The Time Machine (2002)

If you must see The Time Machine (2002), at
least get the original and view it afterwards

One of the latest trends in Hollywood seems to ‘re-imagining’ classic films. This is where the director and writer take the rough premise of a beloved film and redo it, usually to include the new state of the art computer graphics now available. Having enjoyed films for the last four decades I am familiar with the originals in almost every case. While in theory it is possible to make a successful, original film with this ploy the practical results are the new film fails to live up to the original. Sadly, thus is the case with the re-imagining of George Pal’s 1960 Sci-Fi classic, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.

Alexander Hartdegen (Guy Pearce) is an associate professor in New York during the later part of the 19th century. Although Alex is the archetype of the scatterbrain professor he is deeply in love with Emma (Sienna Guillory). One fateful night Alex meets Emma in the park in order to propose marriage. Moments after he gives her the humble ring they are robbed and she is murdered. Four years passes and Alex invents a machine that enables him to transport himself in time. He attempts to avoid the heinous crime by arriving in time to take her away from the park and hopefully her death. On Bleecker Street a carriage overturns and she still dies. The question that plagues Alex is why can’t he change the past. In despair he turns his machine to the future. After a few brief stops in the 21st century (where he witnesses the destruction of the moon) he pushes the machine to 800,000 years in the future. They he finds the human race has bifurcated into two sub-species, the gentle Eloi and the vicious Morlock. One young Eloi woman Mara (Samantha Mumba) befriends Alex and introduces him to her society. The Eloi are so gentle that when the Morlock come up from the underground caverns where they live to feed on the Eloi, the Eloi practically bread themselves and hop in the pan! Where the original addressed the dual nature of man, childlike and animalistic, this version spends far too brief time exploring the two societies.

The Time Machine (2002) spends only about the last third of the film in this distant dystopia focusing instead on showing off the CGI crew’s ability to create sets from different time periods. As with other movies of this ilk the emphasis is devoted to what the computer can do rather than plot. The introduction of the head Morlock (Jeremy Irons) is too late in the game and too brief. He enters to answer Alex’s question, he would not have created the machine if not for Emma’s death therefore he cannot use it to save her. Then he is destroyed. This just shows The Time Machine (2002) concentrates on form not substance.

Guy Pearce is an actor of great ability and talent. With hits like L.A. Confidential and Memento he has demonstrated his craft and has excelled beyond his peers. This is also the reason why he failed to bring the character of Alex to life here. It took the role far to seriously for such a project. If he had realized the true genre of the film and had fun with the role he would have come off better. It is rare that talent can inhibit a performance but in this case it is what happened. Irons on the other hand is a bit more seasoned in a variety of roles, some serious some not. He plays the Uber Morlock with flair and panache that suits the nature of the role. Pity is that he is not given more screen time here, it would have vastly improved The Time Machine (2002). Mumba as Mara is delegated to little more than exposition and window dressing. She seems to have the ability to go far in her career but The Time Machine (2002) was not the proper showcase for her. The real gem in The Time Machine (2002) is Orlando Jones as the hologram in the library. His nature sense of humor and wit shines through and lifts The Time Machine (2002) up a bit.

Director Simon Wells is perhaps more at home directing large budget animated features. Among his credits are Prince of Egypt and American Tail: Fievel Goes West. He did not provide enough opportunity for character development in The Time Machine (2002). His direction and cinematography was excellent. In each time period the framing, lighting and attention to detail is incredible. Still, it takes more than pretty pictures to make a film. Perhaps a truly original project would have better provided Wells with the vehicle he needed to make the transition to live actors. The pacing was off. The audience is tossed from one time period to another at the expense of plot. The Time Machine (2002) depended on the strength of the CGI but when the Morlock made their incredible leaps there was little or no sense of weight, of gravity. The faces of the Morlock were devoid of any emotions. While this may have been intentional it distanced the audience from the villain providing no means to identity them as a real menace. The strength of his animated films was how realistic the images were. Here that was sorely missing. The sets did show imagination and where well done but they detracted from the performances rather than setting the stage for them.

The DVD is presented in Dolby 5.1 with anamorphic 2.35:1 video. The sound mix was at times too heavy on the sub woofer. It pounds away overwhelming the dialogue. The rear speakers are well used and the surround field better than average. The extras include two commentary tracks, one by the director and the other with the technical crew. Both are little more than ‘what we did and why did we did it that way’, There are also a couple of making of featurettes that show how the sets were created. In some ways this was more interesting than the resulting film. True fans of The Time Machine should stick to the 1960 classic. If you must see The Time Machine (2002) at least get the original and view it afterwards. Having loved the original for forty years this was difficult for me to watch. The Time Machine (2002) had potential but fell short of the mark.

Review by Doug MacLean of

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