The Time Machine

on March 08, 2002 by Michael Tunison
   No work of science fiction has had a bigger or more lasting influence than H.G. Wells' 1895 novel “The Time Machine,” the granddaddy of modern time travel stories and the springboard for a century's worth of movies, TV and pop fiction in the genre. This new version directed by Simon Wells, the author's great-grandson, is neither the most creative nor the most intellectually stimulating of the countless variations of the concept brought to the screen, but it does manage to successfully update the venerable original story for audiences with tastes far different from Wells' Victorian-era readers'.

   While it borrows many elements directly from George Pal's classic 1960 film adaptation, the new “Time Machine” also introduces its own fresh twists to the material -- most importantly by recasting Wells' English scientist hero as a turn-of-the-20th-century New Yorker (“Memento's” Guy Pearce) driven to build a time travel device after the woman he loves is killed by an early Central Park mugger. The protagonist succeeds in getting his machine to work, but his attempt to use it to alter his beloved's fate takes an unforeseen turn that eventually leads him 800,000 years into the future. Here he finds himself caught up in a struggle between two distant offshoots of humankind, the passive Eloi and the fierce, subterranean Morlocks.

   As the film shifts from time-jumping romance to all-out action-adventure in the second half, elements such as lightning-fast, leaping CGI Morlocks give it a significant technological edge over Pal's equally Hollywood-ized version, and the scenes in which the nasty creatures go on an Eloi hunt or chase the hero through underground tunnels generate the requisite number of jolts. The melodramatic twists take a turn for the silly when Jeremy Irons arrives as a mind-reading albino uber-Morlock, but with the gifted Pearce on hand to keep things on semi-stable ground dramatically, this retooled “Machine” is ultimately effective enough at achieving the modest, crowd-pleasing goals it sets for itself. Starring Guy Pearce, Samantha Mumba, Mark Addy, Phylidda Law, Orlando Jones and Jeremy Irons. Directed by Simon Wells. Written by John Logan. Produced by Walter F. Parkes and David Valdes. A DreamWorks release. Science fiction. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence. Running time: 95 min

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