Suddenly, Wells' maid informs him that Scotland Yard is at the door with the news that Jack the Ripper has struck again. All of the guests gather at the front door to hear the salacious news- all except Dr. John Leslie Stevenson, who has disappeared. His bag, however, has been left behind- and inside is a long knife and a pair of gloves, both of which are liberally covered in blood.
Wells descends the stairs into his basement and sees his suspicions confirmed: the time machine is gone, piloted into the future by Stevenson. However, because Stevenson did not have the "non-return key" to override the time machine's homing device, the transport soon materializes once again in Wells' basement. Wells jumps in and chases Stevenson to the machine's last destination: November 5, 1979.
Wells wastes no time in getting to the hotel and confronting Stevenson. After a brief tussle, their fight is broken up when a housekeeper unwittingly enters the room. Stevenson takes advantage of the distraction to flee, with Wells in hot pursuit. The men chase each other throughout the hotel complex and onto the street, where Stevenson is hit by a passing car. Wells travels to San Francisco General Hospital, where he is mistakenly informed that Stevenson has died.
Returning to the Charted Bank of London, Wells pauses outside and is spotted through the window by Amy and her co-worker, Carol. Propelled by the thirst of a thousand angry suns, Amy runs outside to ask Wells- 'Herbert' -if he would like to join her for lunch. 'Lunch' turns into a scenic drive to Muir Woods, a movie, and dinner at Amy's. Later that night, Wells, who had pioneered the idea of free love in Victorian England, enjoys the fruits of a sexually liberated society.
Meanwhile, however, Stevenson is very much alive and prowling the streets for a victim. The next morning, when Wells hears on the radio that two women have been murdered, he knows Stevenson isn't dead. He tells Amy that the other British man he'd been looking for is a dangerous murderer. She infers from this that he is a 'detective' of sorts, and he doesn't bother to correct her.
At the bank, Amy and Carol are chatting when Stevenson shows up to exchange more money. Pretending to check current exchange rates, Amy slips away to call Wells, still at her apartment, and alert him. As Wells races to the bank, Amy stalls Stevenson with chit chat, starting with a question about the hotel she'd recommended. Stevenson realizes that Amy is how Wells knew where to find him, and his demeanor changes from charming to threatening. Leaning in close to Amy, the killer hisses a message for her to pass along to Wells: give me the non-return key to the time machine, or else.
As Stevenson takes a third 20th century victim, Amy and Wells return to the present. They are, understandably, in a complete panic, but ultimately decide that they have the moral responsibility to do everything within their power to bring Stevenson to justice. Using the newspaper from the future, they decide to try and prevent murder number four before it happens. As they race to the murder scene in a local park, Stevenson goes to a nightclub and meets his victim, a well-dressed disco mama.
Amy is terrified. Wells' new suggestion is to simply not be at her apartment at the time of her future murder, and the couple make plans to stay at a fancy hotel instead. To pass the time until then, Amy decides to take a valium and wash it down with some whiskey. Wells runs out and buys a gun, showing that his worry for Amy has overridden his pacifist convictions. As Wells returns to Amy's neighborhood, he is apprehended by the police, who have taken a keen interest in this man who knows so much about the serial murders and calls himself 'Sherlock Holmes.'
They interrogate Wells as the afternoon ticks by, his anxiety for a now nearly-comatose Amy growing as her appointed time of death draws near. It isn't until a woman's body is found at Amy's while Wells is in custody that the police finally cede his innocence. Broken-hearted, Wells is returning to Amy's home when he is confronted by Stevenson, who is holding Amy with a knife to her throat. It turns out that the victim at Amy's home was Carol, who had dropped by for a previously-planned dinner.
With a knife to Amy's throat, Wells has no choice but to hand the 'no-return key' over to Stevenson, who promptly absconds with Amy. Wells, in his desperation, attempts driving a car (Amy's) for the first time in order to chase them to the museum and the time machine. At the museum, Stevenson finally releases Amy before climbing into the time machine and inserting the no-return key. Thinking fast, Wells removes another component from the exterior of the machine- without the "vaporizing equalizer" in place, Stevenson's body is disintegrated and sent hurtling throughout spacetime for all eternity.
