The Time Machine
Simon Wells, USA, 2002
Had H.G. Wells lived to see what great-grandson Simon has done with his
popular novel, he might never have penned it in the first place. Wells'
commentary on the perils of capitalistic exploitation of the working class
gets dumbed down to a near-Neanderthal level in this big screen retelling of
his classic The Time Machine, which is too taciturn to rival the
campy fun evident in George Pal's 1960 screen version.
An appealing Guy Pearce plays Alexander Hartdegen, an absent-minded
professor/scientist at the turn of the 20th century, who is driven to build
a time machine after his fiancée, Emma (an underused Sienna Guillory), is
tragically slain. Fast-forward four years and Hartdegen has completed the
steam-and-gear-powered contraption that will allow him to go back and
prevent her death. Alas, saving his ladylove from one fate will not prevent
another from befalling her.
Convinced the future holds the key to altering the past, Hartdegen bolts forward to 2030 New York where he encounters an
all-knowing animated computer, Vox (a reasonably restrained Orlando Jones),
and then watches in horror as the moon breaks apart and falls towards the
Earth. Knocked out during the cataclysm, Hartdegen unwittingly hurtles
800,000 years further into the future.
Unfortunately, our time-hopping hero
still hasn't traveled far enough for the answers he seeks, but he does
encounter the peaceful, low tech Eloi, whose sweetness is embodied by the
kindly Mara (Samantha Mumba) and counterbalanced by the Morlocks, a race of
brutish underground dwellers led by an albino Jeremy Irons. Following a
predictable course, Hartdegen has his showdown with Irons, and is forced to
decide where/when in time he truly belongs.
Screenwriter John Logan clearly felt a debt to Wells. But by inserting
substantially more plot than H.G. had in the book (e.g., naming the
traveler; providing him with a love interest), Logan diminishes the overall impact of
the original. The book's appeal lay in the strange wonder of the traveler's
adventures, exploring the bizarre alterations the world underwent over time. Logan makes things too understandable, as if plunging nearly
a million years into the future were no different than skipping down the
street to the corner grocer.
Technically, the transitions Hartdegen observes while zipping across
millennia resemble the terra-forming and urban planning in the popular Sim
City computer games. While interesting to look at, these effects seem oddly
artificial; one can almost imagine the electronic wire-frame beneath,
dictating where each rapidly morphing pixel needs to be drawn.
Great-grandson Simon misses an opportunity to confront the issues of
industrialized growth and labor abuses that so concerned his famous
relation, especially in light of the current World Trade Organization
protests and attempts to cancel Third World debt. The Time Machine
could be forgiven lacking a social agenda if it actually managed to be an
entertaining film. As it stands, the movie neither enlightens nor enthralls,
merely going through the motions -- and not very skillful ones at that.
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