HCF may be one of the newest voices on the web for all things Horror and Cult, and while our aim is to bring you our best opinion of all the new and strange that hits the market, we still cannot forget about our old loves, the films that made us want to create the website to spread the word. So, now and again our official critics at the HCF headquarters have an urge to throw aside their new required copies of the week and dust down their old collection and bring them to the fore…. our aim, to make sure that you may have not missed the films that should be stood proud in your collection.
A week after reviewing the original 1960 film, Doc looks at the 2002 remake, one of the better remakes of a classic science-fiction movie.
HCF REWIND NO.61. THE TIME MACHINE 
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 98 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In the year 1899, Dr. Alexander Hartdegen is a young inventor teaching at Columbia University in New York City. Unlike his friend David Philby, Alexander would rather do pure research than work in the world of business. After his sweetheart Emma is killed by a robber, he devotes himself to building a time machine in order to save her. Four years later, he finally completes his work and travels back to 1899 to rectify the past. He manages to prevent her murder, but his happiness is short lived when minutes later Emma is killed by an early automobile. Still convinced he can change what is seemingly fated, he then sets off into the future to see if the information required to do so exists…….
A remake of The Time Machine, directed by the great-grandson of H.G. Wells, the author of the original book, and taking advantage of all the technological advances in special effects? Sounds like a recipe for a great film that would be even better than the fine 1960 movie and be far more faithful to the novel. Well, this 2002 effort is nowhere near as good as the George Pal production and is even further from the book. I remember being extremely disappointed by it when it first came out, though it has grown on me, and I would imagine if you are new to the story you may thoroughly enjoy it. The film has considerable problems, mostly because it is filled with ideas and changes to the book/1960 movie that are sometimes interesting but are often just misconceived and or/ not thought through, and it does not really hang together. Its heart is in the right place though and it is certainly one of the better remakes of recent years.
Writer John Logan was, and is, a far more prominent screenwriter than David Duncan [who wrote the first version], with fine films like Hugo and The Last Samurai to his name [though I’m not a big fan of Gladiator], so one would have expected him to do a far better job than he ended up doing. Director Simon Wells got so exhausted making the movie that that very erratic filmmaker Gore Verbinski was brought in to take over the last 18 days of shooting. Originally intended for a December 2001 release, it was held up for three months because of a scene where a meteor shower destroys most of New York, a scene that was thought could remind people too much of 9/11. Eventually the scene was cut to a minimum, and I remember being most annoyed that this major special effects sequence did not appear on the DVD as a deleted scene, though nor did some other material that was cut, except for a longer introduction scene at the beginning of the movie. Reviews were pretty slating, though the film held its own at the box office, if not the big hit it was expected to be.
As before, we begin in Victorian times, though this time in New York, and CGI allows us to chance to see more of the city at the turn of the century then we did of London. The first section of the film has an interesting downbeat feel to it, telling as it does of Emma’s death and Alexander failing to save her four years later by travelling back in time. Alexander’s main reason for building the time machine seems to be to save Emma, and, while rather touching, I don’t like it as much as the ’60 production where George travelled in time just because he wanted to and hoped the future would be a better world than the one he lives in. It seems tacky that Logan had to give his hero such a strong excuse to set off the time travelling. Never mind, the journeying begins and of course CGI has replaced the time-lapse photography of the original. There’s no gradual speeding up here; it’s going fast straight away, so it’s far less exciting. Still, one particular shot, where we pull out of Alexander’s house, away from the Earth and onto the Moon as we rush through decades of progress and finish off seeing spaceships, is stunning. It’s also great to see detailed landscape change, even if it never fails to not look like computer graphics.
A 2030 sequence is nice and Vox 114, the somewhat sarcastic hologram, is a good way to give us some information as well as a bit of light relief, including a funny Andrew Lloyd Webber spoof. He shows up again later, filling part of the role of those daft talking rings. The cut down 2037 scene though, while it gives us the arresting image of the Moon breaking up, is so brief that it has little impact, and is also pretty ludicrous. We are asked to believe that the Moon, which has survived damage from countless asteroids, can be destroyed by doing some mining with nukes. Huh? When we finally arrive at 803,701, much effort has been made to differentiate it from the 803,701 of before. The blonde, white-skinned, very European-looking Eloi are now darker folk of possibly African descent, and, while is not explained why their houses are on the side of cliffs, it makes for considerable visual interest. The Eloi are not as appallingly weak here, while the Morlocks seem to be more agile and dangerous, though when they move the CG used is predictably poor. They are introduced in a thrilling sequence where they attack the Eloi and kidnap some of them, a scene which reminds me of the first appearance of the Apes in the original Planet Of The Apes. Vivid and exciting, especially when Alexander fights back , it does make the climactic fight with the Morlocks seem a bit rushed by comparison.
The final reel brings on a character called the ‘Uber Morlock’, played by Jeremy Irons in a surprisingly low-key manner, and his task just seems to be to confuse the audience and make things more unnecessarily complex, yet paradoxically creating a few holes and inconsistencies in a rare time travel tale, which, up to now, doesn’t really have them [though of course you could say they that they all have holes and inconsistencies!]. The ending scene, showing us two things happening simultaneously at different times, is nice, and I know I have spent much if this review criticising the film, but that’s the thing. This version constantly gives us some good and interesting ideas and then almost throws them away. For example, Guy Pearce may not be playing as inspiring a ‘hero’ as Rod Taylor’s, but his more studious, almost wimpish character is pleasingly different and really works for the film until half way through where he immediately has the ability to avoid and best some Morlocks. Taylor’s character could convincingly do that; Pearce’s just seems silly the way he suddenly seems to become someone else.
Out of the rest of the cast, Mark Addy does well in a very similar ‘best friend’ part to Alan Young’s, and Samantha Mumba is surprisingly good; she has a natural way with the camera and should have done more in films. Klaus Badelt’s score has some strong themes, especially a rather rousing main theme and African-sounding music for the Eloi, making it one of the best scores to come from this erratic composer [sometimes a Media Ventures clone, sometimes a decent composer with his own voice]. The actual time machine is pretty impressive, with its more elaborate design and the way a kind of bubble forms when it is travelling in time, though I prefer the simplicity of the original’s machine. Then again, if I was going to travel in time, this new machine certainly seems safer! My overall feeling about this remake is that it’s a solid science fiction adventure when taken on its own, and a reasonable if inferior remake when compared to the original movie. And maybe someone will film the fantastic book properly one day.