CD Review: Time After Time

By • February 23, 2009

Composer: Miklos Rozsa
Label: Film Score Monthly
Suggested Retail Price: $19.95
Grade: A+

Though Orion Pictures made its auspicious debut with 1979’s TIME AFTER TIME, the film’s Hungarian maestro Miklos Rozsa had already been plying his scoring trade since the late 30’s golden age days of KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR. Like such compatriots as Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Franz Waxman, Rozsa had made his name in the concert halls of Eastern Europe before traveling to Hollywood. But where his fellow émigrés’ work stuck firmly to an operatic tradition, Rozsa dug deeper with rapturously complex melodies, creating the first truly identifiable “voice” in film scoring- years before Bernard Herrmann arrived on the scene with his own, revolutionary brand of darkness.

Being a fifteen year-old fanboy who was fairly unaware of that kind of film scoring history upon TIME AFTER TIME’s arrival, I still immediately heard that voice on the film’s soundtrack, a richly thematic personality that was as much a part of the onscreen characters as the composer behind them. And judging by TIME AFTER TIME’s cult status among my generation of 70’s and 80’s sci-fi / fantasy film fans, I’m not alone, especially as the soundtrack’s release on Southern Cross quickly became a collector’s item.

Now TIME’s “true’ score arrives via another superb Silver Age Classics release from Film Score Monthly Records, a CD that makes a bombshell audiophile revelation that the treasured Cross release was actually a re-recording, something common for many soundtracks until relatively recently. For while TIME sounded just dandy on LP and CD, it’s new presentation is a marked improvement in every respect, offering the complete, original Burbank sessions (as opposed to the re-do’s more-than respectable performance in London), exceptional liner notes by Jeff Bond and Frank K. DeWald, as well as writer-director Nicholas Meyers’ reminiscences of working with Rozsa, for whom TIME AFTER TIME served as a blazing sunset in the twilight of a remarkable career.

By the time that TIME arrived for Rozsa, the composer had already done distinctive genre work with THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, THE POWER and THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD. But as opposed to a more fantastical approach for this tale of author H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper duking it out in the 20th century, Rozsa turned to a suspensefully romantic sound, whose darker moments hinted at his great film noir scores for the likes of DOUBLE INDEMNITY and THE NAKED CITY.

Beginning with a lush redo of Max Steiner’s Warner Brother logo music, TIME AFTER TIME goes into a sweepingly thematic “Prelude,” before introducing the brooding Ripper music, which is accompanied by a music box that plays the deceptively delicate French song “L’Aio de Rotso.” Where the villain’s music has the kind of brassy, descending notes that signal cunning evil, Wells is given an almost wistful flute – music that suggests a meek, buttoned-up Victorian. But that will quickly change when his best friend John (aka “Jack”) takes a ride on the author’s newfangled time machine, with Rozsa introducing another suspenseful motif in “Search for the Ripper,” capturing Wells’ desperate realization of what he’s inadvertently loosed on the future. When Wells takes a bumpy ride into the great unknown, Rozsa uses hurtling, click-clock percussion in “Taking Off/ Time Travel,” music that ingeniously spins about like clock hands gone haywire- all driven with a heightening orchestra.

Wells lands in 1979-era San Francisco, with not a whit of where the Ripper might be hiding. “Man Before His Time” realizes that seeming hopelessness (which is niftily topped off with a brief quote of “The Star-Spangled Banner” to signal Wells’ American arrival). A jaunty “Bank Montage” uses a “modern” sax (for the results of eating Pommes Frites at McDonald’s), while a lighter theme variation captures Wells delight at his newfound “Utopia.” The cue cleverly builds to “Rule, Britannia!” as Wells finds the Bank of London, where his exchange of old Pounds introduces him to a liberated teller (and star Malcolm McDowell to one-time wife Mary Steenburgen). Her tip leads Wells to the Ripper, who’s followed a similar financial path. And with “The Ripper / Pursuit,” Rozsa launches into what might be one of the most breathless musical foot chases in film scoring, as Wells’ and Ripper’s themes interplay, picking up speed with the fast-motion visual, the theme relentlessly building until John meets his seeming end over the front of car.

With John seemingly out of the way, Rozsa indulges in a romantic “Time Machine Waltz” as Wells and Mary dine at the revolving Hyatt hotel. Used here as source, Rozsa turns restaurant Muzak into a thing of beauty. As Herbert and Amy’s relationship blossoms, Rozsa introduces their main love theme as they tour “The Redwoods/ Always a master of love themes, this piece ranks among Miklos Rozsa’s most emotionally affecting, especially with its aching violin, signaling the sad inevitability that they’ll part when H.G. returns to his own time.

But their relationship’s end might come sooner than they think, as John is very much alive and practicing. Rozsa’s music counterpoints the Ripper’s trembling, sinister theme against Wells’ yearning for Amy. In “Decision for Murder/ Murder,” Rozsa ingeniously turns the music box into a malefic orchestral jig, climaxed with the shock chords of the Wells and Amy seeing the results of Jack’s fiendish appetites. These musical stakes grow bigger each new “Victim,” the dread that John’s growing closer to Amy reaching true, awful realization with the sweeping build, and tragic musical cut-off with an agonized violin in “The Fifth Victim.” Sci-fi truly becomes film noir with Rozsa’s intense approach, scoring which helps give TIME AFTER TIME a real, emotional heart.

By this plot point, nearly every piece of TIME AFTER TIME’s score is connected by some thematic variation. After the anguished “The Last Victim/ Aftermath,” Rozsa’s strings recall Hermann in “3:20 PM / Nocturnal Visitor,” the doom-laden melody showing how the zonked-out Amy is helpless before John, with glistening “time key” music showing that what he’s after is the ability to murder across the centuries themselves. Wells goes after John and the kidnapped Amy in “Dangerous Drive,” adding a new degree of desperation to his chase music. Though the men are pursuing each other in two economy cars, Rozsa’s throttlingly suspenseful music gives them the emotional power of two Mach 5 racers.

After so much excitement, Meyer and Rozsa are smart enough to play the climactic confrontation with Wells and John sans music. Then with the last statement of his music box, the villain is sent to a glistening oblivion in “The Journey’s End / Finale.” And Rozsa’s love theme gets its most sweeping treatment as Mary decides to join Herbert in a non-liberated era, a triumph of time bringing two souls together for a wonderfully operatic send off. It’s the kind of old-fashioned, melodic sweep that goes over the best tear-jerking endings, a sound as timeless as Hollywood sentimentality itself.

For a true TIME AFTER TIME fan like myself, listening to Miklos Rozsa in all of his thematic glory is bliss itself. It’s a thrill that comes from hearing a well-worn score play with completely new vitality. Once again, I’m reminded of how an impressionable young mind was introduced to the glory of old-school film music, a sound that seems almost positively Victorian now as newfangled composers race to find the next high-tech trick. They truly don’t make composers like Rozsa, or scores like TIME AFTER TIME for that matter. But thankfully, fan-driven labels like Film Score Monthly still keep releasing them.

Hear Miklos Rozsa’s TIME-less score here


By Gideon Marcus on March 3rd, 2009 at 11:20 pm

Having just rewatched this classic, I heartily agree. The soundtrack makes the movie. I think this is the only movie with an aural rather than visual journey through time, and it is very very effective.

I don’t understand why people don’t score movies like this anymore.

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