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Genuine sweetness and lovely special effects win out over a sense of déjŕ vu...

By Abbie Bernstein     March 08, 2002

Guy Pearce and Samantha Mumba star in THE TIME MACHINE
© 2002 DreamWorks LLC and Warner Bros.
H.G. Wells' THE TIME MACHINE is the great-granddaddy of all time travel stories it's influenced pretty much all of the temporal science fiction, both written and filmed, that's come down the pike ever since. With all the indirect borrowing from the source to say nothing of George Pal's much-loved 1960 movie adaptation it's not surprising that this new film feels somewhat familiar. The 2002 edition, directed by Simon Wells (H.G.'s great-grandson) and scripted by John Logan, also has visual and narrative references to the Pal version, PLANET OF THE APES and TIME AFTER TIME (although since all of these in turn refer back to the Wells book, it perhaps qualifies as fair use), so to an extent, this path to the far future is already well-worn.

What's surprising and delightful about this TIME MACHINE is that it winds up being quite winning anyway. It is charming, it has great non-treacly affection for its characters, an enthusiasm for storytelling and beguiling special effects. We know what's coming, but we're captivated all the same.

Absent-minded young Professor Alexander Hartdegen (Guy Pearce), living in turn-of-the-(19th to 20th)century New York, loves two things: his work and the beautiful Emma (Sienna Guillory). When tragedy strikes the one, he becomes obsessed with the other, eventually building a device that lets him travel into the past. This, alas, does not have the desired effect, and Alex begins to wonder why the past can be altered but not fundamentally changed. In his quest for an answer, Alex travels to 2030, then a bit further and then an accident knocks him 800,000 years beyond, where he finds a very changed world indeed.

Wells, Logan

Guy Pearce and Samantha Mumba star in THE TIME MACHINE

and co. haven't wandered too far from what the TIME MACHINE viewers will expect. Alex still finds the peaceful Eloi and the voracious Morlocks on arrival in the far future, although the Eloi are much smarter and more sophisticated, while the Morlocks are a whole lot more agile and organized. These changes are for the better most yarns improve when character I.Q.s are boosted and it's all handled so briskly and wistfully that we don't really mind being somewhat ahead of Alex in knowing why the Eloi are so cautious and why the Morlocks pursue them so avidly (albeit a new motive has been thrown into the old horrific mix).

The visual effects supervised by Erik Nash of Digital Domain and Scott Squires of ILM have an almost playful grace and lyricism to them they serve the action while functioning as things of beauty in their own right. However, what really propels TIME MACHINE is the conviction of its makers that this is territory worth exploring. Alex is an endearing creation, and as embodied by the excellent Pearce he goes through stages of ignorance, grief, innocence, curiosity and frightened but firm resolve with all the nuances of a fully-formed character. Smaller roles are fleshed out with care as well the unusual information source portrayed with likable erudite loneliness by Orlando Jones, Alex's best friend (Mark Addy) and loyal housekeeper (Phyllida Law) are all given their own complete arcs within the larger piece.

Ultimately, THE TIME MACHINE takes us to places we've been before, but it makes the journey feel new and welcome. We come out feeling happy and entertained, proving that there's a lot to be said for old tricks executed by talented hands.


Grade: B

Reviewed Format: Theatrical Release

Rated: PG-13

Stars: Guy Pearce, Samantha Mumba, Orlando Jones, Mark Addy

Writer: John Logan, based on the novel by H.G. Wells and the screenplay by David Duncan

Director: Simon Wells

Distributor: DreamWorks Pictures


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