- Dawn Taylor
- Portland Tribune - Features
Simon Wells' remake shows it takes more than DNA to make a movie
Simon Wells' 'The Time Machine' is a triple threat. It not only mangles the 1960 George Pal film, but it strays even further from H.G. Wells' seminal time-travel novel. But who cares about that, right? More important, it's just plain awful, which is a far worse crime than simply taking liberties with the story.
Transplanting the Victorian-era tale from London to New York, we have Guy Pearce as Alexander Hartdegen, a Columbia University professor who's really, really smart Ñ so, of course, he's terribly forgetful and has to have his housekeeper remind him to change his clothes. He's running late to go propose to his fiancee because he's been so busy working in the lab.
Essentially, the opening is so close to Disney's 'The Absent-Minded Professor' that I was half expecting Pearce to announce he'd invented Flubber.
After one of the most horribly stilted and artificial marriage proposals ever, an armed robber pops out of the bushes and tries to take the engagement ring. There's a struggle. The gun goes off. Pearce flings himself on his now-dead girlfriend, crying, 'Nooooooo!!!!'
Four years later, we find Pearce working like a madman on some sort of project. We know he's still grieving because he hasn't shaved. He builds a time machine to try and go back and change the evening of the shooting. It doesn't work (and it doesn't work in a way that's supposed to be quite tragic but is unfortunately laugh-out-loud funny) so he flings himself into the future, first to 2070. There he meets Orlando Jones as a holographic librarian in what are the only good scenes in the film.
Some 800,000 years further in time, he meets the Eloi. In H.G. Wells' book, they were about 4 feet tall, with barrel-shaped bodies. They weren't very bright, and they didn't speak English. In Simon Wells' film, the aboriginal-ish Eloi are all young, fit and scantily clad. The prettiest, most scantily clad of them all, Mara (Samantha Mumba) speaks perfect, colloquial American English, despite 800,000 years of evolution (go on Ñ turn that over in your mind for a while).
The Eloi are preyed upon by the eeee-vil Morlocks. There's a scene stolen straight from 'Planet of the Apes.' Jeremy Irons finally shows up. It's all very, very bad.
The computer-generated effects in 'The Time Machine' are distracting and often silly. One gets the feeling that the artists spent an awful lot of time studying computer games for their models. The effect of time passing while Pearce is in the machine begins impressively, but when our view zooms up over the New York skyline and we see buildings fall and rise as skyscrapers, it looks just like a session of SimCity. Likewise, the majestic, otherworldly cliff-side dwellings of the Eloi exactly resemble the environments in Myst.
Simon Wells has been much ballyhooed as being the great-grandson of H.G. Wells himself. His previous directorial efforts have all been in the field of animation ('Balto,' 'An American Tail: Fievel Goes West'), and this film proves that DNA is no reason to hire someone to helm a film. Gore Verbinski ('Mouse Hunt,' 'The Mexican') took over for Wells at the end of production as Wells was suffering from 'extreme exhaustion.' More likely, it was extreme embarrassment.