*/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B-
starring Guy Pearce, Jeremy Irons, Philip Bosco, Phyllida Law
screenplay by David Duncan and John Logan, based on the novel by H.G. Wells
directed by Simon Wells
by Walter Chaw A cacophonous mess of misguided revisionism and misplaced emphasis, Simon Wells's (and an uncredited Gore Verbinski's) updating of H.G. Wells's poli-sci-fi schlock masterpiece The Time Machine is a miasmic disaster, a sinkhole of shrug-worthy special effects, matte paintings, relentless music, and dangling plotlines and motivations. It isn't that The Time Machine is incoherent; it's that the film aspires after several rewrites to one day become incoherent. Not even the best efforts of the always-excellent Guy Pearce can save what is in essence a pathetic cutting-room attempt to wrest the movie back from the abyss of a director suffering a nervous breakdown with eighteen days to go in the shooting schedule and a governing philosophy that believes Orlando Jones would make a good HAL-9000.
Professor Alexander Hartdegen (Pearce) is of the absent-minded variety: an addle-brained physics savant stinking of chalk and social retardation in turn-of-the-century New York. When his decorative fiancée Emma (Sienna Guillory) is murdered during a very polite mugging, Alexander spends four years working on a time machine to fix things. In an unintentionally funny vignette, we see that poor Emma is doomed one way or another, sending Alexander off into the distant future to discover the answer to the maundering question, "Why can't I change the past?" After a brief stop in 2030, where Alexander has a whimsical conversation with a bitchy computer at the New York Public Library (Jones), he falls asleep at the wheel and wakes up in a noble-savage commune eight-hundred-thousand years into the future.
The central problem with The Time Machine is that it swiftly abandons Alexander's heartsick musing in favour of hyper-edited action sequences, a score redolent with insipid tribal choral mumsing, and more time-lapse effects than a Windows XP commercial. An arrested, academic hermit in his previous life, Alexander, zapped into the impossibly distant future, suddenly becomes a swashbuckling Allan Quatermain, wooing native single mom Mara (Samantha Mumba) and her adorable Road Warrior moppet, Kalen (Omero Mumba, Samantha's real-life younger brother). Discovering that humanity has undergone an evolutionary split between the peace-loving Eloi and the CHUD Morlocks (led by a telepathic über-Morlock played by poor Jeremy Irons) who harvest the Eloi for food, Alexander resolves that he can't change the past because he's destined to change the future. Or something.
The Time Machine floats for awhile on Pearce's "gee golly shucks" comic book nerd, milking a little Mr. Burns-esque humour in his labelling of a "protonic" computer "some sort of stereopticon." By the thirty-minute mark, though, right around the point Alexander goes time-hopping, he's completely consumed by the excesses of the great beast "blockbuster." David Duncan and John Logan's screenplay adaptation discards Wells's social commentary in favour of a more conventional attack on the Industrial Revolution, but the question arises as to what, exactly, the Morlocks are manufacturing in their subterranean Bosche-scape. By all appearances, the only product of the Morlocks' labour is fire and smoke--even their weapons are impotent wood blowdarts that serve mainly to tag the panic-stricken Eloi. The film is a slave to its set design and F/X work, and neither is particularly fantastic.
More constructive than detailing the ways in which the mercifully short The Time Machine fails as both a Swiftian satire and a conventional narrative is to mention the stench of desperation that informs the climactic fisticuffs and unforgivable conclusion. When you can say without irony that Orlando Jones is the best thing about your film--and that he's underused at that--you have a special kind of boondoggle on your hands. Originally published: March 8, 2002.
by Bill Chambers The Time Machine arrives on DVD from DreamWorks with loads of extras, some quite underwhelming. The disc features a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer lacking in shadow detail but otherwise fine. The clear DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound options are also imperfect, wanting for low bass and split-surround information in scenes not involving The Time Machine in motion. Contary to DVD FILE's claim (what else is new?), the participation of Gore Verbinski is addressed among the disc's supplementary material--it's hardly a "rumour" but a fact that producer David Valdes, effects supervisor Jamie Price, and production designer Oliver Scholl do not shy away from in their commentary once Jeremy Irons appears on screen, taking the time to elaborate on how the film's climax changed from director Wells's original plans for it. Wells and editor Wayne Wahrman chime in on an additional track, only their discussion is far drier and revealing of greater attention paid during the production to the visualizing of the screenplay than to the screenplay itself.
Three featurettes can be found under "Behind the Scenes." In "Creating the Morlocks" (6 mins.), Irons speaks earnestly about his character and we pop into Stan Winston's studio, where we discover that the Morlocks are a combination of animatronics and rubber suits. "Building The Time Machine" (6 mins.) tells us that the titular 4000lb. prop took a year to construct; "Visual Effects by Digital Domain" (4 mins.) expands on the previous to show how The Time Machine came to life inside a computer; and someone, maybe Jamie Price, narrates F/X montages for the "Time Machine & Greenhouse," "Carriage House," "Geological Formations," "Morlocks," "Uber-Morlock," and "Into the Future" sequences. A lengthy deleted scene regarding a miniature "solar-powered windmill," a 52-second video rehearsal of the über-Morlock fist-fight between stand-ins, an eight-part "Conceptual Design Gallery" absent of any text explanations for the various sketches and paintings, teaser, theatrical, and international trailers for The Time Machine, cast and filmmaker bios, and production notes round out the DVD. Originally published: July 30, 2002.