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The Time Machine

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Time Machine

Starring: Guy Pearce, Mark Addy
Director: Simon Wells
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 96 Minutes
Release Date: March 2002
Genres: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action

*Also starring: Jeremy Irons, Philip Bosco, Samantha Mumba

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
2 stars out of 4

Before addressing the problems with "The Time Machine," it's important to note what the filmmakers got right. Director Simon Wells (great-grandson of H.G.) and company have succeeded in making a snappy, well-acted adventure packed with eye candy. The production offers futuristic vistas, a sarcastic, possibly sentient holographic computer named Vox (Orlando Jones), an idyllic village far above the ground, and big, bad monsters. The movie is engaging enough that I plan to see it again when it opens this Friday.

Still, because of some crucial missteps, I left the theater less than satisfied because, for all the filmmakers threw in, they forgot to add a sense of wonder.

Based on the revered novel by H.G. Wells and clearly influenced by George Pal's 1960 cinematic adaptation, the film begins in New York City at the turn of the last century, as scientist and inventor Alexander Hartdegen (Guy Pearce) develops a device that will allow him to travel through time. His motivation for creating the machine is a mission of rescue. Four years earlier, his beloved Emma (Sienna Guillory) was killed on the night of their engagement and he is determined to travel back in time and prevent the tragedy from happening.

At this point, fans of the book and original film are likely thinking, "Where did that storyline come from?" In the press notes, writer John Logan ("Gladiator") explains, "In adapting the material for today's audiences, we felt it would be more exciting, more interesting, to create an emotional context for Alexander's building the time machine."

Big mistake. In addition to using his book to comment on socialism and class divisions, H.G. Wells gave us a man out to prove his theory that time was the fourth dimension. The political agenda in the original film shifted to an anti-war stance, but shared Wells' portrait of the time traveler as an explorer. He saw the marvels and nightmares of the future and we shared the adventure with him, experiencing all the wonder along the way.

But things are different in the remake. First off, there are no social or political statements to be found - entertainment is the only agenda. Second, Alexander's mission is to change the past. When his attempt to undo Emma's death fails, he shoots into the future still determined to find a way to alter events that have already occurred. His is a fact-finding mission - he allows no time to savor what he sees. As a result, everything feels rushed. We witness incredible advancements, like the personal helicopters weaving past the super-skyscrapers of 2030, and horrific visions, including a stunning disaster in the heavens that I won't detail here. Instead of drinking it all in, though, we are shooed forward like tourists on a cut-rate package deal, caught up in Alexander's breathless quest.

Incidentally, the scheduled late 2001 release of the film was postponed because of a scene depicting a futuristic New York being pelted by remnants of the aforementioned disaster. Those images, deemed inappropriate in light of the Sept. 11 atrocities, were excised, but once you see the disaster, you'll figure out what happened in the missing footage.

Eventually, Alexander whooshes some 800,000 years into the future, landing in the era of the Eloi and the Morlocks. In this portion of the film, the changes made by the new guys are more successful. In the 1960 movie, the Eloi were vapid, lethargic white-robed human lambs ready for slaughter and the Morlocks were blue-skinned, white-haired creepoids with glowing eyes and no language, waiting in underground caverns for the next Eloi harvest. They looked frightening, but turned out to be absurdly easy to kill. In the new movie, the Eloi are a bilingual tribe living in a simple life in their gorgeous elevated village. They know what the Morlocks want them for and actively avoid capture. Alexander meets and soon grows close to Mara (Samantha Mumba) and her little brother, Kalen (Omero Mumba, Samantha's real-life sibling). As for the Morlocks, while most are feral spies and hunters, a well-spoken humanoid mind controller called the Uber-Morlock (Jeremy Irons) leads them (Simon revived the mind controller notion from an earlier version of his great-grandpa's story).

The sense of wonder (and later, despair) established so well in the original film was aided immeasurably by bookend segments of the time traveler, first explaining his theories to some Victorian colleagues and later returning to recount his adventures to the men. That meticulous groundwork is gone now - all that remains are appearances by Philby (Mark Addy), Alexander's devoted friend, and Mrs. Watchit (Phyllida Law), his faithful housekeeper. Cameo Alert: Check out the flower shop early in the film. The man behind the counter is Alan Young, who played Philby in the original film.

Regardless of its problems, the new incarnation of "The Time Machine" is entertaining, despite an overbearing soundtrack that too often echoes the theme from "Survivor." Had Simon Wells ditched the "save my lover" motif and allowed Alexander to be a pure explorer, the film might have been something more grand. But what's done is done. Rather than continuing to mourn what the film is not, how better it seems to simply try and appreciate what it is.

Copyright 2002 Edward Johnson-Ott

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