Review: “The Time Machine”

The lacklustre new interpretation of HG Wells’ sci-fi classic is a grave disappointment. George Pal’s 1960 film version was hokey and not as visually interesting as its modern counterpart, but it certainly had a lot more life and substance to it. Both the script, which makes some big and all up totally useless changes to the original story, and direction is a mess whilst even the acting is surprisingly wooden. Taylor was a stiff Shatner-like speech maker which made him irritating, yet he was powered by an infectious sense of curiosity, wonder and dreams whilst being a moral hero at heart.

Pearce (the man who makes Calista Flockhart look obese) has a character powered by loss and despair, not a good sign in the first place, and then seems to lose that right away as things move out of that time and he pursues ‘the big question’ which resolves itself towards the end in a logical albeit badly presented answer. The actor has shown great talent in all his films from the small time comedies like “Dating the Enemy” to big time dramas like “Memento” but he’s never been this flat or unengaging, walking around with an almost “confused drunkard with a hangover” style face (and cheekbones bigger than the Morlocks).

Mumba does surprisingly decent work as the most likeable of the bad Waterworld/Mad Max ‘future people’ clones (unlike the department store model type of the 60’s version) but others in here including her annoying kid and a tribal leader who one moment speaks only in native tongue whist the next knows fluent English irritate to the point that you hope they become the entree of the uber-Morlock’s next meal. Jones and Irons do come out ok in likeable yet very small ‘scenery chewing’ supporting roles which were unneeded but thankfully included as they treat the flimsy material as seriously as it deserves to be taken.

Production design is pretty good from the end of the 19th century New York in Winter to the native cliff-hanging huts of the Eloi – sets, visual effects and props are all of high quality calibre (except for the year 2037 scene, you’ll know what I mean). Still, gone are the little things – the shop mannequin who kept changing clothes, the numerous stops throughout the world wars, and so on. Stan Winston’s Morlocks come off as bad WWF rejects though one scene works well (Pearce trying to escape from one up a machine).

The trip between the present and the near future segments may be a lot less dull and unspectacular (except one great camera shot) but the long near future to 802,731 journey has a spectacular 2-minute FX sequence as ice ages come and go, forests spring up and burn down, and so on. Still, the last act is a very rushed and very cheesily bad Hollywood action movie style explosive ending which feels very poorly constructed.

3-4 minutes of nice FX aren’t enough to save this. Bad films like “Queen of the Damned” and “Sorority Boys” at least know they don’t have much of a chance of being well liked and do the best they can with what little money and material is available. Here on the other hand is a great concept, cast, crew, and story which have all ended in a big budget mess. This is one journey you’ll wish will vanish off into the distant future.