While Christopher Reeve was filming this movie, the local theater decided to show his latest hit Superman (1978). Many of the "Somewhere" cast joined the locals for the event. Early into the screening, the sound went out. Reeve, who was seated next to Jane Seymour, stood up in the audience and delivered all the lines.
Although the film was a box office disappointment in the United States, it was a huge hit in Asia. Somewhere in Time (1980) is one of the highest-grossing films in China, and played in Hong Kong for eighteen months.
The moment when Richard Collier first sees the portrait of Elise McKenna in the film was also the first time Christopher Reeve saw the portrait. Reeve did not want to see the portrait ahead of time, which helped meet the director's objective of getting a genuine reaction from him when he first sees the portrait as Richard.
Playing the older Elise McKenna, actress Susan French only has four words of dialogue in the whole film. These were spoken when she gives Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve the antique gold fob-watch. The four words of dialogue were "Come back to me," a very serious key scene in the movie. During one take, as a joke, French said instead four other words, "Have it fixed, dear," which caused the whole set to crack-up with laughter.
According to producer Stephen Deutsch, Christopher Reeve's agent literally laughed in his face when he was told the salary his client would be offered for the role ( in what would be his first role after his star-making performance in the smash hit Superman (1978)). He refused to read the script or allow Reeve to hear about it. Knowing he could not proceed without a star, Deutsch clandestinely slipped Reeve the script in his hotel room. Reeve called the next day and said he loved the script and would accept the part. Reeve told Deutsch that another reason why he accepted was that the other project he was being offered at the time was a viking movie.
Actress Jane Seymour suggested composer John Barry to director Jeannot Szwarc as a candidate to compose the score for Somewhere in Time (1980), but Szwarc balked at the idea, saying that because of their tight budget, they couldn't even afford to ask him. But Seymour said that Barry was a friend of hers and that she would ask him. She told Barry about the project, he loved it and agreed to do it.
About a decade after the film first came out, a major global fan club was created by Bill Shepard in 1990. Called INSITE, the acronym stands for the "International Network of Somewhere In Time Enthusiasts". It's mission statement is to "Honor the film, and those responsible for its creation, to Inform members about all aspects of it, to enhance their appreciation of it, as well as to influence public and media perception of the film, to assure its recognition as the classic we know it to be."
There were problems with the original footage of Elise performing on stage, so the scenes of her had to be re-shot. The second time around, Jane Seymour delivered the speech to the author and screenwriter Richard Matheson instead of Christopher Reeve. Matheson was supposedly so moved and upset by the experience, he had to call his wife and return home immediately.
Composer John Barry's father died several days before Christmas 1979 and his mother died the following April. Barry stated that he did not typically compose this style of music, and that the feelings and emotions from the loss of his parents had a lot to do with what he wrote.
A split focus diopter (a half convex glass) lens was used in the scene when Richard is crushed when he thinks Elise has left, and the viewer sees Elise down on the grass slowly moving into view. This mechanism effectively splits the shot in half so that the two subjects, although at different points in distance, can both be in focus.
Automobiles are not allowed on Mackinac Island, Michigan, location of the Grand Hotel and site of much of the movie. The use of cars for the movie required special permission from the town. Although cars were allowed for filming, the cast and crew weren't allowed to drive them outside of actual filming for the movie.
The hotel in the film's source novel, the Hotel del Coronado, was the first choice for use in the film. The hotel had been well known for its appearance in the classic film Some Like It Hot (1959) but it could not be used in this film version due to its modernization. This modernizing, preventing a depiction of 1912 film reality, included roof antennas, aluminum windows, new tennis courts and a high-rise convention center built on the property. The Mackinac Island's Grand Hotel was sited in the book "Great American Hotels", was perfect, and was selected for use in the film. Today, there is a plaque on stone monument placed on the hotel's site at the actual place where Richard and Elise met in the film. Ironically, due to the limited budget, cast and crew did not stay at the hotel during principal photography, they stayed in dormitories on the other side of Mackinac Island. The Hotel del Coronado did not miss out on a film production though, it was used for another picture around the same time that this film was made, for The Stunt Man (1980).
The film is based on author and scriptwriter Richard Matheson's dream about meeting renowned stage actress Maude Adams. Matheson never met her in real life, only saw her portrait in Piper's Opera House Opera House in Virginia City, Nevada and fantasized what it would be like to go back in time and meet her; hence the character of writer Richard Collier has the same first name as Richard Matheson.
