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Case Number 02182

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The Time Machine (2002)

DreamWorks // 2001 // 96 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // September 12th, 2002

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All Rise...

The Charge

0 to 800,000 Years in 1.2 Seconds

Opening Statement

As my review is late out of the gate (compared to other sites), I'm affording myself an opportunity to approach this review differently from most other critics. Inevitably, nearly all other examinations of this film cannot help but compare it to the 1960 George Pal version (of the same name) or the 1979 classic Time After Time. Seeing as I've never viewed the original version and also that I don't want to make a comparison to that excellent Nicholas Meyer film, I am going to rate this updated 2002 version on its own merits. That's right. I will not make any comparisons or commentaries—for the most part—to other time traveling movies. This movie will be judged exclusively on its own virtues. And, after reading other reviews, you might be wondering if there are any positive qualities to be found.

I love science fiction. It is my favored genre, and I always look forward to enjoying its offerings from the terrible (Freejack, Timecop but not Dark Star—there are limits!) to the divine (Trek, Star Wars, A.I.). In particular, I've always had a fondness for stories involving time travel. Doctor Who, Bill & Ted, Star Trek: First Contact, I just love to see someone hopping around the space-time continuum. Whether they're there to fix things or muck-up the time stream, I look forward to the fish-out-of-water scenario and seeing how things will work out in the end.

Facts of the Case

The original H.G. Wells novel is one of the most popular science-fiction tomes ever written. Over the years, the book has been turned into numerous television shows/movies and theatrical films for our viewing enjoyment. In some form or another, I will allow that most of you are very aware of the story, so my synopsis will be most assuredly brief.

Associate Professor Alexander Hartdegen (Guy Pearce, Memento, L.A. Confidential) is a man with ideas far beyond those of his contemporaries. In 1899 New York, Alexander's fiancée, Emma, is murdered on the night that he proposes to her. Her untimely demise motivates the young scientist to find a way to change history and prevent her death. His deep and undying love for Emma eventually leads him to create a time machine.

Motivated to save the love of his life, Alexander travels back to that fateful night. His trip is successful, and he saves Emma from the man who would later end up killing her. However, fate is evil and unforgiving for later that same night, a random accident takes Emma's life. It seems that history cannot be changed, and Alexander cannot save her no matter how strong his desire to do so.

Seeing as he seemingly cannot change the past, he decides to travel to the future. It is his hope that he will discover the key as to why Emma must die. Traveling from 1899 to 2030, Alexander finds himself in the New York public library. There, he inquires of the VOX System, the computerized "repository of all human knowledge" (Orlando Jones, The Replacements, Evolution, Bedazzled (2000)), for an answer to his question. This rather quirky photonic entity frowns upon the time travel query and will not give Alexander an answer for, in its opinion/database, time travel is not possible.

Having no luck in 2030, Alexander returns for another jump to the future. Almost as soon as he restarts his quest, a massive jolt shakes the time travel causing him to stop. He has made just a quick leap to 2037. There, he finds New York in ruins as the moon has been knocked from its orbit because of man's attempt to colonize the satellite. Quickly, he jumps back onto the time machine, but a tremendous blow hits the machine and Alexander is tossed against the controls and is knocked out. During his unconscious state, he travels forward in time to the year 802701.

Alexander is shocked by the transformation to the planet, as life has completely changed. He soon learns there are two races on the planet: the Eloi and the Morlocks; the former inhabit the land while the latter inhabit the caves underneath. Much to his dismay, he discovers that the Morlocks mercilessly hunt the Eloi, who have lost the desire and/or drive to fight and defend themselves. When Mara, the Eloi who nursed him back to health after being unconscious, is taken by the Morlocks, Alexander gets involved and decides to rescue her and free the Eloi from their virtual enslavement. In his quest to save Mara, Alexander discovers the Über-Morlock (Jeremy Irons, Lolita, Die Hard 3), the leader of the underground people. It is this individual who is finally able to explain to Alexander why he was unable to change the past and save his fiancée.

The Evidence

As with any film that is adapted from a novel, the movie often does not do the book justice. That's pretty much the unfortunate rule; there are exceptions, but this is not one of them. While mostly faithful to its source, the movie does take some liberties in jazzing up the specifics for today's tastes. Whether or not that's a good thing is what is to be debated, which falls under the larger purview of whether this movie is any good in the first place. For the most part, this is not a great film. There are significant holes in the story, which are meant to be inferred and deduced and understood by the viewer, that detract from the enjoyment of the adventure. Couple that with severely underdeveloped characters—again, maybe we were to infer more—and the movie is lacking in any danger or true excitement. What you do get is a marginal tale about a man's obsession about his significant other.

