The Time Machine isn't so much an adaptation of H.G. Wells' seminal novel as it is an appropriation. The film borrows liberally from the book, but doesn't treat it with much respect or affection or even understanding. ... Most of Wells' details are there, and so is the basic premise, but the soul of the thing -- the point -- is missing. In 1894, Wells used his groundbreaking science-fiction narrative -- about a scientist who builds a machine that transports him 800,000 years into the future -- to satirize social and economic classism, depicting a future where the division between rich and poor had degenerated into a horrific scenario. The book was turned into a movie once before, in 1960, by George Pal, who reshaped the story into a Cold War cautionary tale, envisioning a post-apocalyptic future ravaged by nuclear war. Pal's movie ... seems risibly kitschy and stiff today, but its intentions were earnest and intelligent, which has helped it endure. It's hard to imagine anyone remembering the new Time Machine 10 years from now ... With the first -- but not last -- of the film's shaky bits of logic, he [Alexander] decides to travel forward in time to find a solution. What follows is the film's best sequence, as Alexander hops from 1899 to the year 2030, the bulk of mankind's industrial progress in the 20th Century charted in one long, technically stunning shot. After a few escapades in an amusingly conceived near-future, a cataclysmic disaster (easily the movie's most awesome, jaw-dropping conceit) sends Alexander hurtling to the year 802701. And then The Time Machine begins to fall apart, as the mild-mannered Alexander suddenly becomes an intrepid Indiana Jones, helping the Eloi (the ''civilized'' remnant of mankind) fend off attacks by a tribe of underground-dwelling cannibals known as Morlocks ... Alexander's inconsolable pining for his slain fiancée -- the reason he got into this whole mess -- is instantly forgotten once he lays eyes on the curvaceous Mara ... The Time Machine makes less and less sense as it goes along, culminating in a showdown between Alexander and the über-Morlock ... in which the two men engage in perfectly incomprehensible debate before settling things the old-fashioned way: Trading fist sandwiches. Even in the year 800,000, some things apparently never change. ... Twelve-year-olds in particular will find plenty to like in The Time Machine -- it's fast, flashy and briskly paced -- but considering its pedigree, it's a bit of a jalopy.
-- Rene Rodriguez -- Friday, March 8, 2002Read the whole review here. Copyright Miami herald
ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Whether on screen or in novel form, stories about time travel fascinate me. Just thinking about propelling oneself back to the past or into the future revs up my imagination and keeps it humming much longer than most other flights of fantasy. That’s probably why The Time Machine, based on H.G. Wells’ literary masterpiece and the 1960 George Pal movie, delighted me -- despite its deviations from these two sources. Even without the emphasis Wells placed on social injustice or the original film’s groundbreaking sci-fi appeal, this Time Machine took me along for an exciting cinematic ride. I quickly empathized with Guy Pearce ... in the role of Alexander Hartdegen, a geeky scientist/inventor who tries to change the past after losing someone he loves. ... After inventing a fabulous machine that takes him to the recent past and finally to the distant future, Hartdegen surprises himself by becoming more like an action hero than a man of science. He battles gruesome monsters called Morlocks ... , matches wits with the mind-controlling Uber-Morlock (Jeremy Irons), and fights to save an Eloi damsel in distress (Samantha Mumba) as well as her entire race. ... I’ve complained recently about movies in which special effects overwhelm the characters and plot ... Because this didn’t happen in The Time Machine, I applaud its filmmakers. Yes, the special effects here dazzled me, especially in scenes showing a 19th century New York City changing dramatically over thousands of years. And the time machine itself is something marvelous to see! With spinning discs and blades surrounding a hand-crafted leather barber’s chair (like the one in the previous movie), the machine whirrs and glows with a dynamic force that practically flies off the screen. Still, other elements of the movie receive equal attention. I loved the opening scenes of New York City in the winter of 1899. ... This cinematic poetry showcases the old-world charm of a city right before machines change nearly everything. Almost as impressive are the Eloi homes. High above a riverbed, the Eloi village ... look like "swallow’s nests perched on the cliffs -- things of the air rather than of the earth. ... The most amusing visual in The Time Machine is Vox (Orlando Jones), a computerized hologram programmed to answer any question on any subject. "Vox is the internet with sarcasm," Wells explains. ... I understand why some H.G. Wells purists might find fault with this film adaptation of the classic he wrote over 100 years ago. Screenwriter John Logan ... moved the setting from London to New York, added an emotional reason for inventing the time machine, and focused on action-adventure, not philosophical ideas. And yet, this movie poses two timely philosophical questions. Can science and technology be carried too far? Which is more important -- machines or people? Not bad for a film made primarily to entertain.
