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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

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Harvey Karten review follows ---
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Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Heck, anyone can go a few decades into the future like James Mangold's Leopold Mountbatten or some years into the past like Gregory Hoblit's John Sullivan. But try moving forward some 800,000 years! You probably think you won't need sunscreen when you arrive, but when Alexander Hartdegen (Guy Pearce) in Simon Wells's adaptation of H.G. Wells' masterpiece, "The Time Machine," steps out of his eponymous contraption, he sees what at first looks like a prelapsarian civilization with an Eve-like woman, Mara (Samantha Mumba) and her little brother, Kalen (Omero Mumba). So far as we know, Wells himself never used a time machine so he could not have known about the Enron scandal when he wrote his slim novel in 1894, but in composing his tract he was determined to show his reservations about capitalism in England. Just as the danger of nuclear extinction was the big worry during the 1960s when school children were told to protect themselves by crawling under their desks, the dangers of class warfare were the big concern of thinkers like Wells in England.

Alas: Simon Wells, the great-grandsome of H.G., doesn't care a whit about economics or politics in his version of the book, originally adapted to the screen in 1960 by George Pal (and later remade for TV in 1978). Wells appears intent on conveying an imaginative story, one which would stimulate our brain waves in the year 2002, perhaps to think, "If I had a chance to take a trip in a time machine, would I accept the challenge and, if so, would I go into the past or the future? How many years? (Would you?)

If anyone in the audience perceives this version of "The Time Machine" to be a statement about anything at all, he or she probably read the novel or the Cliff Notes because, sad to say, the film is lacking in both resonance and interest. In fact it's pretty dull going something like a current traveler's wanting to go on a three weeks' vacation in Paris but winding up somehow in Passaic, New Jersey instead. The "Kate & Leopold" opening shows nerdy physics professor Alexander Hartdegen wrapped up in a problem on his chalkboard back in the New York (not London) of 1896, reminded by a colleague, Dr. Philby (Mark Addy), that he has a hot date with his fianc,-to-be, Emma (Sienna Guillory). When tragedy strikes his lady fair that night, he is determined like "Frequency"'s Jim Caviezel to get in touch with the past and thereby undo the disaster. Getting into his time machine, which took him four years to build, he returns to that night and, realizing that retreating to the past is futile (though this point is not credibly made), he believes that traveling a few years into the future could solve the problem. He hits his head, the machine goes nuts, and in moments he's in the year 802,000 and some change. He likes what he sees, especially the lovely Mara (Dublin pop singer/songwriter Samantha Mumba), but is annoyed when some giant, moronic Morlocks threaten to devour everyone in sight. His job now is to save the new love of his life, and to destroy the uber-Morlock who controls the beasts (Jeremy Irons).

While the 1960 version of the story won an Oscar for special effects, we're now past the age of wonder, are drenched in movie technology, and see nothing here to capture the imagination in that regard. The most that can be said is that Wells restrains himself so that the machine and the civilization of 800,000 + is almost believable. Especially neat is Hartdegen's slow climb into the year 2030 as building in New York quickly rise instead of falling, but once the Morlocks go on the attack with their chimpanzee-like springing and their fearsome growls, we're tripping in ho-hum territory.

H.G. Wells meant the Morlocks to represent the lower classes in England as they had evolved, regressively, many millenia hence. Taking umbrage at being kept down by the sun- drenched Eloi, they take revenge on their class masters in a futuristic version of Jean-Pierre Denis's "Murderous Maids" or Jean Genet's "The Maids." No such import here. While the civilization encountered by Hartdegen at first looks like the idyllic one the embraced the conclusion of Francois Truffaut's "Fahrenheit 451," there is nothing that compares to Truffaut's theme of a society trying to save itself by restoring the now- banned printed page. While Mara, in fact, resembles the male fantasy embraced by Bryan Forbes's "Stepford Wives," there is no feminist import either. And while the Morlocks are trying to gobble up everyone over the age of thirty, this is not Michael Anderson's "Logan's Run" there is no warning to us in the audience of the dangers of a society that has no use for anyone but the young. In other words, a sci-fi film without political resonance and without some form of original eye candy or wide- eyed adventure is rough traveling indeed.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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