Which reminds me…didn't I see this movie before? No, I'm not referring to that 1960s debate again. Let me paraphrase the plot:

• Intelligent man is good at his profession.
• While a tad absent-minded, he has an adoring significant other.
• Said significant other is murdered in front of his eyes.
• Our man becomes "hero" in his quest to learn more about her murder.

Thus, am I watching The Time Machine or Memento? Now before you all go crazy on me, I am astutely aware of the significant differences in the two films. I personally found it amusing the similarities in the story, from a certain point of view. In fact, one of my earliest thoughts while watching this movie was that it would have been a stroke of genius to cast Jorja Fox instead of Sienna Guillory as Emma.

Unfortunately, Wells's film is sorely lacking the inspiration and articulation of Nolan's dazzling masterwork. Forgive me. I said I wasn't going to compare this film to other time traveling adventures, so it's rude of me to compare this to any other film. For, if I continue, The Time Machine will end up being ripped to shreds.

But even though this film is inundated with weaknesses (previously mentioned plot holes and poorly developed characters), I do not find this film completely lacking of any redeeming qualities. It must be my softness for sci-fi talking here for when all the pieces of this picture are put together, I find a film with some modest adventure that kept me reasonably entertained for an hour and a half. What exactly kept me entertained, you may ask? Well, let me show you my shallow delights:

• I found Simon Wells's direction to be enjoyable. He used a variety of techniques to keep the movie progressing, and I wasn't bored with his style.
• Although not at his best, Guy Pearce performed well. There are some scenes when he really seems to be far removed from his character, but I found this yet another respectable notch on his résumé.
• Orlando Jones, our favorite 7-Up spokesman, once again takes a small role and makes it memorable. If nothing else, his smarmy persona has the best Trek reference in a 2002 movie.
• Special effects aren't meant to carry any movie, but I am a sucker for quality work. This film has some very good scenes and effects, and I enjoyed its approach to time travel. Though I understand the reasoning for limiting the 2037 sequence (9/11), I would have liked to have seen more of the moon's effects on Earth.
• And last but not least, the transfers…

Being a very new release, there is no excuse for anything less than a stellar transfer. Fortunately, even though it grossed significantly less than its $80 million budget, DreamWorks didn't skimp in putting this disc together. After watching the film three times, I did not find any flaw with the video. I saw absolutely no artifacting, moiré patterns, pixelization, edge enhancement, or grain anywhere on the print. Put that together with the rich, accurate colors and solid, deep blacks and you have a fantastic transfer. On the audio side, there are enough options to make your head spin. For us English speaking types, you can choose from either a 5.1 DTS, 5.1 Dolby Digital, or 2.0 Dolby Digital for your listening pleasure. I'll admit that while I have a DTS equipped system, I've never really been able to discern a marked difference between a DTS track and a simple 5.1 mix (probably because my equipment isn't top of the line). After listening to both tracks, I can tell you that either will afford you a great audio experience—though, of course, the DTS does offer a subtle, more ambient experience. The dialogue is solid from the center, the surrounds are used well, and the subwoofer will annoy your neighbors on occasion. It's not the most aggressive track on the market, but it serves this movie very well.

As for extras, this disc looks nicely loaded. There is page after page of bonus features to peruse; yet, when you're done with them all, you'll probably feel a bit empty—just like when you watched the movie itself. Here's a brief rundown of all the goodies you'll find on the disc:

