The Time Machine

How ironic that a film dealing with a man who literally has nothing but time on his hand end up feeling abridged. That’s just one of the problems with the update of H.G. Wells “The Time Machine,” a grin and bear it remake of George Pal’s far superior 1960 film.

Time has been extremely good to Pal’s vision of Welles’ classic novel about class distinction in turn of the century London. Sure, some of the special and make-up effects seem corny by today’s standards, but the film remains rousing Saturday afternoon entertainment.

You can’t say the same thing for director Simon Wells reworking of his great-grandfather’s novel. Trapped within the confines of John Logan’s miscalculated screenplay, Wells has created a film that’s just a ghost of the original. Using state of the art digital effects, Wells bombards us with one dazzling display of computer keystroke after another. After awhile, the luster wears off and all you’re left with is a film that’s both mindless and mind numbing.

Wells and Logan have tinkered with the story so much that it hardly bears any resemblance to the 1960 film and novel. Instead of turn-of-the-century London, the film is set in New York. The purpose of the time machine isn’t the byproduct of one man’s insatiable curiosity, but of his grief.

That man is Alexander Hartdegen (Guy Pearce), a first year associate professor at Columbia University, who is about to propose to his girlfriend Emma (Sienna Guillory ). Alas, poor Emma is killed by a mugger. Overcome with grief, Hartdegen pours all of his time and knowledge into building a time machine, which he hopes to take back in time and save Emma.

Noble idea, but Alexander quickly learns that he can’t change the past. In order to better understand his invention its capabilities, Hartdegen travels into the future. First stop is 2030, where he encounters a New York Library directory hologram named Vox (Orlando Jones), who is a wealth of information.

Another stop ends in disaster when over colonization of the moon causes it to break apart, raining massive debris on the Earth. Unconscious and spiraling forward in time, Hartdegen eventually awakens to find himself in the year 802,701. Civilization has split up into two groups: Eloi, a meek and peaceful people, and Morlocks, predators who live underground and feast on Eloi.

Logan turns Wells’ social commentary into a horror movie, squeezing any resemblance of wonder and awe out of it. What remains is a story that borrows from but doesn’t improve on its source material. If you eliminate the story’s sense of discovery, what’s left?

In Pal’s 1960 film, after being encased in a mountain for hundreds of thousands of years, Rod Taylor’s George Wells (the author) arrives in a tropical paradise resembling Eden. Except for one Eloi named Weena (Yvette Mimieux), who learned English from a series of talking gold rings (a futuristic data device), Wells was on his own.

He was a stranger in a strange land, and had to fill in all of the blanks himself. Everything was trial by fire, and that was what made his journey so fantastic.

In Logan’s script, Weena (now named Mara and played by Samantha Mumba) speaks, but so does the leader of the Morlocks, played by Jeremy Irons. Even that pesky Vox shows up to help Hartdegen make sense of his dilemma.

The filmmakers have totally gutted the heart and soul out of Well’s story and turned it into a generic mess. A lot of time and money has obviously been spent creating the fantastic worlds that Hartdegen visits, but they’re nothing more than set pieces. They only exist to disguise the fact that the dialogue and characters aren’t as special.

Guy Pearce is so good at playing tortured souls that I had a hard time believing him as the hero. He’s fine during the film’s first moments, as Hartdegen struggles with Emma’s death. He’s less effective cutting a swath through the film’s action scenes, where Pearce seems like an odd choice to save the day.

Under tons of Marilyn Manson make-up, Jeremy Irons is a real hoot as the uber-Morlock, while Orlando Jones understands the limitations of his role and tries not to be so transparent. Mumba is lovely to look at, but she’s nothing more than window undressing saddled with unbearable task of dispensing story exposition.

Mark Addy in on board as Hartdegen’s friend Philby, who was played in the 1960 film by Alan Young, who makes a cameo as a florist. Aside from Young, Wells “The Time Machine” makes numerous homages to the Pal film. The time-lapse photography that gave us a history lesson in fashion is still intact, but gone are the numerous pit-stops that made the original film so relevant.

Since Logan has set “The Time Machine” in New York instead of London, gone are the references to World War I and II. Armageddon has been replaced by the moon collapsing. Not only do the Morlocks eat the Eloi, they also mate with them. Gold rings become holograms. Logan’s incessant need to update the story doesn’t make it better.

Behind the camera, Wells doesn’t do the cast many favors. He seems overwhelmed by the enormity of the project, just trying to get it all on film without giving it much thought or soul. It’s what you see is what you get filmmaking at it’s most mundane. Wells comes from animation, and his sense of style is truly epic, but it’s not enough to sustain an entire film. We are rarely given an opportunity to connect with the characters, and even then, it’s never long enough to create a bond. When the Morlocks come calling, we could care less that these folks are going to end up as a happy meal. Would you like fries with that?


GHOSTS IN THE MACHINETime is fleeting in remake of Welles Sci-fi classicTHE TIME MACHINE

Guy Pearce, Samantha Mumba, Jeremy Irons, Mark Addy, Sienna Guillory, Orlando Jones, Phyllida Law. Directed by Simon Wells. Rated PG-13. 96 Minutes.


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