Andy's Anachronisms
Time Travel Film Reviews

The Time Machine (2002)
The Future Awaits

Directed by Simon Wells


Scientist Alexander Hartdegen (Guy Pearce) invents a time machine in an effort to change the past and finds himself transported 800,000 years into the future.


Based on the quintessential time travel novel by H.G. Wells and the 1960 George Pal film by the same name, director Simon Wells offers this version that sacrifices story telling in favour of spectacular visual effects.

In attempt to build a love story at the heart of the film, the director sacrifices valuable screen time leading up to Alexander Hartdegen's (Guy Pearce) motivation to build the time machine. A blind alley, that eventually places Alexander in the far-flung future where the heart of the story unfolds with the Morlocks and Eloi in the remaining third of the film.

Comparisons are inevitable when you have a film that can site such lineage as noted above and its somewhat bewildering that director Simon Wells sacrifices such a good foundation in favour of this new take on the story. The H.G. Wells original tale was a parable on the nature of the class system in Europe and particularly Britain in the late 1800s where the Eloi (working class) were not supposed to question their place in society and to blindly accept their lot in life. George Pal's 1960 version of the film kept much of this story and infused it with a cautionary tale about the horrors of nuclear war. Simon Wells and his writer John Logan (Gladiator, Star Trek: Nemesis, Bats) chose to strip the film of its power and instead substitute an exploding moon as the catalyst for the time traveler's trip to the far future. During Alexander's fast-forward through the centuries following his creation of the time machine Director Well's puts to good use the special effects of the day to show the rapid pace of change in New York and the world. As Alexander stops in 2030 he encounters a public library computer portrayed by Orland Jones called VOX that is a repository of all human knowledge. In a sequence where Alexander asks the VOX unit about Time Travel, VOX replies with all fictional accounts, including H.G. Wells original and the George Pal film, and in a tongue-in-cheek reference cites an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical which Orlando begins to belt out a few bars of the main theme. While a thoughtful homage to H.G. Wells and time travel predecessors, the introduction of the VOX unit provides the film with a none-to-subtle method to explain the various plot points to the audience and Alexander. When the VOX unit and Alexander meet again 800,000 years in the future the exposition is laid on thick, presumably for the sake of dumbing-down the movie for what Hollywood perceives as none-to-bright audiences. It also serves to make-up for lost time that Wells has sacrificed in the first 2/3 of the film.

When Hartdegen arrives 800,000 years in the future his encounter with the Eloi and Morlock comes across as little more than an after thought. Director Simon Wells portrays the Eloi as the noble savages who are set upon by the ravenous Morlocks. In this version of the Time Machine, the Morlocks are in turn controlled by a separate caste of uber-Morlock that can manipulate minds. The Eloi blindly accepts Alexander into their society after a casual explanation by one of the Eloi who speaks near perfect English. Alexander seeks to understand their society and why they allow themselves to be preyed upon by the Morlock.

In George Pal's 1960 version of the movie, the Eloi were a mute, meek race of creatures that marched off to slaughter at the sound of the Morlock's sirens. This chilling display of subservience served to underscore H.G. Wells original parable that the Eloi (working classes) blindingly accepted their lot in life and didn't question it. In director Simon Wells version of the movie, the Eloi are aware of the Morlocks who hunt them yet they fail to defend themselves, instead they react like herd animals set upon by some predator. Unless it's the director's intention to portray the Eloi as some ultimate pacifists refusing to take up arms against a common threat the Eloi's behavior is bewildering. A tribe of monkeys would respond with a more coordinated defense to a common threat than the Eloi do here. I suspect the relationship of the Eloi and Morlock in this version of the Time Machine is meant more to manipulate the horror element of the movie and to try to create suspense where there is none than to underscore some moral.

In the end Alexander Hartdegen accepts this new society and chooses to live among them. Having sacrificed his obsession with time and machines, Alexander seemingly turns over a new leaf and wants to help build a new society. A cloyingly cliché ending where the HERO of the movie finds a new love and purpose in life, director Simon Wells again manages to sap the power of the original film. Whereas H.G. Wells nameless time traveler, feels compelled to intervene in the Eloi society to better it, he does so with altruistic motives.

Taken on its own The Time Machine (2002) fails to engage the audience in a meaningful way, sacrificing story and character for a weak attempt at creating an action movie with a tragic love story at its heart. Taken together with its literary and cinematic predecessors, The Time Machine (2002) fails to build on the strengths of its source material and instead strays off the beaten path only to become lost and confused.

While the Time Machine (2002) makes for a mindless evening of time travel entertainment, do yourself a favour and rent George Pal's classic Time Machine as a double bill and watch how a movie made more than 40 years ago, with limited special effects can outclass this version effortlessly in content and tone.

Review Posted 2001-09-19
Review Modified 2002-06-09

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