by Brian McKay
I don't remember the old 1960 version of this movie very well, since I haven't seen it since I was a kid. I do seem to recall that it was better than what I just saw today, however. Maybe that's nostalgia speaking, or maybe every time Hollywood tries to "remake" a classic these days, it just ends up being an anal suckfest.I had fairly high hopes for this film. After all, the director is the real live flesh n' blood great-grandson of H.G. Wells himself, so I figured he'd probably put his heart and soul into it, making it a tribute to the family name. Well, maybe he put his heart and soul into it, but he forgot the brains or originality.
"It spins, it has pretty lights, and it sucks away 90 minutes of your life!"
The story is pretty much the same old, though the first hour does have a few interesting ideas. It takes place in late 1800's New York this time, rather than London. Guy Pearce plays an absent-minded, fidgety physicist who is always late to meet his girlfriend because he loses track of time while he is doing mathematical equations - even though he owns a dozen watches.
On the night that he proposes to her, she is tragically killed. We know it's tragic because the camera shows them from overhead and pulls back, spinning slowly as he holds her and her blood soaks into the snow (It's the obligatory "Tragedy-cam" shot - at least they didn't have him look up and scream "NOOOOOO"). From that day on, he becomes a shut-in and builds his time machine so that he can go back and save her. Mind you, no attempt is ever made to explain how the time machine works, or what kind of scientific principals are behind it. All we are shown is him writing a bunch of long algebraic equations on a very big blackboard. Well, he's writing theorems and postulates, so he obviously knows what he's doing! And, of course, the first time he saddles up in it, it works like, well, like clockwork! No beta testing or trial and effort required here, folks. The DeLorean in "Back to the Future" was more convincing than this. At least Christopher Lloyd spouted some technobabble at us and the damn thing had a Flux Capacitor!
So he goes back in time and tries to save his girlfriend, only his attempts to do so fail. He finds that he is helpless to prevent her death or alter the past in any significant way. Seeking a technical loophole in this temporal causality conundrum, he travels to the future so that he can find scientists more advanced than himself. Instead he finds a smart-ass holographic librarian, played by Orlando Jones, who quickly dismisses him as a nutter because "Everyone knows that time travel isn't real!". Jones, who I usually find quite likeable, fails to elicit much more than a chuckle here, despite a really bad haircut that looks like a toupe'.
So, our hero goes forward again, only he is injured by an explosion and, by accident, he ends up going forward about 800,000 years. When he wakes up, he finds that the beautiful Mara (Samantha Mumba) is nursing his wounds. Not a bad deal after spending 800 millenia in limbo. At first, he seems to have discovered an idyllic paradise in the village of the Eloi, who live in houses built onto a cliff face (Not to be confused with the Ewoks, who live in trees.) The Eloi are a kind of aboriginal people with their own language, but who, of course still remember enough perfectly fluent contemporary English so that they can communicate with our hero.
It Turns out, however, that all is not well in Eloiland. The pesky Morlocks, who live underground, are a hungry bunch, and they occasionally come up to the surface to grab a few Eloi Cattle, and maybe a hottie or two like Mara for breeding purposes (and as hideous as these things are, her genetic material could only improve things). So, we have the obligatory chase scene where the Morlocks scamper about terrorizing and abusing the frightened Eloi. If you've seen Tim Burton's "Planet of the Apes" (the other sucky remake in my recent memory), you've seen it all before. Only at least the apes looked realistic and were somewhat intimidating. These Morlocks look, well, bad. I mean stupid bad. The faces are poorly rendered and not very realistic. Their muscular bodies are very obviously a padded latex muscle suit. The CGI is fairly shoddy. And despite their quickness and brute strength, they really aren't scary. At all. Or even interesting. As if they aren't a big enough waste of a movie villain, though, we come to find that their leader, referred to in the credits as the "Uber-Morlock" (how clever), is played by Lord of the Suckfest himself, Jeremy Irons. Irons is barely recognizable here (for which he should be grateful), since he's done up to look like an albino Marilyn Manson with some kind of ridiculous prosthetic spine thing on his back. He controls the Morlocks through some kind of telepathy, and can read all of our hero's thoughts, yet he can't see the final trick coming that our hero uses to defeat him - nice one, Nostradamus.
It's really dull and predictable, complete with another long chase scene through the Morlock tunnels that I was praying would end much sooner than it did. Our Hero stays in the future and hooks up with the hot Eloi chick (and, if she looked like Samantha Mumba, I would too). The end. Everybody happy, except for the person who just dropped nine bones on this piece of shit.
Aside from some cool visual effects (like the moon breaking up in orbit, etc.), there really isn't much to see here. Even the scenes of time moving forward at a fast clip are nothing that we haven't already scene before in a dozen remakes of the Time Machine story. The machine itself is unimpressive. It's metallic and it spins and it has a bunch of pretty disco lights on it. Or as one bystander says, when our hero appears with it on the street in the year 2030, "I'll bet that thing can make a hell of an espresso."
I can't blame Guy Pearce for phoning this one in. After all, I'm sure he knew this movie was crap as much as we now do. He's already proved himself a competent actor with films like "Memento" and "L.A. Confidential", so we'll forgive him for picking up a quick paycheck. And Samantha Mumba, while certainly a gorgeous woman and, I'm sure, a talented singer, is really little more than scenery here and is as equally uninteresting a love interest as her blonde counterpart Estella Warren was in "Planet of the Apes". This is not to say she's a bad actress, but she doesn't get much chance to do any real acting here.If I had a time machine that could take me back only four hours, I'd go back, take my nine dollars, find the original movie at a video store, and spend the rest on an In N'Out Burger.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=4756&reviewer=258
originally posted: 03/11/02 15:53:51