Time Machine, The

2002 Release

Stars:   Guy Pearce, Samantha Mumba, Jeremy Irons, Orlando Jones, Mark Addy, Sienna Guillory
Directors:    Simon Wells, Gore Verbinski
Writers:    John Logan, Based on the novel by H.G. Wells and the 1960 screenplay by David Duncan

What The Time Machine has going for it are impressive visual effects, production design, set decoration and cinematography that transport us from an elegant wintry New York City in 1899 to a high-tech futureworld in 2030 where the moon has been colonized, to 2037 when the earth suffers a profound disaster and then on to 800,000 years beyond when the earth had sunk back into its primordial soup and emerged even scarier than it is today. It’s a master undertaking, well accomplished in parts, and not so great in others.

This is a remake of the 1960 film based upon the novel by H.G. Wells, which tells of a man in 1895 who undertakes the building of a time machine that sends him far into the future. In this version, the lead character is Alexander Hartdegen (Guy Pearce), an inventor and professor at Columbia University in New York who is driven to build his magical device after suffering the loss of a loved one. His idea is to change the past but when he discovers he cannot, he seeks an answer as to why not somewhere in the future.

His travels take him 800,000 years forward when humans have split into two distinct species, a race of powerful underground dwelling half-monster, half-reptilian Morlocks and the primitive, passive agrarian humans called Eloi. Lucky for him he meets the Eloi first. Samantha Mumba, an Irish singer-actress plays Mara who tends to him when he’s injured and her brother Omero Mumba plays Kalen, her brother in the film as well. Alexander proves his worth when he single-handedly goes to rescue Mara after she’s captured and dragged to the Morlock underworld. He dukes it out with the master Morlock, played by Jeremy Irons, a hideously white creature whose intellect sets him apart from the brutish hunter caste.

I guess I’m living in the past too much, having been a die-hard fan of the original 1960 film starring Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux, to fully appreciate this version’s story line. I miss the thoughtful commentary by the time traveler as he made his way through the centuries and I miss the cerebral approach to the plight of the Eloi. I also appreciated Rod Taylor’s good looks and manliness, whereas Guy Pearce’s gaunt appearance distracts too mush while his take on an absentminded professor is far too cliched. This film becomes a modern action thriller too fast and it’s too quickly resolved. But I loved the care they took with the early NYC scenes and with Alexander’s house, particularly in keeping the greenhouse and the beautiful time-lapse photography revealed from it. The complex bit of machinery that transports him through time is as magnificent here as was the one in the original version.

In the year 2030, while visiting the NY public library, Alexander comes across a holographic-human imaging device called Vox (humorously played by Orlando Jones) that spews information spanning all time and place. He has his moments but his reappearance 800,000 years in the future would be highly unlikely.

Mark Addy plays Alexander’s friend David Philby, a part played by Alan Young in the original. Young appears here in a cameo as a shopkeeper. Phyllida Law plays Mrs. Watchit, Alexander’s trusted housekeeper. By the way, co-director Simon Wells is H.G. Wells’ great-grandson.

Lotta says: If the time machine had been real, I’d go back and grab Rod Taylor in his prime, recast him here and rewrite the story but use all of today’s great effects. Now that would be a film! As it is: not as good as I had hoped. But certainly not that bad.

Reviewed 3/8/02