The Time Machine

History repeats itself in this latest take on H.G. Wells's classic novel. Just as George Pal's beloved erector-set of an original captured every 12-year-old's imagination with the spectacle of a journey through time, the remake features years and eras flowing by as if before the eyes of a melancholy god. And as in Pal's picture, the fun stops the minute...read more

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Reviewed by Frank Lovece
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History repeats itself in this latest take on H.G. Wells's classic novel. Just as George Pal's beloved erector-set of an original captured every 12-year-old's imagination with the spectacle of a journey through time, the remake features years and eras flowing by as if before the eyes of a melancholy god. And as in Pal's picture, the fun stops the minute our hero debarks in the year A.D. 802,701 and starts playing Jungle Jim among the future-human Morlocks. The film opens in turn-of-the-century New York, where absent-minded associate professor Alexander Hartdegan (Guy Pearce) is devastated by the murder of his fiancée, Emma (Sienna Guillory). Four years later, bedraggled and wild-eyed, Hartdegan has created a jewel-box of a horseless carriage that takes him back through time, enabling him to save Emma — at least until a later scene that should be tragic, but is almost comical in its sub-Twilight Zone irony. Drawing a world-record, logistical long-jump of a conclusion from this limited evidence, Hartdegan decides he can't change the past and resolves to visit the future and learn why. Amid several nice visual effects — including a truly awe-inspiring lunar apocalypse — he does just that. Unfortunately for him (and us), the answer to his question is a trite and precious cheat belied by what we've already seen onscreen. (Granted, time-travel fantasy is all nerdish pseudo-physics, but it should be internally consistent.) On the plus side, the evocation of Olde New York is stirring and realistic, and some dizzying, acrobatic set-pieces involving the beast-variety Morlocks give the film's latter half a charge. Mark Addy is endearing as Hartdegan's friend Philby, and both Irish songstress Samantha Mumba and her real-life brother, Omero — who play Mara of the future-human Eloi and her younger brother — are naturals. The usually charismatic Pearce, however, shows all the emotional range of a rock, making it all the harder to buy the moment in which his wispy prof charges unarmed after inhumanly strong beast-men rather than coming up with a superior-minded plan. Equally astonishing: Jeremy Irons's big-brain Uber-Morlock — who reads minds and memories — getting suckered like Homer Simpson. The film has entertaining moments (watch for an 1890s electric toothbrush and Hartdegan's correspondence with a certain Swiss patent clerk) and a karmic pedigree: Well-known animation director Simon Wells is H.G.'s great-grandson, and Alan Young from the 1960 film has a cameo. But they still didn't get it right this TIME.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: History repeats itself in this latest take on H.G. Wells's classic novel. Just as George Pal's beloved erector-set of an original captured every 12-year-old's imagination with the spectacle of a journey through time, the remake features years and eras flow… (more)

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