The Time Machine (2002) / Sci Fi-Adventure
MPAA rated PG-13 for violence
Running time: 96 min.
Cast: Guy Pearce, Samantha Mumba, Jeremy Irons, Omero Mumba, Orlando Jones
Director: Simon Wells
Screenplay: John Logan (based on the book by H.G. Wells)
Review published March 9, 2002
The fact that director Simon Wells (The Prince of Egypt, An American Tail) is H. G. Wells' great grandson doesn't mean he is an expert on the works of his kinship. While Disney took a crack at telling the great work of a great master writer, in the end it was just a Disney version, cleaned up for family viewing and Hollywood plotting. Now we have a newer and more spectacular version, but in the end it's probably even further from the source material than the Disney flick, regardless of the relation of its director. However, I make it a point not to review a film based on it's faithfulness to it's literary counterpart, and instead concentrate on the film on its own merits as a motion picture tale. With this in mind, The Time Machine is an interesting but ultimately disappointing fantasy adventure that could have been a little better with more character development and, dare I say it, realism even within the fantastical nature of the narrative.
Guy Pearce (The Count of Monte Cristo, Memento) does a fine job playing Alexander Hartdegen, a scientist/inventor in the latter days of the 19th Century, who develops a device to transport himself through time in order to try to save the life of the woman who would be his fiancÚ had she not met an untimely death at the hands of an armed robber. Alexander goes back to the past, but finds that his efforts are fruitless, because no matter what he does, he can't seem to change the past. Seeking answers catapults him to the future, where he hopes to find the answers to the inability to change the past. His quest ultimate leads him 800,000 years in the future, seemingly a utopia of people at peace with the world, yet something sinister lurks underground.
While The Time Machine doesn't do an adequate job making us care for the rather superficial characters in the first half of the film, the concepts and ideas developed, as well a a large dose of awe in terms of uncovering the unknown, maintains a high interest level because of out fascination with time travel and how it is achieved. Had the last half maintained just the interest level alone, The Time Machine could have been deemed a worthwhile flick. However, things take a large dip when we discover that 800,000 years in the future that people would still speak 20th Century English, and that society would be an overly simplistic dichotomy that makes little sense to the film both in terms of how it is supposedly achieved as well as it's importance to Alexander's quest.
The Time Machine is another missed opportunity at a terrific science fiction adventure, and in fact fails even to be as good as it's 1960 predecessor. Perhaps there will come a day when the vision of H. G. Wells novel is done justice on the big screen, but let's all hope we won't need a time machine in order to finally see it.
- Made previously by Disney in 1960. Also two made-for-TV movies in 1949 and 1978.
©2002 Vince Leo