The Time Machine (2002) Review

H.G.Wells must be spinning in his grave after seeing the most recent the film adaptation of his classic short story. Brought to the screen by his Grandson, Simon Wells, many thought The Time Machine would be an even more accurate telling of the story of a time traveller who arrives in the year 802701 to find a world split down the middle.

The usually reliable Guy Pearce (LA Confidential, Memento) stars as Alex Hartdegen - a professor in a New York university. Following the murder of his fiancée, Emma (Sienna Guillory) in a bungled mugging, Hartdegen becomes a recluse working away to discover a way to change what has happened. Four years later the result of his isolation is a machine that can travel through time - however Hartdegen discovers that he is unable to prevent the death of his fiancé and sets off into the future on a quest to find out why.

First stopping in 2030, Hartdegen finds the moon has been colonised. Thinking that maybe the answer to his question can be found in 21st Century New York he pays a visit to a museum and interacts with a holographic Orlando Jones who references both the original book and the 1960 George Pal film. However, the answer is not to be found and so he sets off again further into the future that sees the destruction of the moon following an accident and the resulting end of life-as-we-know-it on Earth. Hartdegen finally arrives in the distant future in what appears to be an idyllic world inhabited by the peaceful Eloi, he is found unconscious and taken in by Mara (Irish popster, Samantha Mumba). He soon discovers that while the Eloi maybe peaceful, they live in fear of the violent and gruesome Morlocks, led by a very white looking Jeremy Irons...

Try as I might, I cannot help judging this retelling of the story against it's sources. If ever there was a pointless exercise in making money with no artistic intent, this is it. This latest adaptation of the story loses everything that made both the book and 1960 film classics in their own right. Instead of bringing the big-screen story closer to Wells' original, the film takes the basic time travel concept and develops its own weaker, lesser, and unnecessary plot.

First up, why do we need the whole fiancé back-story? Instead of giving Hartdegen a good reason to travel to the future, it confuses matters. In the original story the time traveller's motivations are more to do with his unhappiness of life at the end of the 19th century and his wish to discover whether the future is brighter. Next - why New York? What was wrong with the original London setting? Given the largely international cast this seems even more curious. The story doesn't benefit one iota in its move from the UK to US, so it's hard to see why there's any good reason for it. Surely US audiences can accept that there is life beyond their shores?

Gone are the political comment and observations of the original story. This time around, the Morlocks don't steal the time machine so gone is the realisation by the time traveller that he may never see home. Gone is the prospect of a better life for the Eloi, instead Hartdegen seems solely motivated by his own needs and wants this time around. Even the time-travel sequences seem less interesting - the original film had some stunning effects for when it was made, these actually made the whole concept seem believable. The new time machine is too complicated and lacks all of the charm of the much more minimalist 60s version. I could go on and on.

The end of the film seems rushed and contrived. It's a very much closed story without airing any questions about the direction society is heading. There is none of the epic scope that adorned George Pal's film - a film that was obviously made with a real love for the book and we're reduced here to recycled chunks of story and even a sub-Planet of the Apes chase when we first get to see the Morlocks.

Pearce is probably the strongest link in the chain, and yet here he seems to just be going through the motions pushing the story along. There's no fire to his character. Mumba is given little to work with - her dialogue is stilted and limited, and this is probably more a problem with the script than her abilities, very little of which are apparent here. We know Irons can be a good villain, but his appearance here is little more than a 10-minute cameo that requires very little in the way of effort. Orlando Jones is probably the standout as far as performances go and he manages to inject a little of the humour that the film sorely lacks - yet again his appearances are little more than walk-on parts.

Visually the film does stand up to scrutiny. I would have liked to see some of the more majestic buildings as described in the book. Pal's film made an effort to bring them to the screen, but Wells' seems to settle for beautiful countryside and cliff-face dwellings. The film is badly paced spending too much time (compared to the film's length) on the fiancé back story, the time travel itself is crammed into the middle third of the film and then the ending is rushed through. This could partly be due to the fact that the film had to be finished by Gore Verbinski after Simon Wells was taken ill. Thankfully the short running time means that The Time Machine never outstays its welcome. With an extra thirty minutes to play with, we may have seen a little more meat on story.

The Picture

Dreamworks have put out another excellent disc. The picture here is close to perfect with no noticeable print damage and a very sharp transfer. I noticed nothing in the way of digital artefacts. The colour levels are good with the brighter tones nicely punching through the good solid black-levels. Shadow detail is excellent - there are some fairly dark scenes to put this to the test.

The picture is presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and is anamorphically enhanced.

The Sound

We get both Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks - although neither manages to ever kick fully into life. Surround activity on both is surprisingly limited - and while the ambience is there we see little in the way of directional action. Given the film's largely action-based canvas this is disappointing. The good news is that dialog is noticeably crisp and nicely locked to the centre channel. Also, Klaus Badelt's score is given ample depth by the DVD soundtrack that is good.


The main meat of the extras lies in the two commentary tracks - the first by Simon Wells and Wayne Warhman focuses on the directorial side of the film. As is becoming increasingly frequent, it's apparent that Wells is unable to see the weaknesses in the final product and settles on dryly talking about his methods and intent. He never acknowledges where things didn't work. Wharman adds little to the proceedings acting mainly as a sounding board for Wells.

The second commentary is by producer David Valdez, production designer Oliver Scholl, and effects supervisor Jamie Price. This focuses mainly on the effects and how the film was brought to the screen technically. It’s a case of lots of 'ooo, that was cool' moments and very little on the actual technical aspects. There is little here to make this track worth more than an occasional dip.

The next stop on the extras-train is the featurettes. We have three fairly superficial features on the making of the film - 'Creating the Morlocks', 'Building the Time Machine' and 'Visual Effects by Digital Domain'. These largely consist of dry narration, sharply edited looks at the various aspects of the making of the film and snippets of interviews with Guy Pearce, Samantha Mumba and Jeremy Irons. The total featurette running time comes to a shade under 20 minutes.

We can add a seven-minute deleted scene to the mix - this is more of an alternative opening and, to be quite frank is better than what we eventually ended up with. It would have been good to see something done about integrating it into the film, but I'll happily live with it given the fact that it's well presented here in anamorphic widescreen.

To round off there's a short Stunt Fight Choreography sequence that really adds little to the package, an archive with around 100 images largely of conceptual art, production notes and international trailers.

The selection of extras is good, but the quality is fairly lacking. Worth a quick browse, but they don't really add a lot of value to the DVD.


A barely average adaptation of a classic book, The Time Machine, had so much promise but fails to deliver on every count. Instead we have yet another remake aimed at the fast-reducing attention spans of the general public that has very little in the way of artistic merit and shies away completely from the story on which it's based. Maybe it's satisfying popcorn fodder, but to a fan of the 60s film it comes in a very distant second place.

Dreamworks' Region 1 DVD is a good package that fails to totally impress. Solid picture quality is accompanied by slightly disappointing sound and rounded off with yet another selection of extras that scream quantity rather than quality.

Average all round then really.

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