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The Time Machine (**)
Directed by Simon Wells
Written by John Logan, based on a 1960 screenplay by David Duncan, based on the novel by H.G. Wells
The Time Machine

Principal Cast
Guy Pearce -- Alexander Hartdegen
Jeremy Irons -- Uber-Morlock
Phyllida Law -- Mrs. Watchit
Mark Addy -- Dr. David Philby
Sienna Guillory -- Emma
Diana Lee Inosanto -- Eloi woman
Orlando Jones -- Vox
Yancey Arias -- Toren
Omero Mumba -- Kalen
Samantha Mumba -- Mara
Josh Stamberg -- J.P. Fitzroy
Ratings
Ratings are based on Rick's four star system.
One star - the commercials are more entertaining than the viewing.
Two stars - watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars - good solid entertainment.
Four stars - you never dreamed viewing could be this good.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Norwood

Go see The Time Machine. It's not that bad; it's certainly much better than the remake of Planet of the Apes and you went to see that.

Most of the good stuff is in the first twenty minutes, but some of that is really good. I especially remember a magical moment in New York at night with the streets crowded with horse drawn carriages. It reminded me of Jack Finney's classic Time After Time.

How does this film compare with the 1960 version? Quite well. It gives screen credit to David Duncan, writer of the earlier film, which it resembles more than it does the Wells' novel. It replaces the cheesy special effects with some very nice music and visuals, while retaining some of the period charm. The time machine itself will never become the major icon of SF cinema that the George Pal Time Machine model has become, but it's not bad.

This film touches all the required bases: the Time Traveler, the Eloi, the Morlocks, and if it is tagged out at third... well, home-run SF films only come about once every other year. Let's see: one in 2001, none in 2000, two in 1999. Yep. One every two years. Which is why we watch B-movie SF.

What's wrong with film? It isn't about anything. When Herbert George Wells wrote a novel, it was about something. If it was about time travel, then Wells used his great intelligence and not inconsiderable art to focus on time travel. Suppose you had a time machine -- what would you do? What are the implications of time travel? What problems does it solve? What new problems does it raise? This takes hard thinking. Wells was a thinker as well as a very good writer, which is why his novels are still worth reading today.

In the film, there is some wit, but no thought. An atomic bomb cannot shatter the moon. The English language will not last eight hundred thousand years. Nor will modern electronics. If a man is obsessed by love in the first half of a film, can he forget that love overnight? If he can, why should we care about him?

The Time Machine falls apart shortly after the Time Traveler wakes up in the distant future, and the reason it falls apart is that there is no future there. You don't need to travel eight hundred thousand years to fight monsters or to meet a girl.  You could do that on another planet. Or in the New York subway.

What do you know about the class system? Chances are, not much. If you think upper class means rich and lower class means poor, you know nothing about the class system. Go see Gosford Park, then come back and we'll talk. Bill Gates is the richest man in the world, but unless he can trace his ancestry to a white protestant who was a landowner in the United States before 1776, his daughter would not be allowed to join the Daughters of the American Revolution. He doesn't have the breeding. Upper class is about breeding and nothing else. Nothing. Not money. Not fame. Not power. Breeding.

Now, there is no reason for that to matter to you, unless you want to join the DAR or otherwise enter what is still known a "society". But in H.G. Wells' day it mattered to everybody, because all of the wealth and power was concentrated in the upper classes. Upper class people only married upper class people. Lower class people perforce married lower class people. To people living in England in 1895, this was the most important fact of life. What, asked Wells, if this goes on for, say eight hundred thousand years? Then you get a race of upper class twits, the Eloi, totally unable to take care of themselves, and a race of brutal engineers, the Morlocks, who use Eloi for the only thing they are good for, food.

Did Wells really believe that the English class system would last for eight hundred thousand years? Of course not. But the English upper classes believed it passionately. Wells' novel was a reductio ad absurdum of that belief. This is what you would get if the upper classes were right.

Today the class system is no longer that big a deal, not because it has become any easier to join the upper class -- you can't join the upper class, ever -- but because it is now possible to live a very good life without being upper class. But the belief in breeding has not vanished -- or why would so many reviewers mention that the director of this film is H. G. Wells' great-grandson.

If most people no longer care about social class, then the new version of The Time Machine has no center. It is empty. Wisely, the writer tries to give it a center with a love story -- if the class system won't last forever, maybe love will. But the second half of the movie forgets all about that, so the movie isn't about anything.

Nobody involved with this film ever stopped to ask: is there anything today that people think will last forever? Love? America?

What do you think will last forever? If it did, what kind of monster would it become?

Copyright © 2002 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.


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