Time goes slowly

The remake of The Time Machine has two "based-on credits," one at the beginning and one at the end so you don't connect them. The first is the original novel by H.G. Wells, the second the screenplay by David Duncan for George Pal's 1960 screen version. They might have added such disparate sources as Ground Hog Day, Max Headroom, and last year's remake of Planet of the Apes.

Another Australian, Guy Pearce, dons the Victorian wardrobe of a character now known as Alexander Hartdegen, but the setting has been moved from London to New York. He's an absent-minded professor at Columbia who will become an unlikely action hero when he travels 800,000 years into the future.

Although Alex is a man of intellect, he's given an emotional motivation for developing time travel. His beloved Emma (Sienna Guillory) is killed just as they become engaged, and he wants to replay the night to make it come out differently. Four years later he's got his contraption (with a lot more bells and whistles: it looks like the DVD edition of the 1960 model) and travels back, but the result is no better.

Before you can say, "Oh my God, they killed Emma!" he's headed into the future to look for the answer. (It's the historical inevitability, stupid!) He makes a couple of stops in the 2030s, where he meets Vox (Orlando Jones), a massive database with a holographic human form.

Disaster strikes, and Alex barely escapes, but he passes out while traveling to the year 802701. The movie has been spotty up to now, but it's almost completely worthless from here on.

In this primitive futureworld, Alex is discovered by the only people who still speak English, the lovely Mara (Samantha Mumba) and her little brother Kalen (Omero Mumba). They've never met an outsider before, yet they know instinctively they're not supposed to tell him about their lifestyle. It emerges gradually that they are Eloi, a passive race rounded up periodically by the ruling Morlocks, who live underground and bear a passing resemblance to the apes of the Planet of same.

Boring conversations are punctuated with long, wordless action sequences that facilitate international sales but don't provide much excitement. Some artifacts from the 20th century have survived into the 8028th, mostly inscriptions from buildings, but also Vox, who provides more exposition and comic relief. Although he supposedly can be viewed only in special panels, in one scene he reaches outside of one to pat a skeleton, and his hand doesn't disappear.

Also putting in an appearance in a tedious climactic sequence is Jeremy Irons as the Uber-Morlock, who looks like an albino in Kabuki makeup. "Who are you to question 800,000 years of evolution?" he rightly asks the outside agitator before The Time Machine questions a century of literature to reach its own conclusion.

For those who go to movies only for the computer-generated effects, The Time Machine offers a plethora, especially during the travel sequences, although there was a certain clunky charm to the time-lapse photography of the 1960 version.

History is served by having Alan Young, whose role in the original is truncated and played by Mark Addy, appear as a flower store clerk; and by having the film directed by H.G. Wells' great-grandson, Simon Wells, who has previously worked only in animated films (The Prince of Egypt, Balto).

The 1960 version of The Time Machine left you with the question of which three books you would take along to enlighten future generations. As I watched the 2002 version plod along, the only question that occurred to me was time-related: When will it end? 


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