Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Lesson From The Time Machine Is: If You Fail Once, Don't Try Again!

The Good: Moments of special effects, Jeremy Irons, Moments of concept
The Bad: Most of the acting, Character, Execution of plot
The Basics: In a generally disappointing film, Alexander Hartdegen tries once to save his lover, gives up and jumps to the future to help humans fight being eaten by their cousin race.

After I watched L.A. Confidential for the first time (reviewed here!), I remember being instantly enthusiastic about Guy Pearce. He had impressed me in that movie and I wanted to find something else he was in, so I sought and I found The Time Machine right away. As part of my self-proclaimed insanity, when I recently watched Memento (reviewed here!) and went to reference my review for The Time Machine, I was baffled to discover I had not written one. So, I was compelled to take in this science fiction film a second time (last night).

Alexander Hartdegen is a radical physics instructor who has fallen in love with Emma, a simple woman in the late 1800s. Alexander proposes to Emma and no sooner are they engaged than she is killed in a mugging. Bummer. Alexander spends four years working on a time machine, which he utilizes to return to the night of the proposal, where he takes Emma into the city (as opposed to into the park) to prevent her from dying. When this plan keeps her from being mugged, she ends up run down by a carriage and killed and Alexander ends up so distraught that he hops into his time machine and travels to the future to try to figure out how he change the past. When he is leaving the future, he accidentally skips forward a short distance again to a time when excavating the moon has essentially blown it up and our satellite is radically altering Earth's orbit and jeopardizing humanity.

Escaping this near future knocks Alexander unconscious with the violence of the quakes he is experiencing and Alexander is thrown into the distant future, approximately 800,000 years into the future. There, he discovers recognizable humans living in huts and caves above the rivers where they are preyed upon by Morlocks for food and breeding stock.

Maybe I just didn't write a review the first time around because I was so terribly disappointed with The Time Machine; after all, I watched it for Guy Pearce and his slack-jawed performance of Alexander Hartdegen was one of the serious drawbacks of the movie. Seriously. Pearce spends all of his time in his native time (and up until the final leap into the distant future) with his mouth open in one of the dumbest expressions of all time.

This does not aid the story or the character because in addition to looking like an utter moron throughout a significant portion of the movie, Alexander remains one of the least sensible characters of all time. As someone with something of an obsessive personality, I've no fear in saying that if one is determined enough to shatter the laws of physics for love, when things don't work out the first time, I'd try again. Alexander fails to save Emma after his first attempt, so he gives up. How ridiculous is that?!

Granted, it's not the most natural thing to solve one's problems by going back in time to try to undo the problems, but if one is determined enough to do that, common sense seems to indicate that such a person would be of such a character as to not give up after the first time. So, taking Emma out of the park fails. What stops Alexander from going back again and simply incapacitating the mugger? Or delaying the carriage that runs Emma over in his first time travel experiment? Logic dictates that with each attempt, odds of success increase as the number of Alexander's working to save her life increase as well.

This is just an irreconcilable character problem that is utterly unforgivable. What's even worse is Alexander's eventual surrender to fate in the distant future. The humans and the Morlocks, the subterranean evolutionary offspring of humanity, have been locked in effectual warfare for thousands of years and Alexander's refusal to go back and stop the apocalypse that creates the Morlocks and makes humans into their meat product is just ridiculous. Man loves woman enough to go back in time (once) to try to save her, man does not love Humanity enough to even make a single attempt.

Part of the problem here is certainly the acting, which is compounding the lousy characters. The best performances are bit performances in The Time Machine. Mark Addy plays Alexander's best friend, David Filby in Alexander's native time. Addy gets into the period part and is believable as the stiff but likable associate of Alexander with his sympathetic delivery of lines intended to heal his wounded friend. Similarly, Jeremy Irons is great as the villainous Uber-Morlock, though he comes into the movie so late that by the time he makes his appearance, the viewer just does not care. Irons has a much more substantial and better role in The Mission, reviewed here.

Guy Pearce, though, is not at the top of his game here. His performance does not make or break the movie, but he fairly bumbles through the story, teetering as he does with a weak character on a pretty poor script. He's not given a lot of decent lines in the distant future and as much of the movie is spent there, it just weakens the whole piece.

Samantha Mumba is, sadly, unremarkable as Mara, Alexander's friend and ally in the distant future. And Orlando Jones, in his cameos as Vox is simply Orlando Jones. I like Orlando Jones on MadTV. He's funny and it was an excellent starting point for him. When Jones, as Vox, begins to sing in the library, it seems like Jones, not the character he is playing and (writer) John Logan's addition of "Live long and prosper" as a line for Vox just fell flat.

The special effects are adequate and succeed in being generally special, at least during the actual time traveling sequences. Problematically, some of the basic shots (Alexander in front of the library in the future springs instantly to mind) are so obviously bluescreen shots that they are distracting. The score during the big leap forward is pretty wonderful.

On the overall, though, H.G. Wells's concept is corrupted by writers David Duncan and John Logan and executed in an unremarkable way by director Simon Wells. Even a science fiction fan is unlikely to enjoy this outing, even on a rainy day after their entire collection is exhausted. I had to sit through it twice to write that; no need for you to make the same mistake!

For other works with Sienna Guillory, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Love Actually


For other films, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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