I’m so glad you covered the music, too, because it’s one of the film’s most striking aspects. I have the soundtrack and just pulled it out to listen to again. Changing the centerpiece to “Rhapsody” was genius (I didn’t know it was different in the novel) because I couldn’t stop humming it for weeks. I finally taught myself to play it a little on the violin and felt all sophisticated.

    I never considered it before but now that you’ve mentioned it, this movie’s ending and TITANIC’s are startlingly similar! Great write-up, as usual, le0. Kudos to you and Rachel.

    • le0pard13

      Oh, so glad you’ve added to this, Elyse. Watching this film again years later, and hearing the character’s name, I found I couldn’t help thinking of you during the screening (along with your initials). When I was looking for a sample clip or trailer on YouTube to place in the piece, it was impossible to ignore the depth of feeling for those who commented on Somewhere in Time on the site. So many adored the film — and the small rest hated it. Obviously, we’re in the former, but one of latter had me chuckling:

      “After keeping her waiting for 60 years, she grabbed him, kicked him in the groin and dragged him down into hell with her. That’s how the version of the movie I saw ended. I cried, but with laughter.”

      Isn’t that a hoot? Anyway, it’s great you are another big fan of John Barry. BTW, I just re-watched (after SiT) Titanic as part of the Cameron Curriculum series by John Kenneth Muir and it was interesting to note some similarities (like those after-life finales) between the two films.

      Thanks so much for your thoughts on this and your very kind words, Elyse. [and I'm not forgetting about that frying pan story... I'm dying to hear it!]


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