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The Time Machine (2002)
Directors: Simon Wells (and Gore Verbinski)

review by Gary Couzens

First published in 1895, H.G. Wells' novella is one of the founding texts of modern science fiction. A film version was inevitable once special effects were up to the task - indeed, those in George Pal's 1960 version won an Oscar. That 1960 version became a favourite of school-age SF fans thanks to frequent showings on teatime television. Watching it again in my thirties, I found it still has a lot of charm, particularly in the early scenes set in Victorian London. Once the film reaches the far future, and the battles between the Eloi (early 1960s flower children) and the brutish Morlocks, it gets duller. Neither that film, nor the present remake, filmed Wells' bleak ending: travelling further ahead still, the time traveller witnesses an Earth devoid of all life, save some crabs scuttling across a beach.
   This time round, our hero Alexander Hartdegen (Guy Pearce) is a 1900 New Yorker instead of a Londoner. When the lead actor is Australian (as was the 1960 version's lead, Rod Taylor), this shift of locale seems pointless, and a British supporting cast - Mark Addy as his best friend, Phyllida Law as his housekeeper - surrounds Pearce. Also added, and extraneous, is a subplot where Alexander's girlfriend Emma (Sienna Guillory) comes to an unexpected end, and a jaunt into the past fails to save her. Then it's off into the future, as with the earlier version the best part: a holographic encyclopaedia (Orlando Jones) fills Hartdegen in on time travel, including Wells' novel and the 1960 film. (How's that for self-referentiality?) Then the Moon is destroyed, taking with it most of life on earth. And then 800,000 years up the line, to the land of the Eloi, who speak unmodified 21st century English for some reason. Alexander falls in love with Mara (Samantha Mumba), an Eloi, but soon is called upon to defend them against the predatory Morlocks...
   From that point on, the film sinks into the routine, with a standard-issue special effects climax featuring Jeremy Irons as the Chief Morlock. Apart from Orlando Jones' scenes, there's not much in the way of wit or charm. Although this film is watchable (and at 96 minutes commendably short by today's standards), it's hard to see this becoming a favourite in years to come. Gore Verbinski completed the film after Simon Wells (H.G.'s great-grandson) fell ill, for which he gets prominent thanks in the end credits.
The Time Machine
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