The latest film version of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (Dreamworks and Warner Bros. Pictures) lacks the depth and emotion that its author intended. It is a well-directed science fiction adventure with astounding special effects and some superb acting. But the script is silly and trifling.
The film, directed by Simon Wells, grandson of the famous novelist, makes more than its fair share of alterations to the original story.
For those of you who didn’t follow your middle school English curriculum as carefully as I did, here is your cheat sheet: The Time Machine is the story of a nameless time traveler who finds himself thousands of years in the future. He struggles to make sense of this new society, in which the inhabitants speak an unfamiliar language.
The traveler ultimately finds that the human population has evolved into two separate races: one that lives innocently and carelessly above ground (Eloi) and another that lives tyrannically below ground (Morlocks). The Morlocks, albino-like creatures, were bred to serve the child-like Eloi. The Eloi degenerated from lack of occupation, while the Morlocks flourished physically and mentally, and eventually the tables were turned. Now, the Morlocks have overtaken their former masters and come above ground in the darkness of night hunting for Eloi.
The new film contains the same basic story. Except now the time traveler has a name. Professor Alexander Hartdegan (Guy Pearce). Apparently scientific endeavor isn’t as profound a motivation as we had thought. In this movie, the death of a love interest for professor Hartdegan is his rationale for a journey through time – a typical Hollywood convention.
The Eloi miraculously speak English, so the Professor doesn’t have to do any heavy pondering or exploration. And they never explore the philosophical or moral issues that were the crux of Wells’ novel.
While the acting is decent and plausible, good acting cannot overcome a poor script. Guy Pearce does a fantastic job portraying his character’s pain after the death of his soon-to-be fiancee, but unfortunately this film convention is a bit too contrived and cliche.
One of the most interesting aspects is the film’s special effects. One such effect lies in scenes concurrently unfolding on the screen, thousands of years apart in time. These scenes are morphed together, as we watch the professor living in the future and his friends in the past, all in the same frame onscreen. In fact, the professor’s friends, though their roles are small, are quite memorable. The lovable characters of Philby (Mark Addy) and Mrs. Watchit (Phyllida Law) help close out the film.
The rest of the film goes by in a quick blur. It is a frenzy of action and effects, which are sure to capture the attention and praise of today’s moviegoers. Those who have not read the novel will probably enjoy the film a great deal, in spite of my criticisms. It is exciting, fast-paced and entertaining.