THE TIME MACHINE (2002)
Director: Simon Wells
Cast: Guy Pearce, Samantha Mumba, Orlando Jones, Mark Addy, Phyllida Law, Omero Mumba, Jeremy Irons
MPAA Rating: (for intense sequences of action violence)
Running Time: 1:35
Release Date: 3/8/02
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Review by Mark Dujsik
Time travel movies give me a headache. Not because I canít figure out the theoretical concepts or physics of time travel, but because such a movie almost always finds a way to contradict logic. The best way to go about making a movie containing time travel is to establish a few rules of how it works and what you can and cannot do, and then donít go against them. The problem with a movie like The Time Machine is that there are no rules. The movie simply meanders along, making things up as it goes, and it shows. The point of the movie isnít to try to rationalize time travel, of course, but to provide a simple matinee-adventure style science-fiction entertainment. The only problem is that the science is so slight and the fiction so rushed, the entertainment only comes from the scenes that involve neither of these elements, and they are quite few and far between.
Alexander Hartdegen (Guy Pearce) is a teacher and a scientist who goes against the grain. He works late and believes in the work of loonies like Albert Einstein. After work one night, he finally proposes to his beloved Emma (Sienna Guillory), but in a cruel twist of fate, a man robs the two and shoots Emma in a scuffle that arises when she refuses to give up her ring. Cut to four years in the future (Isnít it always four years?), where Alexander still works late and now ignores his friends and colleagues to build a time machine. Once completed, he hops in and takes a ride back to the night his fiancťe was killed. Despite his best efforts she dies again in a scene of unintentionally funny irony and poor dramatic timing. Dumbstruck by this repeated cruel twist of fate, Alexander heads some thousand years into the future to try and discover why he cannot change the past. Needless to say, it wonít be his last stop, and mankindís destruction of the moon secures his traveling another 800,000 years in the future where two races play hunter/hunted.
Some huge questions are left open by the movieís presentation of time travel. The movie has a strong visual representation where Alexander sits in the machine and watches time go by him or him travel really quickly through time. Itís never actually explained how it works in any way, shape, or form. In one scene, we notice that the machine appears out of nowhere, so it must have no physical presence as it goes through time or time goes by it. But until this point, it seems that the machine must have some sort of presence, because people build completely around the area occupied by it (Planes somehow fly at normal speed, though). An entire metropolis is erected around it. The special effects in the time travel sequences are well done. The machine slowly speeds up, so we go from seconds ticking faster to days and nights turning into a strobe effect to seasons changing and eventually to continents drifting. Itís quite clear that the filmmakers were more concerned with how the time travel in the movie looks than how it works.
A large part of the confusion comes form the rushed and skimpy storytelling. The entire process of Alexander building the machine is left out, and any explanation from its creator as to how it works is absent. The screenplay assumes that we know whatís going to happen already and just cuts to the chase. Small flashes of inspiration appear on the screenólike the destruction of the moon and its possible repercussionsóbut they are simply passed over to keep the story moving. Once Alexander reaches his insanely futuristic destination, the movie kicks into adventure mode and provides a few pleasant thrills here and there (I especially liked the central hunting sequence), but they are hardly enough to overshadow its more severe flaws. Pearce is up to par as an intellectual hero, but he seriously needs to seek out more challenging work. Jeremy Irons has a brief appearance as one of the more strangely named characters in movie history: ‹ber-Morlock.
The movieís science just grows more and more frustrating until one climactic, inexplicably stupefying action that seems perfectly logical to the character who initiates it but which is never given a much-needed explanation. It hardly matters, though, because the movie itself is a paradox. At one point an informational computer which presents itself in the form of Orlando Jones (a device which is a mystery in itself: it cannot recognize an historical figure standing right in front of it but is capable of emotions) mentions H.G. Wellsí novel The Time Machine. This presents an entirely new level to the movie, because the world of the movie itself admits that it is a fictional creation, meaning that everything that happens is fiction although to the characters it would be real, but not really, because they would realize itís fiction... Or something to that extent.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.