• Audio commentary with director Simon Wells and editor Wayne Wahrman: This is the best special feature on the disc. The two men give an entertaining and insightful analysis of the movie. Of course, they fail to point out or explain most of the weaknesses in the story—but they actually do discuss a couple!—and instead focus on the more technical aspects of the movie. They give credit where credit is due, and listening to this track helped with my overall enjoyment of their film. Definitely worth a listen.
• Audio commentary with producer David Valdes, visual effects supervisor James Price, and production designer Oliver Scholl: Very dull and boring track. These guys offer an occasional interesting morsel, but I think this track could be of use for insomniacs. You can pass on this track and not have missed much.
• "The Hunt" animatic sequence with optional commentary: (6.5 minutes) I have no idea who is doing the commentary as he doesn't introduce himself. There isn't much to be learned from the track except at how surprised he was to see how close the animatic followed the actual scene in the movie.
• Creating the Morlocks: (5.5 minutes) This comes off like a PR piece and even has the "smooth voiced narrator" from time to time. You gain some insight, but not too much.
• Building the Time Machine: (6 minutes) A fairly interesting look at the creation of this three ton set piece.
• Visual Effects by Digital Domain: (4 minutes) An interesting yet incomplete look at the time traveling sequences from the movie. As multiple firms were used to create the special effects, I wish each firm would have been given their own featurette.
• Deleted Scene: (7 minutes) An extension of the opening sequence where we learn more about Alexander and his eccentricities and passions. I think it would have been a better choice to keep this scene in the final cut of the film.
• Stunt Choreography Fight Sequence: (1 minute) A shot-by-shot mockup by two stuntmen of the final fight between Alexander and the Über-Morlock. The only interesting part is trying to figure out the logos on the stuntmen's shirts.
• Conceptual Design Gallery: Dozens of pictures highlighting the various settings of the film—NY 1899/2030/2037, the Eloi, the Morlocks, the far future, the time machine. I'm not one for photo galleries, so I wasn't overly impressed by these.
• Trailers: You get the teaser, theatrical, and an international trailers for the film. Not surprisingly, the international trailer is the best.
• Cast and Crew Biographies
• Production Notes

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Am I finally allowed to compare this wretched pile of festering waste to the immensely superior 1960 George Pal version or Time After Time? Do I have to compare them? Do I have to spell it out for you? No, I shouldn't. This movie lacks in every category when compared with other quality cinema. The acting is weak, the story is half-hearted, and the direction is laughable! What makes this wholly inexcusable is the fact that director Wells is the great-grandson of H.G. Wells himself! You would figure a direct descendent would have treated the material with more respect, and tried harder to create a better movie. But, what can you expect from someone who's done nothing but animated fare? He has no experience with live action and it shows. This film should never have been made as he brought nothing new and fresh to the experience. Whoever thought it was a clever and marketable idea to have a Wells relative direct a remake was sorely mistaken.

Closing Statement

I know how much people loathe this film, but I do not fall into that camp. By all means, this is not a great movie. For science fiction, it isn't even a great film. However, I was entertained while I watched the film; and isn't that the lowest common denominator for when we see a film? Do I recommend the film? Should you buy it? Should you rent it? Faithful reader, the answer is quite simple: rental. As there are definite weaknesses in the story, you are best off giving the disc a rental to discover if you can find any redeeming qualities in the film. Then you can judge if it's worth buying for your personal collection. I believe you won't be sorry you gave it a rental.

Before I go, just a few random thoughts that don't quite fit in anywhere else:
• Cut scenes: On both commentary tracks, there are numerous references to additional deleted scenes. If you included one scene, why not include them all?
• Jolt in the time bubble: What's up with this? As I understand temporal mechanics, when in a time bubble, the machine (and driver) are protected and removed from the time stream. Thus, how could Alexander be affected by the moon when traveling from 2030 to 2037 and on?
• Awful library shot: The special effects are so good in the movie except for the one scene where Alexander walks up the New York public library's steps. It's so obviously fake, why didn't they remove that scene?
• Über-Morlock: We know the movie isn't completely faithful to the book, but is the idea of a leader Morlock a bad idea? I found their arguments reasonable and a moderately acceptable update on the original book.

The Verdict

Simon Wells is found guilty of abusing his family name and directing a lackluster movie. He is sentenced to go back in time and repair whatever damage he has done.

Case adjourned.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 100
Audio: 97
Extras: 85
Acting: 80
Story: 77
Judgment: 73

Perp Profile

Studio: DreamWorks
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
Genre:
• Science Fiction

Distinguishing Marks

• Audio Commentary with Director Simon Wells and Editor Wayne Wahrman
• Audio Commentary with Producer David Valdes, Visual Effects Supervisor James Price, and Production Designer Oliver Scholl
• "The Hunt" Animatic Sequence with Optional Commentary
• Behind the Scenes Featurettes: Creating the Morlocks, Building the Time Machine, Visual Effects by Digital Domain
• Deleted Scene
• Stunt Choreography Fight Sequence
• Conceptual Design Gallery
• Teaser Trailer
• Theatrical Trailer
• International Trailer
• Cast and Crew Biographies
• Production Notes








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