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The Time Machine

The Time Machine on DVD

by Jim Bray

Ah, remakes. One wonders why, other than money, they bother. Here we have a remake of a classic sci-fi film, from a classic sci-fi novel, yet what we're given is a tired and derivative rehash. It's too bad, because the core story is a dandy.

The Time Machine, based on the great H.G. Wells novel first came to the big screen thanks to George Pal, who brought us so many other wonderful examples of Cinefantastique during the 50's and 60's. This new version is directed, supposedly, by Wells' great-grandson, so you'd think he had some affinity for the source material.

But Pal did a much better version, and he wasn't even part of the family. He was, however, a creative visionary.

So much for nepotism.

Simon Wells has thrown away the book, for the most part, and told his own version of the story. Fair enough, if you own the rights, but that's hardly the guarantee of a work of art.

Guy Pearce stars as Alexander, the time traveler. After his fiancée is killed during a street robbery, he decides to travel backwards in time to save her life. But "you can never go home" turns out to be true and he can't save her despite his best efforts. Perhaps she was meant to die, like Edith Keeler in that famous Star Trek TV episode. So he zips forward in time to ask the age old question "why not?" As with the book and the first movie, he starts off by going forward in a couple of smaller steps, at which time we get to see some of our own near future (supposedly), then he kicks the machine into overdrive and travels to 803,201 AD.

Here he comes across the gentle, well they used to be called Eloi but I don't remember that name being used in the movie, though it's in the production notes. They live a lifestyle reminiscent of the humans in Planet of the Apes, peacefully hanging out and not doing much of anything until the evil, subterranean Morlocks show up and round them up for food.

And that's about all there is in common with the original novel and movie.

Which is where many of the problems start. The Time Machine was original, but this Time Machine rips off so many other movies and TV shows it isn't funny. The destruction of the moon, for example, could have been ripped right out of the concept behind "Space:1999," the Morlocks vs. Eloi (as mentioned) hearkens back to "Planet of the Apes" - as does the way the Morlocks lope. I could go on, but listing all of the ripoff/derivative things about this flick would make this review more interminable than the movie (assuming it isn't already!).

What good reason was there to Americanize the movie? Now, I love America and Americans, but dammit this is a British story and there's no good reason on Earth to change that. And why does it take so long for the Time Traveler to even get to the far future? Well, probably to give us the backstory that shows us his motivation to save the life of his love - but they should have left that on the cutting room floor. The Time Traveler finds his love in the future (Weena, originally, and now Mara (well played by Samantha Mumba), and this love - coupled with the chance to really make a difference - gives his otherwise empty life meaning.

This version gets the Weena/Mara part right, though it follows its own path to get there.

This time around they've also included a new character, the uber Morlock (Jeremy Irons), who has no apparent reason for being there other than to give the Time Traveler the answers for which he's been searching.

I preferred having him figure things out himself, as in book and Movie #1.

Speaking of figuring things out for themselves, we're also treated to Orlando Jones as a library/hologram figure who gives us more endless exposition.

Still, the special effects are up to today's standards, including digital and makeup, and the production design is also very good, especially the interesting Eloi habitats.

Guy Pearce is fine as the Time Traveler, but Samantha Mumba's the best thing about the movie. Jeremy Irons plays the part well, but I'd rather have seen the part eliminated. But God forbid the audience, let alone the hero, be required to think...

This version of The Time Machine is probably worth seeing once, but if you want a version to own and cherish, watch the George Pal version instead.

The DVD's pretty good, though. The picture, which is anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible) is first rate and full of rich color. Audio choices include DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, which is as it should be, and the sound quality is also very good indeed.

Extras include three commentaries, one of which features the director and editor Wayne Wahmran and one of which has producer David Valdes, effects guru Jamie Price and production designer Oliver Scholl. The Wells/Wahrman one gives some interesting insight into the scale of the production and the homages etc. Those homages include a cameo appearance by Alan Young, who was in the original film.

The third commentary is to accompany an animatics demonstration for "the Hunt" scene.

You also get a production notes essay inside the box, and an extended version of it on the disc. There are also several "behind the scenes" bits on the creation of various aspects of the production, including the Morlocks and the special visual effects, and there are some deleted scenes thrown in as well.

And that isn't all. An archives section includes cast/crew info, production conceptual art and trailers. In all, it's a pretty good package for a pretty bad movie.

The Time Machine, from Dreamworks Home Video
92 minutes, anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 TV compatible, DTs and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Guy Pearce, Samantha Mumba, Jeremy Irons, Orlando Jones and Mark Addy
Produced by Walter F. Parkes, David Valdes,
Written by John Logan Directed by Simon Wells


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Updated May 13, 2006