They come out at night
A modern update of The Time Machine suffices thanks to fast-paced special effects
Pity poor Guy Pearce, a man who of late has had a problem with time. With the delirious Memento, he had to deal with the hinky handicap of having only 15 minutes on the face of his clock. Now he’s been overcompensated with The Time Machine, as a traveler with literally all the time in the world on his hands.
Here he stutters about as Alexander, an absent-minded professor whose slack-jawed look of perpetual adenoidal befuddlement masks the fact that he’s actually quite brilliant. He’s a physics professor whose time-travel theories seem patently absurd in 1899 and get him nothing but flack and derision from his university colleagues, who mutter about his oddball communications with an obscure German patent clerk by the name of, yeah, you guessed it.
He’s on the top of the world, though, on the eve of proposing to his lovely girlfriend Emma in the middle of Central Park. Unfortunately, within a minute of allowing him to slip the ring on her finger, she gets capped by a mugger. Her death spurs him to a four-year retreat wherein he dedicates his energies to building a time machine based on his theories. The way Alexander figures it, he can go back in time and prevent her murder. Sad to say, Fate has other plans.
Firing up his Victorian time buggy, he scoots back to the fateful night and hurries her out of the park—only to deliver her into the path of a runaway team of horses. So much for Plan A. Since he doesn’t have a Plan B, he decides to see what the future holds. After a brief stopover in 2037 (uh, don’t make any long-term plans after that date), he and his contraption are hurled 800,000 years into the future, where he finds that evolution has taken an odd turn. He hooks up with a tribe of post-modern primitives (apparently, tattoo parlors are the only industry that survived the apocalypse) called the Eloi.
Fortunately for him, one of them has an affinity for dead languages (even better, she’s a babe), Irish pop star Samantha Mumba, who has a taste for slit-skirts and see-through blouses. Emma who? She introduces him to their hippy-dippy doings and sort of catches him up to speed on what’s happened during the course of his post-modern Rip Van Winkle stint.
Things are going along just peachy until he finds out the hard way that the tribe is being terrorized by the Morlocks, underground-dwelling folks who’ve taken a seriously wrong route down the evolutionary trail. Bounding out of sand traps and looking like shaved rottweilers (apparently, copies of Invaders from Mars and Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes survived also), they pull a c-block on him and abscond with his new girl, so he decides to go down and have a word with their leader, a looong-removed descendant of Edgar Winter (Jeremy Irons, chewing up the scenery, among other things).
Of course, none of this makes a lick of sense, but then we’re talking time-travel conundrums here—they never do add up. Suffice to say, if you turn off the brain, the ride is loopy entertainment. Taking into account the short attention spans of contemporary audiences, director Simon Wells has reworked his great-granddad’s classic as yet another multiplex roller coaster ride, excising most of H. G.'s musings on class-consciousness and social theorems but maintaining enough bolts to hold the vehicle together.
After a decidedly creaky half-hour, the computer techies kick down with their CGI goodies, offering up a menu of holographic librarians, exploding moons, and a subterranean den of flesh-eating goblins straight out of a Hieronymous Bosch painting. It’s fast-paced eye candy, but it is also a fairly close Cliffs Notes adaptation of the book. Simon does his great-granddaddy adequate.