The Time Machine (2002)
Dreamworks // PG-13 // $26.98 // July 23, 2002
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted July 14, 2002
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The Movie:

Director Simon Wells moved from animation (the stunning "Prince Of Egypt") to big-budget live action with this remake of "The Time Machine". I suppose if I had to pick one animation director who I'd think could take on such a project based on their animated work, it would probably be Wells, whose "Prince Of Egypt" had an epic feel. Wells actually also happens to be the great-grandson of original novelist H.G. Wells.

However, things didn't go exactly as planned for Wells. Reportedly, the director suffered from "extreme exhaustion" on the set of this remake and another director ("Mousehunt"'s Gore Verbinski, who remains uncredited) was called in to helm the last 18 days of the shoot before Wells returned for post-production. The result is a film that suffers from mediocre writing, miscasting and too much CGI over not enough drama or adventure. However, it is a beautiful looking film, but that certainly wasn't enough to hold my attention.

The film stars Guy Pierce ("Memento") as Alexander Hartdegan, a professor in 1899 who falls for Emma (Sienna Guillory) and proposes marriage one night in the park. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes. Alexander spends the next four years locked within his room, perfecting his plans to make a time machine to travel back and stop what happened. When that doesn't work, he zips forward in time to the future and then, accidentally, the far future.

Once he hits the way-far (about 800,000 years or so) future, he runs smack into a battle between the Eloi and the Morlocks (who look an awful lot like bigger versions of the little mummies from "The Mummy Returns"), two versions of humanity that have apparently been the result of some sort of evolution. Essentially, the entire film runs into "Planet of the Apes" territory - ground that Tim Burton travelled better in his remake of that film. The biggest surprise is that, like the first half of the film, the second half ends abruptly and with little development leading up to the conclusion. It feels like two different short movies awkwardly pieced together, with small parts missing.

There are some aspects of "The Time Machine" that I liked, but they almost all had to do with the look of the film. A reportedly 80-million dollar production, the film boasts extraordinary cinematography from Donald McAlpine (who often works with director Baz Lhurmann), excellent costume design, fantastic production design and pretty impressive visual effects. The machine itself, which looks like the world's biggest set of wind chimes glued together, is also elegant in appearance. Klaus Badelt's magnificent score is one of the finest that I've heard in recent memory - it deserves a much better film to be paired with.

The performances are not particularly good and, unfortunately, lead the list of the film's faults. In the remake of "The Count of Monte Cristo", released earlier in the year, Guy Pierce seemed to know he wasn't in the greatest picture and went a few steps over-the-top, making for the only entertaining performance in that film. This time, Pierce is in a similarly uninteresting picture and, instead, goes for a straightforward performance that's bland. Not very interesting either is pop star Samantha Mumba, who plays an Eloi that Alexander falls for. The two have zero chemistry and what little romance there is between the two is defintely not developed by the script. Jeremy Irons, wasted again after the horribly over-the-top performance in "Dungeons and Dragons", plays the Uber-Morlock, who has unexpectedly few scenes.

Another of the film's main faults was that it's simply very slow, with the opening 45-minutes taking an awfully long time to get going. Quite frankly, the entire 90-minute picture remained boring, but at least the second half started to become slightly more involving. The romance between Alexander and Emma, which is the reason why he built the time machine, seems to essentially be forgotten about once the film reaches its second half, where it starts to try and become more of an action movie. Yet, the action isn't particularly interesting - a bunch of actors trying to fight other actors with a lot of odd make-up.

Orlando Jones turns up a few times during the film; once in the near-future, as a virtual library assistant who tries, unsuccessfully, to help Pierce's character. The second time, strangely, the virtual character returns in a scene 800,000 years in the future, only to explain the plot. Everything else has apparently been demolished, but this machine still works. Alrighty, then.

Also hurting the film is the fact that it really doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. There's really little very thought-provoking about the picture, nor does it provide very much in the way of action, falling exactly in-between. The film certainly looks great, but it doesn't provide character development, ideas, joy, fun or charm. Given the craft and energy that went into the look of the picture, I'm surprised that so little was put into the script. I found the film especially disapointing, as I really sensed that, with a different screenplay, this could have been a very entertaining and enjoyable remake.


VIDEO: Dreamworks presents "The Time Machine" in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Although the studio has dissapointed with image quality with a couple of recent titles ("Evolution", for example), their efforts with the presentation of this film are certainly impressive. The picture remained exceptionally sharp and detailed throughout, with a smooth, often three-dimensional appearance.

In fact, the only fault that I noticed was that a few little hints of edge enhancement appeared in a scene or two. Noticable, but hardly much of a distraction. The majority of the film was free of edge enhancement and neither pixelation nor print flaws were spotted. The film's warm, rich color palette was beautifully rendered, appearing well-saturated and with no smearing.

SOUND: "The Time Machine" is presented in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 by Dreamworks. While I wouldn't consider the audio reference quality, this is still a very, very good soundtrack that fans of intense surround-sound experiences should enjoy. The surrounds are aggressively engaged during the action sequences and even during some of the more subtle moments, delivering the sound effects and the terrific score. I was very pleased that the score got the presence that it did within the soundtrack; it really was enveloping and made some scenes work better than they would have otherwise. Audio quality was excellent, as sound effects, score and dialogue remained crisp and clear. Overall, a very dynamic and enjoyable soundtrack that tries well to support the material. Comparing the Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks proved that the DTS soundtrack offered some clear advantages; a noticably stronger sense of envelopment, a slightly richer and more detailed feeling and deeper bass.

MENUS: As per usual, Dreamworks has prepared well-done animated menus that use clips from the film nicely. Zippy transitions between the main and sub-menus are also included.


Commentaries: This is a commentary from director Simon Wells and editor Wayne Wahrman. I browsed through the commentary, expecting to find some discussion of the production situation where director Verbinski stepped in to direct a small part of the movie. Aside from a couple of brief statements, Wells really doesn't speak much about this situation. Still, the commentary overall is a fairly enjoyable one. Although the two clearly seem very pleased with the film and stop to praise the work of those who played a role in the film, they do chat about the production and several behind-the-scenes stories that are more interesting to hear about.

The second commentary is from producer David Valdes, visual effects supervisor Jamie Price and production designer Oliver Scholl. Although this commentary is dry and rather technical, I found it a bit more focused and informative than the other track.

Featurettes: A series of short featurettes are included: Creating The Morlocks is a look at the make-up effects which were used. Some concept designs are shown and Stan Winston is also interviewed for the piece. Building The Time Machine is, essentially, just what the title states. Director Wells, producer Walter Parkes, production designer Oliver Scholl and others discuss the creation of the machine itself, which is one of the biggest working movie props ever made.

Visual Effects by Digital Domain: One of the film's effects artists offers audio discussion of the development of some of the film's bigger effects sequences while they play on-screen.

Deleted Scene: A slightly different opening sequence is offered. I liked this scene - while a little overlong, it adds to Pierce's character and should have been kept in, I think.

Fight Choreography: Although no other explanation is offered, we are shown two of the stuntmen working out a fight sequence.

Also: A gallery of conceptual designs; 3 trailers (teaser, theatrical and international) in Dolby Digital 5.1; cast bios; production notes and filmmaker bios.

Final Thoughts: A visually remarkable film which unfortunately often remains remarkably dull, I found "The Time Machine" to be a disapointment. However, for those who enjoyed the movie, Dreamworks has put together a fantastic DVD, with excellent audio/video quality and supplements. Still, for those who haven't seen the film, I'd only barely recommend a rental and certainly no more than that.

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