-- Betty Jo Tucker -- Friday, March 8, 2002Read the whole review here. Copyright ReelTalk Movie reviews
"The Time Machine" is, for the most part, a handsome, pleasant entertainment. Perhaps because the idea of time travel holds out the promise of traveling hither and yon, the movie bogs down when the hero (Guy Pearce) settles into a primitive future. (That was a problem in the 1960 version starring Rod Taylor, too.) But the director, Simon Wells, still manages to bring the picture in at around 90 minutes, and with the exception of a battle sequence and the chase climax, he doesn't go in for a lot of the jagged, incoherent cutting that reduces most contemporary action sequences to visual gibberish. He also comes up with one genuinely graceful visual effect: a scene where characters from two different time periods, turn-of-the-century New York and New York a million years in the future, stand side by side in their respective time dimensions, unaware of each other. ... What the movie lacks is the simple affection for its material, the classic sci-fi novel by H.G. Wells, that characterized the 1960 film directed by George Pal. That picture was a studio job, but you could still feel that Pal was motivated by his love for Wells' tale. ... Most people in their 30s and 40s saw Pal's version as kids on TV, and when they talk about it, you can tell they still retain a special affection for it. It's easy to see why. The movie has a plummy, storybook feel, and the special effects are rendered with an almost elegant simplicity. When H.G. Wells (played by Rod Taylor) sits in his time machine, Pal depicts epochs whizzing by via shots of the sun arcing repeatedly across the sky, the changing dress styles on a store mannequin across the way and, gradually, Wells' London house falling away to make room for other buildings. Simon Wells ... borrows some of Pal's effects, and they're not bad. ... But though the effects are far more complex than anything Pal could achieve, they aren't nearly as impressive. Perhaps this is because, with all the technology available to filmmakers today, you don't have to have any particular talent to amaze us. It's easy to show the earth slipping into a second ice age when you've got computer graphics and matte artists and millions of studio dollars at your disposal. ... Sometimes, watching the new generation of special effects, what I see looks so real that it feels fake. Less technically sophisticated effects from films of the past often retain their capacity to invoke wonder, working at a simple, almost symbolic, level that can tap into real suggestive power. ... "The Time Machine" benefits from the charm of its conceit, and the sets and backgrounds of turn-of-the-century New York have that pleasing old-movie feel -- the sort that doesn't let you believe in what you're watching for a minute; what you respond to is the fact that all this has been made up to entertain you -- but it lacks any poetry of its own. And the movie doesn't wear you out with the pell-mell pacing that makes so many Hollywood pictures feel exhausting after 10 minutes; instead, it's a little sluggish. John Logan's screenplay, based on the one David Duncan wrote for Pal's film, makes a few nice additions. Alexander's motivation for exploring travel in time works just fine, at least until the script adds one twist that makes you feel tricked for responding in the first place. Logan does better when Alexander winds up nearly a million years into the future, where the human race has split in two: the peaceful Eloi who live aboveground and the cannibalistic Morlocks shunning the light of day in underground caves. In Pal's film the Eloi were blue-eyed, blond emotional zombies ... These Eloi, a multiracial bunch ... , at least have the emotional resources to know they're in danger from the Morlocks. ... The best thing about this future world is that it's a lush movie jungle, set atop huge cliffs. The Elois' dwellings are especially nifty -- a community of treehouses hugging the cliffside. ... There's also one nice addition to the Eloi world -- a hologram figure (played by ... Orlando Jones) ... but there's also one I could live without: Jeremy Irons ... as the brain behind the Morlocks. In his tattered bondage gear, death-white skin and straight white hair, he looks like the retirement-home version of Marilyn Manson. The biggest problem with "The Time Machine" is ... Guy Pearce. ... There's no romance or fire or wit in Pearce's Alexander, just a mopey, gobsmacked expression that doesn't exactly inspire the confidence the Eloi -- or the audience -- need to feel in him. ... The hero of "The Time Machine" needs to have the grace and precision and charm of an antique pocket watch. Pearce is like that Swatch you bought on a whim and forgot about a month later. It's not much praise to say that "The Time Machine" is the sort of diversion that's better than you expect it to be. ...
-- Charles Taylor -- Friday, March 8, 2002Read the whole review here. Copyright salon.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer
In The Time Machine ... it turns Guy Pearce from a frail, overexcited man of science into a brawling, brooding anti-technology avenger. The journey, though swathed in spiffy special effects and lots of ear-splitting noise, is none too convincing. It contains entertaining moments and intriguing scenes, but its varied parts seem to spin away from one another as if they came from three or four different movies. Director Simon Wells ... falls in love with the simplistic side of his ancestor's original tale, which blended imagination and provocative social analysis. Makers of the new movie apparently did not trust modern audiences to buy intellectual curiosity as reason enough for Alexander Hartdegen (Mr. Pearce) to build a machine that would take him through time. In this screenplay ... Alexander is driven by grief and guilt after his fiance is killed by a mugger. ... It doesn't take Alexander long to realize that moving through time is not the same as changing history. So he takes a crack at the future, where he finds first a smug, high-tech society, then a burning ruin as technology bites back. Finally, ... he encounters a new world occupied by two human-like species. ... There are interesting implications to what makes this particular hero willfully strand himself in an alien future by destroying his mechanically inclined past, right down to his last pocket watch. But this film is more interested in the flash and dazzle that emits from imaging computers than the ideas that inspired the story in the first place.