According to the DVD Bonus Features, Jane Seymour tells a story about Christopher Reeve's airplane, which was parked on the island. Late at night, Seymour and Reeve would discreetly leave and go for plane trips. Seymour states that they flew to Toronto in Canada several times.
The date that Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) and Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour) meet in the film is 27th June 1912. The centenary of the time was celebrated by fans of the film on 27th June 2012. The anniversary was just a couple of months after the centenary of the sinking of Titanic (1997), the subject of another romantic movie that also existed in two time frames and shares a number of parallels with this film.
Composer John Barry considered using the slow movement (Adagietto) from the Mahler Symphony Number 5 in place of the Rachmaninoff variation. He felt that it was too overwhelming. However, in the scene in Richard's loft during the "eight years later" segment, we see, prominently, an album cover for a recording of Mahler Symphony Number 5.
The film got made because the Universal Pictures studio owed director Jeannot Szwarc a favor because Jaws 2 (1978) had been the studio's biggest box-office performer of 1978. Somewhere in Time (1980)'s budget was originally set at US $8 million but the studio cut it in half to US $4 million and would only green-light the film with such a reduction due to a belief and resistance by studio executives that the film had limited appeal - the time-travel aspect of the film had no visual effects or time-machine, the picture being made in the genesis of the post Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) special and visual effects boom era.
The film was made and released about five years after its source novel "Bid Time Return" by Richard Matheson was first published in 1975. The book won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1976. Matheson also wrote the film's screenplay. Editions of the novel published since the film was made have adopted the film's "Somewhere in Time" title. The film's original working title was the book's title, "Bid Time Return". That title is derived from a line from Act III, Scene 2 in William Shakespeare's play "Richard II". It reads: "O call back yesterday, bid time return."
The gazebo built and used in the film now sits next to Fort Mackinac high on a bluff overlooking Marquette Park, on Mackinac Island. It used to reside on the Governor's Estate, but was moved to its new location in the winter of 2006.
Producer Stephen Deutsch accepted responsibility for the film's box office failure, saying that he made a mistake allowing it to be released wide on opening day (as opposed to opening in limited markets and gradually expanding to further theaters). One of the problems was that the Screen Actor's Guild was on strike at the time, leaving the film without the promotion of its stars. Reportedly, Deutsch cried for a lot of the film's opening weekend.
There is a follow-up to this movie in the form of a sequel/prequel book, Memoirs of Elise, written by David L. Gurnee. This book answers the questions of what happened to Elise during the sixty years apart from Richard, how did she discover where Richard Collier had come from, and how did she find him.
The professor in the movie is named "Finney". The book's author Richard Matheson gave this character the name in tribute to Jack Finney, the science fiction writer. It is (controversially) said that Matheson stole or borrowed his idea for "Bid Time Return" - the book's title, published in 1975 - from Finney's book "Time and Again", published in 1970.
Christopher Reeve's 1912 hat is on display in the check in lobby of the Grand Hotel which has always been on the lower floor. In the movie, a makeshift "desk" was made for the movie. The small music box Teresa Wright's character has in her home of the Grand Hotel is also on display there.
The character of Elise was inspired by real life stage actress Maude Adams. Adams was well known for playing Peter Pan, a play that was written by J.M. Barrie. The composer of the film's beautiful music score is named John Barry.
When Richard Collier in 1980 lays his head on a pillow while attempting to go back in time, the pattern on his pillow case as well as his bedspread he's laying on is identical to this pattern on the pillowcase he finds himself waking up on in the morning of June 27, 1912.
The names of two of the plays that playwright Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) wrote were "Passionate Apathies" and "Too Much Spring". The name of the play that actress Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour) was acting in at the Grand Hotel was "Wisdom of the Heart" by Bartlett Wells. The name of the time-travel book by Dr. Gerald Finney (George Voskovec) was "Travels Through Time".
Playing the older Elise McKenna, actress Susan French only has four words of dialogue in the whole film. These were spoken when she gives Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve the antique gold fob-watch. The four words of dialogue were "Come Back To Me", a very serious key scene in the movie. During one take, as a joke, French said instead four other words, "Have It Fixed Dear", which caused the whole set to crack-up with laughter.