Although she is initially hesitant to live in the restrictive Victorian era, Amy decides to be a feminist pioneer and follow Wells back to his own time. They live happily ever after, and never travel through time again.
On the subject of the time machine- it's far too big a can of worms to digress into the metaphysical impossibilities and paradoxes of time travel, and one that has been opened by people far more capable and knowledgeable than myself. That said, I can't help but comment on the fact that this supposedly solar-powered machine works quite well despite having never seen the light of day: it's constructed and stored in Wells' basement and leaves only to travel to an exhibit in a windowless museum gallery. It also seems like a major design flaw to put a crucial element of the machine, which keeps the passenger from dissolving into endlessly shuttling molecules, on the outside.
Now, this is a blog about San Francisco movies, not Victorian England movies, and I'll get to that in a bit, I promise-- but even with my rudimentary knowledge of Victorian English society, there were a few inconsistencies that jumped out at me. The most significant, of course, is that this film opens in 1893, whereas the last murder potentially linked to Jack the Ripper occurred in 1891. I also took note that Stevenson and Wells both depart London and arrive in San Francisco on November 5, not only because it's my birthday, but because in England, it is celebrated as Guy Fawkes Day. The story of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot is over 400 years old, and has been memorialized for just as long. Traditions have morphed throughout the centuries, but fire is a constant throughout. Victorian observation of Guy Fawkes Day included effigies and bonfires. I found it odd that there would be virtually no trace of public merriment or the long-standing tradition of what is often called 'Bonfire Night' in Victorian London, as presented by this film.
Let's talk about Amy. I like Mary Steenburgen, but I dislike Amy Robbins. I have a few crucial questions about her character: first, why is someone who works at the Chartered Bank of London so easily infatuated by a British accent? Certainly she works with British people every day at her job, and I can attest from personal experience that the quickest way to find a British accent unattractive is to work directly underneath someone who has one. More importantly, though, what's going on with her accent? Amy drops phrases like "us San Franciscans," but she talks like she was raised by a Long Island construction worker and a Kansas City gangster's moll.
What really struck me about Amy, however, is the way she totally throws her coworker Carol under the bus. Let's do a quick review on Carol's involvement in the plot, but from her point of view: one day after your co-worker/friend flirts with a cute customer, you see the customer outside your office window. You tell your friend, and she rushes out to have lunch with him. And just doesn't. Come. Back. You're worried- you're also harried, because you have to cover for Amy the rest of the afternoon- but mostly worried. After all, Amy clawed her way up from the bottom to become the first woman VP of Foreign Currency. She wouldn't just bail on work, with all that at stake, because of some Dickensian dong. So you call her at home that evening, and to your surprise, she's fine. She's still with the guy, and can't talk, but she'll see you tomorrow. As you recall how hard you had to hustle that afternoon, your relief begins to steep into resentment. The next morning you ask Amy for details, because it's the politest way of saying "seriously bitch, where the fuck were you." Amy invites you to dinner later that week to meet this new man, and you feel a bit pacified that she cares enough about your friendship to introduce you to this guy.
Except when you show up for dinner, Amy forgot you were even coming and is passed out from Valium and whiskey, and you end up getting murdered by a serial killer from a century ago. You may not actually be rooting for Amy's happy ending at this point.
When Wells first arrives in 1979, his machine is on display in an exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. The museum was renovated in 2008 and now features a very cool living roof. This is also where the film ends.
Authenticity: 7/10- Rents a room from Anna Madrigal.
Olde English Facial Hair: 8/10- This movie is a luxuriant pair of bushy muttonchops framing a magnificent handlebar mustache, with a hint of musk and old leather.
Overall: 9/10- A bit silly in some respects, but ultimately, how is it not entertaining to watch H.G. Wells learn how to ride an escalator and eat at McDonald's?