-- Margaret A. McGurk -- Friday, March 8, 2002Read the whole review here. Copyright The Cincinnati Enquirer
Los Angeles Times
Given how troublesome regular travel is, time travel, especially over a span of 800,000 years, has got to be even more disorienting. Which perhaps explains why "The Time Machine" has ended up such an odd, haphazard concoction. ... "Time Machine" was previously filmed by George Pal in 1960 in a much-loved Rod Taylor-Yvette Mimieux version that the new one makes several references to. ... But, as both Pal and the current team discovered, the original book, as much a class-conscious sociopolitical tract as a science-fiction novel, was rather thin on plot, to the point of calling its protagonist nothing more than "the Time Traveler." This new version ... has understandably worked hard to remedy that situation. Perhaps too hard. So much effort has been put into creating a believable world for the traveler to come from and a creditable back story for his trip that what happens 800,000 years in the future seems to belong to a completely different--and less interesting--picture. ... Respectably played by Pearce in rather a breathless, White Rabbit mode, Alex has both the requisite best friend (Mark Addy) and no-nonsense housekeeper (Phyllida Law, Emma Thompson's redoubtable mother). He's also madly in love with the beautiful Emma (Sienna Guillory), ... Though this part of "Time Machine" is in truth not much more than a prologue, director Wells ... has such a strong visual sense that he's taken a surprising amount of care with the film's look. ... The same is true for Alex's beautiful Time Machine, as impressive as its 6,000-pound weight would indicate. Built of aluminum and polycarbonate to mimic brass and glass, it also consciously echoes the 1960 film's wondrous mechanism. Determined to give Alex a Screenwriting 101 motive for building the apparatus, the film has something bad happen to Emma, something that causes Alex to end up traveling back and forth in time to see if he can correct. In borderline pointless diversions, Alex makes stops in 2030 and 2037. These trips do allow for some nifty time-lapse photography that includes a tribute to the original's shifting hemlines montage. They also introduce the film's most amusing character, Vox (Orlando Jones), a holographic compendium of all human knowledge who, without much prompting, sings, "There's a place called tomorrow" from a musical version of the Wells novel. Up to now "Time Machine" has been a slight, pleasantly old-fashioned diversion. It's at this point, however, that Alex unintentionally lurches all those years into the future and into the heart of Wells' tale. What he finds is anything but pleasant, and, armed with this knowledge, the film changes tone completely. ... The centerpiece of this section is a busy action sequence of partially animatronic Morlocks running around and terrorizing the Eloi. It's acceptably done, but the violent, unpleasant tone is so at variance with the rest of the film that it's more disconcerting than anything else, as if "The Little Princess" had suddenly morphed into "Rollerball." If Welles was unhappy at the prospect of the human race splitting in two, he probably wouldn't be too crazy with his great-grandson's movie splitting up in pretty much the same way.
-- Kenneth Turan, Times Staff Writer -- Friday, March 8, 2002Read the whole review here. Copyright Los Angeles Times
Starting with GROUNDHOG DAY whimsy and ending with PLANET OF THE APES dark intensity, THE TIME MACHINE is a mixed bag but an entertaining picture, although it's scarier than its PG-13 rating might lead you to believe. ... Professor Hartdegen (Pearce) is a scientist who experiences a tragedy that causes him to invent a contraption that's a whirling combination of polished brass and shining glass that looks like a cross between a horseless carriage and a planetarium projector. ... The first part of his journey is fun, thanks especially to stirring music and charming sets ... This first part is quite funny, featuring large Lunar Leisure Living ads that look straight out of STARSHIP TROOPERS. The film's funniest character is played by Orlando Jones (EVOLUTION). As a literary and scientific know-it-all named Vox, Jones is a holographic card catalog to die for. Of the movie's many self-referential jokes, none is funnier than when Vox plays for us the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical version of THE TIME MACHINE. The less successful second half of the picture is set in the far away future. Using the typical cinematic rule, the future looks more like the past than, well, the future. We also learn a twist on the old rule about not messing with Mother Nature. We also shouldn't mess with the moon. Diehard fans of the original film may be angry that anyone would dare mess with their movie, but I'm here to report that I enjoyed this version.
-- Steve Rhodes -- Friday, March 8, 2002Read the whole review here. Copyright Internet Reviews
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Master of Arts, February 26, 2006