Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Time Travel Time #15: The Time Machine (2002)

In the past, “Time Travel Time” has presented posts on the 1960, George Pal film version of H.G. Well’s “The Time Machine” (see “Time Travel Time #1": Feb '14) and the “Classics Illustrated”/Sun Classics television pilot (see “Time Travel Time #9": Jan '15). The movies mirror each other, with the television version leaning as much on the Pal interpretation as Well’s novella. In both instances, the Eloi are fair-haired and the Morlocks brutal; the Time Traveler, whether in the guise of Rod Taylor or John Beck, ambitious and action prone.

With the 2002 Dreamworks/Warner Brothers production, directed by none other than Wells’ great grandson, Simon (with some assistance from Gore Verbinski), both the original text and the Pal feature (i.e., David Duncan’s script for the latter) influence John Logan's screenplay, but with some select, though significant variations.

Per the 2002 retelling, Columbia University Professor Alexander Hartdegen (Guy Pearce) time-treks from the year 1899 (in a crystal-fueled device that's a cross between the one featured in Pal's version and that of Nicholas Meyers' "Time After Time"). In this regard, he initially deters the expected Eloi and Morlocks by going backwards. It's his hope to prevent the death of his love, Emma (Sienna Guillory), who was shot in a robbery, and this is the primary, distinguishing characteristic (and the Time Traveler's main motivation) during the remake's fledgling phase.

Hartdegen does, in fact, save his lady, but not without her facing death mere minute later by other means. (Oh, how unflinchingly fickle fate can be!) Heartbroken and desperate, Hartdegen forges ahead, hoping the future might hold the necessary insight to change the past and extend Emma's life. However, when he slips into the year 2030, he’s told by a holographic librarian named Vox (Orlando “Sleepy Hollow” Jones) that time travel (especially any sojourn to the past) is impossible. 

Frustrated, Hartdegen jaunts onward, to the year 2037, learning upon arrival that a moon-based mishap has caused cataclysmic changes to the Earth. He escapes the hazardous climate left in its wake, stumbling even further in time, to the distant year 802,701, where he encounters a new evolutionary path for humanity. 

As expected, the Eloi and Morlocks constitute the factions that have sprung from Earth’s terrain changes, with the former in tune with the beasts we’ve come to expect, but with the Eloi no longer fair-haired or pale-skinned and more cognitive of their circumstance (though to some extent, such keener awareness can also be ascribed to those in the ’78 version).

In any event, Hartedgen befriends the lovely Mara (Samantha Mumba), this version’s Weena, as well as her little brother, Kalen (Omero Mumba), and immerses himself in the tribe’s tree-house-tiered habitat. He also learns of the corralling, flesh-eating Morlocks (eventually gaining additional information from the yet activated and now more knowledgeable Vox). The bestial hunters resemble those of the Pal version (green-skinned, long-haired, but more agile) and of course, Hartdegen decides to help the Eloi evade them, and when they capture Mara, rescue her. 

One would think that, from this point, the story would play traditionally, and for the most part it does, but a surprise villain surfaces: an advanced Morlock, portrayed by Jeremy Irons. This nameless sentinel is a dream-inducing, dictatorial creature, who exchanges time-travel philosophy with Hartdegen, encouraging him to abandon his quest to save Emma (for even if he were to achieve such, it would only lead to a fruitless, temporal paradox). The Morlocks, he explains, are destined to continue their dominating course, no matter what. 

Hartdegen rejects the mutant's claim and combats him, resulting in…well, you’ll just have to watch the film to see. To say the least, the ending is different than in previous tellings, including Well’s novella.

Nevertheless, more than anything, "Time Machine '02" succeeds as an intended homage, offering subtle references to older samplings, including the Time Traveler’s pal, Philby (Mark Addy), along with a cameo of his ’60's counterpart (Alan Young). Vox even references Well's story (as well as the Pal version) and croons a selection from an imaginary Andrew Lloyd Weber musical based on such. 

Alas, the film sometimes falters by being too dark in its underground depictions. Often the cavernous dimness makes it difficult to discern the Morlocks; otherwise, they're admirably designed by the Oscar-nominated, make-up talents of John M. Elliot, Jr. and Barbara Lorenz. Fortunately, the creatures' first appearance is decently illuminated, dynamically staged and in intensity, comparable to the human round-up of "Planet of the Apes '68".

Irons’ Morlock leader is perhaps the film’s most interesting and controversial presence. His Karloffian persona gives the movie an air of weird sophistication, but also some might argue, complicates the climax, stifling the story’s adventurous flow with poetic verbosity. 

Pearce’s Hartdegen, on the other hand, remains a welcome presence throughout, the actor’s interpretation differing from Taylor and Beck: radical, regretful and mostly analytical, almost to a “Doctor Who” extent, which works well off Mumba/Mara’s inquisitive view of him. The couple may seem an unlikely team, but their performances make the relationship credible and justifies Hartedegen’s focus on the future, instead of a sealed, impenetrable past. (Jones’ Vox is also an amiable addition, culling woe and humility through his computerized persona.)

Though unlikely to enthrall those who are partial to mindless explosions and characterless plots, “Time Machine ‘02” should still entertain most. It may not be everyone’s favored interpretation, but structurally it's rarely superfluous and always respectful to Well’s concept. Also, with the spread of steampunk pageantry in recent years, this one has aged far better than expected, and on that basis alone, seems fated to be revisited and referenced by Wells fans over the inescapable ticking of time. 

No comments:

Post a Comment