home | art & architecture | books & cds | dance | destinations | film | opera | television | theater | archives
H.G. Wells' novel The Time Machine was innovative when first published in 1895 and
remains fresh even today. Hollywood first filmed the story in 1960, when George Pal directed Rod Taylor and
Yvette Mimieux in a film that won a Special Effects Oscar but eliminated most of Welles'
imaginative time travel speculation and sociological philosophy in favor of more
straightforward action. Now another iteration
has been spun of the classic tale. The 2002
version of The Time Machine leans even further
towards action-adventure and displays little to recommend it beyond 42 years of advances
in special effects technology.
The book and Pal's film were both set in late 19th century England. This version moves to turn-of-the-century New York City, where inventor Alexander Hartdegen (Guy Pearce) is determined to prove that time travel is possible. It's a quest that's become even more personal and obsessive, because since the murder of his fiancee (Sienna Guillory), he's determined to be able to go back in time and prevent her death. But even after his machine proves time travel feasible and he's gone back and changed the circumstances of her first murder, he finds that her death happens yet again. He heads for the future, in curiosity as much as despair, making two brief stops learning in 2030 that paper books are a thing of the past and in 2037 that the Moon has been shattered by excessive development of lunar subdivisions and the resulting tidal changes have devastated Earth.
Hartdegen presses on and ends up in 802701, finding most of "civilization" gone and the human race divided into two distinct species. The Eloi are meek and very Politically Correct, living in cliffside condos, clad in scraps and singing what sounds painfully like tribal Enya tunes. The savage and cannibalistic Morlocks live underground, apparently spending most of their time pumping iron when they're not conducting surface raids to catch their feedstock - Elois. Hatdegen develops a kinship with Mara, a young Eloi woman who can still speak English and serves as a resident Earth Mother.
Simon Wells shepherds this effort in bloated and melodramatic style, overly fond of the big sweeping pan and soaring orchestral music. The time machine itself is an interesting shiny toy, much more high tech than the 1960 version, and the special effects while Hentdegen travels through time are interesting, although all are variations on the same theme: time-lapse photography taken to a geologic scale. But none of the paradoxes of time travel are examined, save for a one brief mention by Alexander on his trip back to save his fiancee. And many of the revisions made by screenwriter John Logan are curiously petty. Why bother to move the story from London to New York City, change the scientist's name from George (Welles) to Alexander (Hartdegen), and that of his Eloi love interest from Weena to Mara?
H.G. Wells was a socialist who used the bulk of his novel's story to warn against what he saw as the dangers of the Industrial Revolution. The 1960 film version of the story focused much more on action but still cautioned against the threat of nuclear war, showing the results of such a conflict when its protagonist stopped in 1966. This new account carries even less of a message than its predecessors, serving mostly as a CGI showcase. Science fiction is at its best when it uses improbable or impossible technology to examine the world and ourselves from a fresh perspective, and The Time Machine does neither, once Hartdegen ends up 800000 years in the future the story quickly degenerates into chases, fistfights and explosions.
Guy Pearce contributes little to his role, doing little more than staring vacantly while the CGI rages around him. Irish singer/songwriter Samantha Mumba makes her screen debut in blank fashion--her Mara would be more at home in 1960s Haight-Ashbury than in the future. Orlando Jones does an eye-popping (literally, unfortunately) as Vox, a "protonic" computer image that provides a few meager laughs. And Jeremy Irons makes an appearance as the head of the Morlocks and comes off looking like Boris Karloff dressed for a rave. The most notable aspect of this new production is that director Simon Wells is H.G. Wells' great-grandson, but he does his lineage no favors. By the conclusion of The Time Machine time travel will seem a welcome remedy to the irrevocable loss of the 96 minutes just wasted.
- Bob Aulert