- The Washington Times - Friday, March 8, 2002

The new movie version of "The Time Machine" can boast a distinctive pedigree. To my knowledge, it's the first adaptation of a famous book directed by the great-grandson of the original author. Unfortunately, the line of descent from H.G. Wells to Simon Wells hasn't guaranteed an optimum reprise.
The film is fitfully clever and inventive; it also has an impressive deluxe prop of the time machine itself. The movie simulates some breathtaking settings, especially a cliff-dwelling habitat ascribed to the Eloi, now envisioned as a kind of pre-Columbian-type tribe living in A.D. 802701, perched at high elevations while remaining prey for the subterranean monsters called Morlocks.
Disconcerting miscalculations, however, start to accumulate before Mr. Wells and screenwriter John Logan manage to get Guy Pearce saddled up as the time traveler.
The source material, a novella first published in 1895, remains eminently readable and haunting. It places an obsessive emphasis on human solitude and cosmic foreknowledge that neither the endearing 1960 movie version with actors Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux and director George Pal nor the wobbly new version dares to emulate.
The new movie threw me slightly off track at the outset by shifting the principal Victorian setting from London to New York City. I was a little slow to realize that Mr. Pearce's character, called Alexander Hartdegen (the Wells prototype was nameless), serves on the faculty at Columbia University.
Hartdegen's futuristic brain is dented by a couple of superfluous blows the double, accidental loss of a fiancee named Emma (Sienna Guillory). Killing off dear Emma once might be defensible as a preliminary heartbreaker, but subjecting her to a second accidental death to demonstrate that Hartdegen cannot backpedal in his machine to alter the past, looks downright ridiculous.
While outward bound, the sorrowful Hartdegen makes a brief stop in 2030, leaving his buggy foolishly untended in a Manhattan alley. This interlude promises to cut the journey short unless Hartdegen is on familiar terms with impoundment yards or car thieves. It does lead to an entertaining encounter with Orlando Jones as a holographic guide to the New York Public Library called Vox, destined for a somewhat labored encore on the ruins of the same site in 802701. Why is Vox reading from "Tom Sawyer" in the final sequence, instead of from an H.G. Wells story?
Retrieving his vehicle, Hartdegen is sheltered by the surprised but receptive Eloi, who have to be far more ingenious and industrious than Wells' beautiful but passive creatures to have constructed the lofty nests ascribed to them. The participation of Industrial Light & Magic, the George Lucas effects shop, seems to have influenced the conception, which suggests miniature penthouses lashed to precipices.
Hartdegen becomes a sort of time-traveling, undersized Tarzan to a sister-and-brother team, newcomers Samantha Mumba and Otero Mumba as siblings Mara and Kalen. Their potential capture by the Morlocks occupies the hero for the remainder of the adventure.
Near the fadeout, the movie hints at a romantic attachment between the characters played by Mr. Pearce and the teen-age Miss Mumba, but it's not very convincing. They don't rival the virile and fragile glamour possessed by Mr. Taylor and Miss Mimieux in 1960. Miss Mumba also seems more mature emotionally than Mr. Pearce. It's as if she has become the tribal elder at a very young age.
Although they seem able to look after themselves, Mara and Kalen clearly derive from the childlike Eloi Weena, who attached herself to Wells' time traveler. His great sorrow was being unable to protect her from a nocturnal Morlock assault. The new version hulks up the monsters and envisions them as literal dirtbags at one point, springing into the light of day from sandy pits.
They also get a disillusioning mastermind: Jeremy Irons in a camp cameo appearance as the so-called uber-Morlock, an Albino hag with an extremely ugly spinal column and a despotic disposition. I suppose some actors can struggle persuasively to the death while straddling a time machine, but Mr. Pearce and Mr. Irons do not appear to be the ideal match.
TITLE: "The Time Machine"
RATING: PG-13 (ominous episodes and occasional graphic violence)
CREDITS: Directed by Simon Wells. Screenplay by John Logan, based on the novella by H.G. Wells.
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes

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