The Time Machine

When did we come to this? H.G. Wells The Time Machine was a landmark for science fiction. George Pal’s 1960 movie version was a landmark in science fiction filmmaking. Now, H.G. Wells descendent has somehow managed to undo all that with a single film. Who needs a time machine?

This Time Machine stars the recently prolific Guy Pearce as Alexander Hartdegen, turn of the 20th century professor, and genius inventor. When his life is struck with tragedy, Hartdegen builds a time machine, and uses it to travel to the future to discover a way to change the past. When he arrives, 800,000 years forward, he finds civilization in shambles.

Should my grandson ever direct a film remake of my masterwork, I pray that he does a better job than Simon Wells. It’s not that The Time Machine is a disaster; it’s just that it is totally irrelevant. Simon’s grandpa hand something important to say in his stunning tale of a man lost in time. H.G. Wells created a masterwork of science fiction and literary achievement. Simon Wells created a totally innocuous, poorly acted, and mostly meaningless piece of box-office fodder.

I can’t call it light, fluffy, movie-going fun, that’s giving it way to much credit. Even the most mindless bit of entertainment ought to make SOME effort to cover up its most obvious plot holes. Simon Wells’ Time Machine doesn’t even bother. Alexander seems to forget that he has a TIME MACHINE, and frequently resorts to the idiotic use of fisticuffs and explosives, instead of putting to work the very machine that transports him.

Yet Alex meanders on through his idiotic journey, driven by the pain he feels over the loss of his beloved fiancé’… who he conveniently seems to forget the first time a hot, but poorly dressed native girl, waltzes by 8,000 centuries into the future. Fortunately, though everyone else around him speaks a strange futuristic tongue, said hot native girl (Samantha Mumba) speaks English, having learned it by reading carved stone inscriptions from ancient New York. How she learned to pronounce the words perfectly without ever having heard them, only adds to the alluring mystery of her slightly dim-witted character (sarcasm folks, look it up).

But never fear, Alex sets to work saving the apparently hot native girl and her people, the Eloi, from attack by evil underground monsters, the Morlocks. In the future, Jeremy Irons has become the Morlock king, and developed a taste for Marilyn Manson’s wardrobe. With his newfound psychic powers, he reads Alexander’s very thoughts… except when Alexander is thinking of killing him, then he’s suddenly far to busy thinking about tea.

However, if nothing else, Simon Wells’ movie has at least accomplished one thing: This version has managed to come up with the single WORST use for a time machine in the history of science fiction. Seeing is believing. You’ll find no spoilers here, even if the film deserves it.

At least the machine itself is quite well constructed. Of course, the very idea behind a steam powered time machine is a bit absurd to begin with, but it’s certainly fun to look at; whirring and chugging away like some cappuccino maker gone horribly awry. And though everyone else in the film seemed to wander around lost, thankfully Guy Pearce had the good sense to stand tall and bring a little life to his scenes. True, we never really get a good handle on his character, but what life there is in Alexander, Pearce fills out admirably.

Actually, there are even a few times where The Time Machine is almost fun. I even found moments where I got into it a bit, and rooted for the good guys. It’s really rather hypnotic and exciting, just to watch Pearce galloping through time on his crazy contraption. Most of the film’s best moments were FX generated, with little bits of bearable reality down in the cracks between.

Look, I don’t care a whit whether or not Simon Wells has made a faithful adaptation. If you’re interested, he hasn’t. But couldn’t he at least have given us a DECENT movie in its own right? I’d even have settled for fun, mindless fluff, if he isn’t capable of dishing out the hearty goodness of his predecessors. Short of that, how about doing something INTERESTING with that camera as long as he was going to shoot the damn thing anyway? I’ve never seen such a collection of bland, boring camera angles. If any movie demanded a little bit of old fashioned creativity Simon, it was this one.

The Time Machine just feels limp. Listless. Bland. A movie about time travel should feel grand, epoch, exciting. This one has none of that. Actually I’m not sure what it does have. Pearce’s character does a lot of traveling, but he never seems to really go anywhere. We never understand him, we never even get the chance to buy into who he is or what he is doing. Sometimes it almost seems like parts of the movie are missing, though I certainly couldn’t tell you where they are. When it’s not being stilted, the movie is ridiculous, when it tries to be smart it only ends up seeming empty.

It almost hurts to say it, but Simon should be thankful his great grand-pappy really didn’t build a time machine. If H.G. somehow ended up here, I have a feeling he and Simon might have a heart to heart "talk" out back behind the woodshed.