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TIME MACHINE, THE (director: Simon Wells; screenwriters: John Logan, based on the novel by H. G. Wells; cinematographer: Donald M. McAlpine; editor: Wayne Wahrman; music: Klaus Badelt; cast: Guy Pearce (Alexander Hartdegen), Samantha Mumba (Mara), Jeremy Irons (Über-Morlock), Orlando Jones (Vox), Mark Addy (David Philby), Sienna Guillory (Emma), Phyllida Law (Mrs. Watchit), Omero Mumba (Kalen), Alan Young (Flower Store Worker); Runtime: 96; DreamWorks Pictures; 2001-Australia)
They dwell in pods affixed to mountains, which they get to by climbing up high rope ladders (New Yorkers always seem to find the oddest places to dwell).

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

“The Time Machine” is an unaffecting telling of the H.G. Wells novel from 1895. There’s some fun to be had in its second half, which reminds me of an old-fashioned clean as a whistle adventure/romance story. The film takes place in Manhattan instead of London. It stars Guy Pearce as the brilliant young mathematician and Columbia professor, Alexander Hartdegen, who hopes to use the unknown patent clerk Einstein’s early science theories to build a time machine. Alex is in love with the beautiful blonde Emma (Sienna Guillory) but on the very night when he proposes marriage in Central Park a mugger kills her, and he plans for the next four years to travel back in time in his new machine and alter history. His close friend David Philby sighs with disapproval that his eccentric and curious mate can’t stop feeling sorry for himself and get out more to socialize. Alex’s fusspot loyal housekeeper, Mrs. Watchit, agrees with Philby. She will later wonder when her master disappears, what became of that silly lad.

At least, this sci-fi film is more devilish than the 1960 George Pal version. The director Simon Wells is the great-grandson of H.G. and is recognized for his animation work. He keeps things moving by being silly when the story finally gets rolling and does a nice job using computer-graphics for the film’s visual effects. As for John Logan’s script, it never seems to evoke emotion from the characters and allows the film to fall prey as a mostly visual effects film.

Attractive pop singer Samantha Mumba, who is part Irish and Zambian, plays the Eloi heroine Mara the star will fall in love with; while her young brother Omero Mumba plays Kalen. He’s her son in the film.

The time machine is made up of whirling spheres enclosing a Victorian club chair. Golden brass gauges spin to record the current date. A joystick controls speed and direction. The time machine is also uniquely designed so that it will always land near Times Square. There Alex gets out of his shiny golden contraption in the years 2030 and 2037 and no one stares, except for him gaping at the incredulous NYC of the near future. Not much of a fantasy so far, and he can’t change things that happened in the past. But that changes on his next trip 800,000 years into the distant future.

Alex lands again in the same NYC place, but it is devastated because the moon fell off the earth. The pacifist jungle-clad Eloi — the evolution of the new homo sapiens — are tan-skinned in complexion due to years of racial mixing. They dwell in pods affixed to mountains, which they get to by climbing up high rope ladders (New Yorkers always seem to find the oddest places to dwell). The Eloi suffer as prey to the giant cannibalistic monsters called Morlocks, led by the Über-Morlock (Jeremy Irons), who come up from the underground to hunt them down for food. Alex fights back when his love interest Mara is kidnapped by them and taken to their underground fortress, where she’s imprisoned for breeding purposes.

Irons gives the film some flashes of life as he plays the über- creature with some despotic panache. Other than his lively villain, this film offers no other appealing performances. But there’s a cute bit about a holographic figure played by Orlando Jones. He is a fountain of information–viewed as “a compendium of all human knowledge” in the 2030 library — a bouquet thrown to the merits of artificial intelligence. But this flick is sanitized without keeping intact Wells’ warning to the gods of science that they don’t have all the answers or his socialist messages to the capitalists about the unequal society they have created.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”