Time Machine (DreamWorks-AOL/Time Warner)
Directed by: Gore Verbinski, Simon Wells (I)
The book has been made into a number of movies, each further from the original text than the previous, but the basic elements remain: the machine, the traveler, the trip into the far future to find mankind split into Morlock and Eloi, the girl, the rescue, the uncertain future...The End.
In the latest version of the Time Machine, this one by DreamWorks/AOL-Time-Warner, Guy Pierce plays Dr. Alexander Hartdegen, who actually had no name in the book, and was made out to be Wells himself in the 1960 George Pal film. He's a brilliantly obsessed young college professor in New York, a bit reminiscent of Russell Crowe's character in A Beautiful Mind (SFRevu Jan. 2002), also in love with a beautiful girl and with the whole wonderful world of technology about to unfold at the turn of the century.
The girl is killed, at the moment of maximum tragedy. The scientist vows to turn back time to resurrect her, but though he manages the pretty neat trick of inventing a time machine, he can't beat causality, and all he accomplishes is to watch her die all over again.
If the answer doesn't lie in the past, might it lie in the future? Our boy is nothing if not determined, so he sets off to find a more enlightened age.
He stops briefly in our near future, when lunar homes are being advertised on grimy Manhattan streets, and Orlando Jones portrays a holographic ("photonic") information system in the New York Library who dismisses questions about time travel as having no practical application.
Off to the necessary cataclysm, which I won't reveal, except to say that our fine society comes to an end not through war, but through prosperity, an unsettling note to be certain.
Then to the distant future, where mischance sends him, he discovers the peaceful Eloi, living in harmony with the land, and the brutal mechanistic Morlocks living beneath the Earth, preying on them. And he falls in love with "Mara" who's name in the book had been "Weena," no doubt short for Edwina, a popular name in the 1800s perhaps, but lost to the sands of time now.
There's a heroic confrontation with the Uber-Morlock beneath the planet of the Eloi, where we get to see the ultimate destiny of tool using man, which isn't pretty. Of course, it might be pretty if we were Morlocks ourselves, an old lesson we have to keep relearning, but perhaps which Shrek recently beat us over the head with.
Guy Pearce brings the obsessed inventor across the ages
nicely, and Irish singer Samantha Mumba is certainly a winsome Mara. The
development of their relationship could use some work, but the book lets
things just sort of happen as well. My
favorite character has to be Orlando Jones' photonic librarian, doomed
to remember the sum of human knowledge, and probably to fret about that
last library book not having been returned 800 thousand years ago. Of
course, those fines would pay nicely for a new wing. Jeremy
Irons looks like a Kiss refugee as the Uber-Morlock, which works for
him, and it's possible that he's underused. Observant credit watchers
will note that Director Simon is the great-grandson of H.G., a nice bit
of time travel tribute.
Mankind is a clever and inventive species, and though we fear the collapse of our comfortable way of life, we shouldn't discount our resilience, as doom mongers are prone too. Bruce Sterling's Dead Media Project worries (rightly) that we're entrusting all the data we produce to forms of storage that will be unreadable in the blink of an eye. Considering the nearly useless magnetic tapes from early NASA flights and the tons and tons of floppy disks that have neither data integrity nor drives available to read them, one might think he was dead on. He's certainly on target for an area of concern, but one bit that I really liked from the movie was that mankind's knowledge does survive in the form of the holographic library. My bigger concern is that a distant band of humans, or evolved crabs, or sentient strands of grass, would come across the photonic librarian in the film and being unable to produce a library card, be refused the information stored within.
If you're wondering what my bottom line is, the movie's
a keeper. Guy and Samantha were both credible and engaging and the CGI
was as good as expected. The movie was fun in its own right, and there's
hope that it will get audiences to look backwards at the earlier
versions. Speaking of which...
A Short History of
The Time Machine
The Time Machine's past...
the beginning, there was the book.
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1898)
Herbert George Wells wrote The Time Machine a little over a century ago back in 1898. It's full of exposition about the nature of time, the evolution of social order the then newly understood impact of the life and death of a planet. It's also a pretty riveting story, and it covers a lot of ground, leaving subsequent subsequent SF a collection of images to mine and till. You can pop over to Project Gutenberg, the repository of free electronic texts and read it online, or download it. The written story isn't hurt at all by the movies, I was pleased to note reading over sections after seeing the latest film, but rather it's a pleasant puzzle to see how they all map into each other.
Two excellent sites for accessing this and other public domain stories are Project Gutenberg, the repository for public domain e-text, and Literature.org, an online library based with good formatting for reading by web browser (remember that you can change your font size to find the most comfortable reading size).
Project Gutenberg: Download
the Time Machine
Then sometime later, a movie...
The Time Machine (1960)
Directed by: George Pal
IMDB listing: http://us.imdb.com/Title?0054387
You should definitely get hold of this and see it as well as the 2002 version, but I'd suggest seeing the latter film first. The 1960 George Pal film is more thoughtful, and colored by the relative recency of WWII and the imminent peril of WWIII. We by comparison live in a kinder, gentler time, when our worst enemy is depicted to be ourselves. It would take real guts for a movie to come out and say our worst enemy was ignorance and religious fundamentalism, and it's much easier to sell people who don't want to take responsibility for themselves that knowledge is more dangerous than ignorance.
...and more movies
The Time Travelers (1964)
Directed by: Ib Melchior
It doesn't take a temporal engineer to see how George Pal's Time Machine influenced The Time Travelers, and it's nowhere nearly as classy...but I like it. I've always gotten a kick out of this low budget Sci-Fi flick in which a time portal is opened in a university lab (circa 1964) and opens a gateway into the future a hundred years hence, you know, after the nuclear war where it's right thinking scientists against the mutants. It's full of that good old desperate heroism and gee-whiz futurism. The ending is actually clever too, especially if you know the meaning of "recursive."
By the way, notice that Forrest J. Ackerman, the world's greatest Sci-Fi Fan, is billed as the Square-Frame technician. I have no idea what that is, but I bet he enjoyed doing it.
...and in the future
Minority Report (2002)
Challenging Wells for being the Science Fiction writer that most influenced Hollywood, Philip K. Dick's work is back on the big screen this summer (June 21st) with Minority Report, a Spielberg film in which Tom Cruise plays a future cop who works for a temporal crime prevention agency that arrests criminals before they commit the crime. Stand by for causality conflicts.
© 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu