Many people hold an amount of disdain for the remake of The Time Machine from 2002. To dismiss this film as wholly bad, would be too easy, and unfair. And while I agree, there are problems with this film – there are also some interesting ideas as well.
Simon Wells’ version is not completely an adaptation of George Pal’s previous work. It reworks the plotline into something, probably a little worse for wear. Instead of the time traveler deciding to visit the future for exploratory purposes, or because he doesn’t belong, Guy Pearce’s character is driven by the inconsolable death of his fiancée. First to the past, and then when he realizes that he can’t change his past/future, he throws himself into the far-reaches of the time stream.
There is an interesting stop along the way in mid 21st Century where the traveler, Alexander, sees the destruction of Earth’s moon, thus setting up the changes necessary to explain the future society seen in Act 3. This section while entertaining, much like Back To The Future 2, doesn’t seem to fit into the overall nature of this story.
The special effects are of course much more grandiose, having the ability to utilize CGI to show the time travels, as well as enhance the Morlocks beastial nature and their brutality. However, the CGI Morlocks have a ‘fake-ness’ about them, due to the problems of mass and physics not being imparted on them properly by the effects artists. Other aspects, such as the time machine and it’s travel are very well done, and top the amazing work done back in 1960. The film also offers riffs on other fantasy films, such as the Morlock attack on the Eloi is very reminiscent of the ape attack on the humans in Planet of the Apes. Also the design of the costuming and victorian era at the beginning, as well of the time machine harken to Jules Verne, who is even name-checked by the Vox computer program in the library.
My biggest issues with this film are the adding on of unnecessary complexity to the story, and the jettisoning of a central philosophic ideal. Adding the quick trip into the past to save Emma – proving the immutability of time – but later Alexander blows up his time machine, killing all (?) the Morlocks, and thus saving the world (potentially) from the Morlock infested future of 635,427,810. How is this possible. Perhaps his destruction of the machine leads to that future, as his past failures suggest. Jeremy Irons as the lead Morlock provides more questions about the nature of the Morlock society than it answers. It seems as if the creators needed to have a single bad guy to provide dialogue about the future as a means of explanation. And then finally changing the Eloi female from Weena to Mara, is just ridiculous. Why change the character name? Just because, I guess.
This version seems too wrapped up in giving all the characters well-explained rationale for their actions, and perhaps proving that the creators can change the future! The time traveler, the Morlock leader, the Eloi all suffer from the bloat of a misguided design – and as such, the film misses out on some of the wonder of the original.