Retro Review: The Time Machine

The question of time travel has always electrified the curiosity within man’s mind. Where would we journey? Who would we like to meet? Would we change part of our own past so that we could have a better life now? And if so, can we?

When legendary science-fiction writer H.G. Wells wrote his famous novel “The Time Machine” in the late 1800s, he became one of the first writers to bring these questions to the masses. Wells’ reluctant hero in the novel, Professor Alexander Hartdegen (played by Guy Pearce in the new film) is plagued by one of the questions above. Alex’s poor dilemma and journey begins when Alex tries to answer the question, “Can we change time and if not, why?”

Professor, inventor and teacher Alexander Hartdegen is on the verge of a blissful life. Alex has a beautiful fiancée, Emma (Sienna Guillory), a wealthy mansion and a career few men can aspire to. On one fateful evening and in the blink of an eye, Alex loses all he holds close to his heart. The tragedy sends Alex into a tailspin that brings him to spend countless hours working on an unsolvable problem. Alex eventually overcomes the problem and builds himself a vehicle which will take him back in time to prevent the horrific event in his past from happening. To Alex’s dismay he can’t change that event and is further frustrated to why he can’t.

top, Rod Taylor and Guy Pearce.

Alex decides that there has to be a point in the future where man has answered and solved his dilemma. Alex shifts the lever and sends his machine on a whirlwind tour through humanity’s future. Alex’s journey echoes what it would be like if “Father Time” had a TV remote and hit the fast-forward button. Stopping some 800,000 years from our future, Alex discovers the second evolution of man and finds a new cause in which he can be passionate about.

This version of the classic H.G. Wells novel is a lot different than the famous George Pal version of 1960 which starred Rod Taylor as Hartdegen. This version is a lot flashier and goes for the fun buried within the story. This film isn’t for the cerebral science-fiction fan but for the fans of the “popcorn-science fiction” films. Huge crowd-pleasers like “Independence Day“, “Stargate” and “Armageddon” are perfect examples of popcorn-sci-fi.

Director Simon Wells (great-grandson of the novel’s author H.G. Wells) sends his audience through a whirlwind of journey before his story slows down in the far distant future. The whirlwind in the front of the film which involves two minor pit stops really bugged me. The film seemed to be in such a hurry to get to where it was going. Why not let Hartdegen get out and explore some of these other places in time? The film needed to expand on Hartdegen’s quest during his journey to the future. Time travel is supposed to be fun and adventurous. So why didn’t they explore that?

I loved Hartdegen’s scenes with Orlando Jones’s cocky computer persona. These are priceless in this film. Jones’s is such a scene stealer and it’s his presence in this film that makes the duller moments a lot of fun.

The showcase performance in this piece is the eerie white-skinned Jeremy Irons as the twisted leader of cavernous and cannibalistic Morlocks. Jeremy Irons is captivating as the insane cave-dweller. His performance and presence reminded me a lot of how mean and evil Jaye Davidson was as Ra in “Stargate”. Both Irons and Davidson had very little screen time to work with but were able to bring forth unforgettable villainous performances.

I love “time-travel” films and television. My favorite of the films is the “Back to the Future Trilogy” because I connected with those films when they first came out. I could never put my finger on why those were so influential to so many. After seeing “Time Machine”, I have an idea. The Back to the Future films had heart and fleshed out the quest and mission of its characters. The film never really gives Hartdegen any sort of passion or drive which is needed for this character’s desperation. Hartdegen and his journey needed to be fleshed out more to make this the film what it should have been.

Academy Award winning makeup artist Stan Winston does a marvelous job with the film’s Morlocks. Except with some slight eye problems, Winston’s Morlocks are very impressive. There is a scene that so closely resembles “Planet of the Apes” that it’s very scary. Another impressive aspect was the amazing time machine itself. It is amazing how literally translated it was from the novel.

The debut of UK pop sensation Samantha Mumba didn’t do much for me. She plays as a scantily clad native girl and that was about all she needed for the role. It really isn’t a break-out role. Nuff said!

I really enjoyed the escapism and kinetic energy housed within “Time Machine”. It’s purely escapism fun. A lot like the Tim Burton’s revisualization of “Planet of the Apes“, Simon Wells has re-envisioned the classic novel.

3.5 out of 5

So Says the Soothsayer.

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