The Time Machine (2002)

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A timeless Underdog

This movie lacks in almost every category when compared with other quality cinema for the early 2000’s. The acting is sub-par, the story is half-hearted, and the direction is almost laughable. What makes this wholly inexcusable is the fact that director Wells is the great-grandson of H.G. Wells himself! However, the film still has its merits and was actually entertaining and enjoyable to watch; which to me is the bottom line as to why we watch movies or go to the cinema in the first place.

Overview:

Director: Simon Wells
 Stars: Guy Pearce, Mark Addy, Phyllida Law
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action, Adventure

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The Time Machine is loosely based on H.G. Wells’ sci-fi masterpiece, written in 1897. The book was also made into a movie forty years ago. Back then, the key studios had decided to cash in on the trend created by independent, low-budget sci-fi and horror films. MGM, for example, produced The Time Machine as well as Forbidden Planet. These pictures – sleeker and glossier than anything the independents could make – used what were, at the time, state-of-the-art special effects. The 2002 film version of the Wells classic utilizes the same tools. While the results are at times spectacular, it however lacks a key ingredient – a dash of intelligence – that made the earlier version more memorable.

The time is the very end of the 19th Century. The place is New York. Alexander Hartegen (Guy Pearce) is a brilliant, absent-minded professor of science who is madly in love. When his fiancé dies tragically, he feels one way or another responsible. Sequestering himself in his laboratory for four years, he builds a time machine. His plan is to go back, change the past and prevent his lover’s death. When this fails, he realizes that any answer lies in the future. He travels to the New York of the mid-21st Century where he finds the planet in the midst of a cataclysm. The moon is breaking apart, and chunks of it are plunging to Earth. In this melee he is knocked unconscious and awakens 800,000 years in the future. There he finds that the moon’s obliteration has caused mankind to split into two different species – one beautiful, innocent and benign, the other hideous and very dangerous.

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Even though this film is inundated with weaknesses (plot holes and poorly developed characters), I do not find this film completely lacking of any redeeming qualities. It must be my softness for sci-fi talking here, but for when all the pieces of this picture are put together, I find a film with some modest adventure that kept me reasonably entertained for an hour and a half. What exactly kept me entertained, you may ask? Well, let me explain my shallow delights:

1.Although not at his best, Guy Pearce performed well. There are some scenes when he really seems to be far removed from his character, but I found this film to be overall another respectable notch on his résumé.

2. Orlando Jones, our favorite 7-Up spokesman, once again takes a small role and makes it memorable. If nothing else, his grovelling persona has the best Trek reference in a 2002 movie.

3. Special effects aren’t meant to carry any movie, but I am a sucker for quality work. This film has some very good scenes and effects, and I enjoyed its approach to time travel. Though I understand the reasoning for limiting the 2037 sequence (9/11), I would have liked to have seen more of the moon’s effects on Earth.

4. Last but not certainly least the soundtrack to this film was its backbone and carried the story through to the end (more detail covered below)

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If you have seen this movie already I think it goes without saying that the soundtrack is simply a stunner. A lot of people and critics did give this film a shellacking but very rarely made even a word of mention of how beautiful and amazing the score was to it. This is where The Time Machine didn’t get the real credit it deserved. Klaus Badelt was one of the main reasons why this film didn’t fully disappoint.

Formerly known as the man behind Hans Zimmer for a few years, he is the latest in stepping into the role of movie composing and apparently, he hasn’t got tricks to pass onto. The Time Machine promised from the beginning to be one of those movies worth seeing, worth knowing about and worth spending your money on. Especially the thing about Zimmer’s appearance as composer got me hooked on it pretty well. But usually Zimmer steps off and one of his apprentices goes onboard instead, knowing then the substitute is born for movie Hollywood scoring.

Klaus Badelt has been seen on various scores co-composed by Zimmer (The Pledge and Invincible) and whether it is his voice that sets those scores apart is difficult to tell. However, The Time Machine is all Badelt’s and things do seem tricky if you compare it with originality. The thing that disappointed me a bit was that several scores kept coming into my head as possible influences for the music I was encountering. Yet, for a composer it is to do what the director wants, and all together the end result is pretty impressive to say the least.

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As epic scores come and go, so is this one soaring and broad, set with themes that make the listen worth it, even if they do ask me frequently ‘Where did I hear this from or this sounds familiar but from where”? Klaus Badelt still can’t get his sole musical style into the picture but on the other hand he has proven to be quite successful with adapting other styles and more creating themes that make impact when hearing them for the first time.

The one that will disappoint or please those who care is the main theme heard in the most tracks. Opening the first track and appearing in The Edge style in ‘I don’t Belong Here’ is all what makes The Time Machine interesting. It is indeed quite similar in tone to the great theme of Goldsmith but if the director says “mimic this, it is good”, you will not say no to him when scoring your first full blown feature. It appears frequently during the score in any form and case. The beginning offers us with all expectations nice sweet soft music, not quiet but good powerful music which states either the main theme or the love theme, like in ‘Emma’ or in ‘Bleeker Street’. The use of quasi-African chants with the use of real choir singers made track like ‘Godspeed’, ‘Stone Language’, and ‘Eloi’ some of the best representations of the mood and themes in the movie. The scene in the film where the view is introduced to the Eloi village for the first time is an epic experience made in part by the special effects/CGI along with the films score.

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I know how much people loathe this film, but I do not fall into that camp. By all means, this is not a great movie. For science fiction, it isn’t even a great film. However, I was entertained while I watched the film; and isn’t that the lowest common denominator for when we see a film? Do I recommend the film? Should you buy it? Should you rent it? Faithful reader, the answer is quite simple: ask your friend for their Netflix password again. As there are definite weaknesses in the story, you are best off giving the film a look at to discover if you can find any redeeming qualities in the film. Then you can judge if it’s worth buying for your personal collection. I believe you won’t be sorry you gave it a viewing.

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