The Time Machine

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner28/05/2002

Three out of five stars
Running time: 95 mins

By an astonishing, promotion-friendly coincidence, The Time Machine is directed by H.G. Wells’ great-grandson Simon Wells.

With this in mind, you’d have thought that they would have been a bit more faithful to the original novel, but sadly, all evidence of worthwhile social comment has been dumped, in favour of a more emotionally manipulative beginning and a vision of the future that is a lot less allegorical.

Happily, however, the effects are superb and the scary moments genuinely nasty (if perhaps too scary for its PG rating), meaning that The Time Machine remains an enjoyable blockbuster, even if its more intellectual potential has been diluted.

The Plot

Guy Pearce stars as Professor Alex Hartdegen, an inventor in turn-of-the-century New York, who is dismissed by his friends as a crackpot. When his fiancée is murdered by a mugger in Central Park, Alex is driven to put his time-travel theories into practice and he builds a time machine.

However, having saved his fiancée from the mugger, he is unable to prevent her dying a ‘second’ time and instead he catapults himself into the future in search of some answers to the ultimate questions of Life, The Universe and Everything.

The Time Machine’s cleverest moments occur when he visits a future that is not too far away from our own, complete with Orlando Jones as the all-knowing ‘librarian’, who informs us that, as well as the 1960 George Pal movie (referenced in the shape of the time machine itself), The Time Machine was also made into a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber (“There’s a day, called to-mor-rowww!”).

Sadly, Alex spends less than ten minutes in this future, before speeding forward to the year 802,701 and encountering the twin societies of the tree-hugging Eloi and the subterranean Very Scary Morlocks of the original novel.

Wells Snr. vs Wells Jnr.

Apart from the addition of Alex’s personal tragedy as ‘motivation’ for his time travelling, the main change to the novel revolves around the Eloi / Morlock society. Where Wells (and to a lesser extent, the 1960 film) were concerned with metaphors about class, this version opts for a straightforward ‘Morlocks bad, Eloi good’ approach.

On the plus side, the Morlocks are genuinely terrifying - a vast improvement on the smurfs-with-60s-hairdos of Pal’s classic. If anything, the Morlocks are too scary for a PG rating – if you’re planning on taking children, be prepared for possible Morlock-induced nightmares.

The effects are also impressive on the machine (and the speeding up of time) itself, and there’s another pleasing nod to the 1960 film in the shot of the changing fashions in the shop window opposite Alex’s lab.

The Acting

The performances are average, with supporting players Jones and Mark Addy (as Alex’s best friend) coming off best. Pearce is a little too earnest and humourless and co-star Samantha Mumba struggles to subdue her Irish accent, though they are both eclipsed in the jaw-dropping performance stakes when Jeremy Irons’ Big Chief Warlock turns up.

In short, though there are plot-holes galore, The Time Machine is a reasonably entertaining blockbuster in the ‘don’t think about it too much’ mould. It’s worth noting though, that the original movie still stands up and is worth checking out – by another astonishing promotional coincidence, Warners have just re-released it on DVD.

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The Time Machine
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Content updated: 28/02/2020 03:38

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