The Time Machine (2002)

(In theaters, March 2002) Just as, after Harry Potter and The Lord Of The Rings, we were wondering if Hollywood had finally mastered the art of faithful adaptation, here comes a film to reassure us that nothing has really changed. If you have fond memories of H.G. Wells’s original novel, you might want to avoid this 2002 adaptation which rips out the guts of the novel by trying to “improve” the plot. It doesn’t take five minutes (at which point the fiancée of the protagonist is killed by a strangely unconvincing ruffian) to understand that this is going to be not only a bad adaptation, but an awful film in its own right. The rest of the film is -alternately- dull, stupid, loud, cliché, ugly, nonsensical and worse. Guy Pearce does his best with the trash he’s given as dialogue, but there’s a limit to what he can do in the middle of the paucity of imagination surrounding him; for SF fans, it’s excruciatingly painful to see the wasted potential of his trip through future New York. Granted, there’s one thing that saves The Time Machine from complete failure, and it’s the visuals. Some accelerated-time shots are impressive, and some images are truly arresting. Alas, most of it is thrown on-screen as mere eye-candy; the bulk of the story is a boring caveman-versus-monsters story we’ve seen countless times before. Oh, and lest you ask; all the sociological subtext of Wells’s story has been excised; now the Eloi are simply prey, without any exchange between them and the Morlock, who are now simply bestial. (The make-up job on the Morlocks is one of the most awful thing I’ve seen in years of special effects.) The script is filled with gigantic logical holes (parts of New York survive an ice age and massive erosion intact, pieces of the moon still orbit in roughly-identical position after epochs, etc…) and the main story isn’t directed with enough competence to make us care. Just avoid, okay, avoid. The only reason I kept a minimal interest in the film is because I was, at the time, playing around with a wireless web browser in the theater.

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