The Time Machine (2002)

Directed by Simon Wells

This version of The Time Machine has not been met with wild enthusiasm.

It’s partly the result of not being a great film (though I think, on its own terms, it is better than some would have us believe) and partly, I think, because some would have it be a pretty literal copy of George Pal’s earlier version but with better and more elaborate special effects.

Unlike the earlier version (1960), the most recent take on The Time Machine is more cinematic. It throws away the first person narrative technique (and with it the voice overs) and attempts to show the story rather than tell it.

Thus, it is more story and character driven, faster paced, and frankly, interesting.

The downside is it doesn’t do it particularly well. Where the first film relied on stage clichés and stereotypes (many provided by the Wells novel), this version relies on movie clichés. For example, the opening scenes which create something completely new (not in the 1960 version) and which provide the catalyst for the time machine story. It’s good that they got rid of the social critic aspects (see review of 1960 version) but unfortunately they’ve replaced it with a love story that they give up on halfway through the film, preferring at that point the love story from the original film.

These opening scenes are made more difficult by the performance of Guy Pearce. He simply doesn’t do an absent-minded innocent very well. Once his character’s innocence is shattered, Pearce is excellent as the driven, focused man who travels through time. But if this film is any indication, he’s a great actor only when his characters are darned serious and his brow can furrow. In the earlier scenes of this movie, his attempts at a slightly comic, likeable young man are very strained and simply don’t work. It’s almost as if he is trying too hard.

Other than this, the film moves quickly and well although there’s nothing new here. There are numerous continuity issues in the film which we generally allow because we take the film for what it is – not science fiction but fantasy of the Hollywood, entertainment variety. (Though I must say of both films, the idea of people 800,000 years in the future being able to speak English, or of a computer program surviving that long, strains even the most charitable person’s credulity.)

As a whole, however, the film is entertaining. It’s special effects fluff, the sort you turn your brain off for. As such, it generally works. In fact, it strikes me that this is probably closer to what Tim Burton’s version of Planet of the Apes was supposed to be but didn’t accomplish.

As for the DVD, the quality is excellent and the special features are good though not particularly revelatory.

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