Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

Time Machine, The (2002)

Directed by Simon Wells. Written by John Logan, based on the novel by H.G. Wells. Photography, Donald McAlpine. Editing, Wayne Wahrman. Production design, Oliver Scholl. Music, Klaud Badelt. Producers, Walter F. Parkes, Oliver Scholl. Cast: Guy Pearce, Samantha Bumba, Jeremy Irons, Orlando Jones, Mark Addy, Sienna Guillory, et al. A Dream Works release, 96 minutes. Rated R.

The great-grandfather of science-fiction was the Frenchman Jules Verne (1828-1905). The grandfather was the Englishman Herbert George Wells (1866-1946). The latter's first novel "The Time Machine"(1895) was also a major success. H.G.Wells quickly became one of the most celebrated writers of the planet.

His books--many but not all sci-fi--provided the scripts for dozens of movies, several of them excellent --and very much worth seeing to this day: "The Invisible Man" (1933), "The Island of Lost Souls" (aka "The Island of Dr. Moreau") (1933) (remade in 1972, 1977 and 1996) , "Things to Come" (1936), "The War of the Worlds" (1953), "The Time Machine" (1960, directed by animator George Pal), "The Empire of the Ants" (1977), and much else.

Of the 1960 "The Time Machine" I once wrote, in part: "In the closing days of the 19th century, in London, tinkerer/scientific genius Rod Taylor invents a machine that can go into the fourth dimension, that is, backward and forward in time. The contraption,a beautiful Victorian gadget worthy of Jules Verne or Georges Melies, gives its passenger a view of Things to Come by transporting him to World War I, World War II, 1966 and well beyond that. The very distant future is much more downbeat than in "Things to Come" which had earlier been made into a very good film. The time there was a rather near-future, after an imaginary World War II. Instead of science providing a solution to mankind's ills, Taylor finds the Eloi, a passive race of bucolic blond youths whom the Master Race --the nasty, subterranean Morlocks --use for sustenance.

Some scenes may recall the Moloch machine of Fritz Lang's silent masterpiece, "Metropolis." This simplified, rather dated version of the book is still fairly endearing. Some of its special effects are quite sober and good, others --and the beastly, monstrous Morlocks-- are ludicrous.

The best of the lot of Time Machine films is a small gem, the 1979 fantasy "Time After Time" (1979 not based on the Wells book. Here, Wells himself (Malcolm McDowell) is the inventor of the super-gizmo. One of his friends turns out to be Jack the Ripper (David Warner). The latter steals the machine, is transported to contemporay San Francisco where Wells pursues him --and has a pure, lovely affair with local gal Mary Steenburgen.

That film had much wit and imagination. Still, the Pal production of the "Time Machine" was quite a pleasant, albeit innocuous movie."

This cannot be said for the current offering -- which is sad given that the director is Wells's great-grandson.

The setting on Earth has been moved from London to New York. In the closing year of the 19th Century, Alexander Hartdegen (Guy Pearce)is a University professor and a scientific genius who has invented the machine. He is most likeable (and, natch, absent-minded), he corresponds with a file clerk named Albert Einstein (the gag does not fit Einstein's chronology, but never mind!) The Professor has a girl-friend, Emma. She is played delightfully by little-known Sienna Guillory.

The movie's first part is quite appealing, what with a nicely staged Alex-Emma relationship. In addition there is the well-drawn, convincing rapport between Alex with his best friend, plus an economically sketched landlady --somewhat along the lines of Sherlock Holmes's landlady in many films.

Add to this a beautifully reconstructed and shot Manhattan, specifically Central Park under snow; a very early motor-car cleverly treated; and several more colorful details.

But then something happens (even torture will not make me reveal it) and Alex takes off, in his dazzling, blinking, colorful machine, for the past and then the future. In the year 800.000-plus he lands in an awful place that used to be New York. Its population is that of the pathetic, sweet Eloi, and the monstrous, beastly Morlocks who feed on the Eloi.

The Morlocks' dictator is Jeremy Irons. He does not look like the others, is all tarted up as a sort of human, and is wasted in this picture!

The "future" part of the flick is jumbo-sized mumbo-jumbo. The least said about it the better. I must withhold descriptions so that you might -- perhaps-- find a couple of saving graces. My two-star rating is an average of three stars for Part One and one star for Part Two.

I saw this film mostly because I am both a fan of H.G. Wells, and a Morlock. I mean that some years ago, in Paris (France), those of us who were in the circle of a filmmaker friend, also an admirer of Wells, were called Morlocks.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel