THE TIME MACHINE, directed by the great-grandson of H. G. Wells, Simon, tries hard to be more serious than the original 1960 popcorn classic based on Wells’ novel. It also tries to highlight some of the story’s moral and allegorical elements. The movie does not always succeed, but it is a valiant effort. In the new story, Alex, a science professor in New York City in 1903, travels to the future in his personal time machine to find out why he can’t stop the accidental death of his beloved fiancée four years earlier. A struggle with some policemen in 2037 plunges Alex ahead in time to 802,701 A.D. There, Alex fights the cannibalistic, genetically bred Morlocks to save a beautiful, gentle Eloi woman who nursed Alex back to health.
THE TIME MACHINE has a few story flaws, some of which elicited unintended laughs among the audience at the press screening. It has its exciting moments, however, and contains some moral, Christian and even biblical elements that counter its Romantic worldview. In all, THE TIME MACHINE is an interesting diversion which makes some good points, but its fight scenes are too scary for young children
(RoRo, CC, B, Ev, E, L, VV, N, M) Mixed Romantic worldview with some Christian and biblical elements, including some that could be construed as allegorical or metaphorical; also, protagonist triumphs over villain who makes evil evolutionary comments about genetic breeding, plus some apparent environmentalist conceits that got a laugh from the audience; about eight mild obscenities and mild profanities; some scary action violence that includes brawny, cat-like humanoid creatures blowing nasty darts, chasing and attacking men, women and child, plus explosions, gunshot fatally injures woman who lies bleeding in snow, implied traffic accident, creatures decay, fighting, man knocked unconscious, implied cannibalism, creatures have red blood around their mouths, and man falls into water with cannibalized remains of human bones, but nothing excessively, graphically gruesome or very bloody; no sex but couple kisses passionately; men wear no shirts and woman wears sarong outfit showing her thighs at times; no alcohol use; no smoking; and, stealing.
The original TIME MACHINE in 1960 was a good natured, thought provoking trifle that won a lot of fans. The author of the short novel on which the movie was based, H. G. Wells, often reflected some of the Christian worldview in his imaginative stories, despite his Fabian Socialist sympathies. This version of THE TIME MACHINE tries hard to be more serious than the original movie and also to highlight some of the moral and allegorical elements of the story. It does not always succeed, but it is a valiant effort.
Opening in 1899 in New York City, Alexander Hartdegen is an associate professor in physics and applied mechanics at Columbia University. He is intrigued by time travel and gets overwhelmed by his work, including his correspondence with a clerk in Germany named Albert Einstein. He is also much in love with Emma, a very beautiful girl who sees something in Alex which may not be that immediately apparent to the audience. As Alex is proposing to Emma in Central Park, a robber holds them up and Emma is shot accidentally.
Alex dedicates the next four years of his life to building a time machine to go back and save Emma. He does go back, but Emma is killed in another way, in a manner that is one of the few laugh out loud gaffs in the story. Now, Alex is determined to find out why he can’t change the past. Forgetting that he just did, because the manner of her death changed, Alex time travels off into the future to seek the answer to his question. He visits New York in 2030 where he talks to a computer hologram that contains all the knowledge of the New York Library and, supposedly, all the libraries in the world. The computer scoffs at his idea of time travel, so Alex edges forward to 2037, where he finds out that New York is being destroyed by bits of the moon that are falling apart due to misguided mining of the earth’s satellite.
Alex escapes the police and rockets forward to the year 802,701. He wakes up to being cared for by a young Eloi woman, Mara, and her little brother. Everything looks beautiful with her agricultural society, which is suspended on the side of cliffs in unique basket-like cliff dwellings, but, as everyone who read the book remembers, there is a dark secret. The Eloi are merely sheeple to feed the Morlocks, a brawny race of underground dwellers. Alex challenges the Eloi to stand up to the Morlocks when they capture Mara during one of their Eloi hunting parties.
In the process of going to rescue Mara, Alex finds the Uber Morlock, a devilish figure if there ever was one, who informs Alex that you cannot change evolutionary determinism. Alex decides to prove the evil Uber Morlock wrong and commits himself to staying with Mara and the Eloi.
There is much good news in THE TIME MACHINE, not the least of which is that the devil’s attempt to convince Alex that life is fated is proved totally wrong by Alex’s final exercise of his moral free will. THE TIME MACHINE also includes a quote from Scripture, a redemptive willingness to lay down one’s life for others, a recognition that there’s a time for peace and a time for war, and a repeated emphasis on God speed. Furthermore, the movie shows loyalty, friendship, chivalry, and decency.
That said, the movie has a few all-too-obvious flaws, which are not nearly as bad as last year’s PLANET OF THE APES or LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER. However, they stem from the same storytelling mistake. As Gene Roddenbury pointed out in his creation of STAR TREK, a filmmaker can create his own fantastic world, but no matter how fanciful that world is, you need to be true to the physical laws that you set up in that universe. THE TIME MACHINE does not necessarily break its own laws, but it does ignore them at critical points, and the audience at the press screening was all too ready to catch these story flaws. All of these could have been fixed with a little script supervision. In fact, I was sitting next to a producer, who went on a long diatribe about how movies get off track when there are too many cooks in the kitchen.
That said, THE TIME MACHINE should be commended for being an exciting action vehicle. Guy Pearce does a serviceable job, although one wishes they had chosen a more charismatic hero. He does have angst down, however, to a fine science. The supporting cast was good, especially Jeremy Irons, who could be the Devil Incarnate considering his other roles. Jeremy is a fine actor and brought a lot of power to his scene, at a point when one was getting tired of all the Morlocks being too similar.
That is another flaw to THE TIME MACHINE. Lucas in STAR WARS said that he spent much time in the original movie creating characters who had individual personalities. Therefore, there are scenes in that movie which are indelibly etched on people’s minds, because of this. Regrettably, the Morlocks in THE TIME MACHINE have no personality except for their leader, the Uber Morlock. Here too, a little tweaking of the script could have gone a long way.
Some of the fight sequences in THE TIME MACHINE are way too frightening for young children and could have been toned down, because the movie as a whole is not scripted in a salacious or cutting edge manner. There are many exciting moments and some terrific camera work, especially as Alex and Mara flee the Morlock caves.
In all, THE TIME MACHINE is an interesting, fun diversion which makes some good, moral and even redemptive points. It is not for young children, but older children will not be corrupted by it and they may even take away some valuable lessons.
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