Monday, June 27, 2005

A new version of '>The Time Machine was released in 2002, directed by Simon Wells (great grandson of HG) with John Logan (who wrote Star Trek: Nemesis) given writing credit for a rewrite. (Perhaps he was responsible for the Star Trek references, like the hologram giving the Vulcan salute.)

This version has even less resemblance to the novel, though it makes several references to the George Pal film. But it is a well-constructed and taut hour and a half, with a little subtle social criticism (in a future we would consider primitive, our age is "the age of the stones," or the Stone Age.) The special effects and make-up (which won an Oscar) are excellent, and the acting is good. In his small part, an almost unrecognizable Jeremy Irons is excellent, and frightening.

This character doesn't appear in either the Wells book or the previous movie, though it does bear some resemblance to the Grand Lunar, the ruler of the Selenites in Wells' First Men in the Moon (see below.) The Morlock hierarchy of specializations the Irons character describes also seems like the Selenite society.

In this version, the Eloi are not helpless and mindless, but a tribal society of cliff-dwellers, with a functioning civilization. (Their appearance is accompanied by gorgeous music with an African theme.) The idea of the future being a return to a more primal society with a relationship to nature more akin to indigenous peoples is a powerful concept, but unfortunately little is made of it here.

Nor is there really much of a suggestion that these Morlocks were once of the same human species. They're mostly just the requisite CG badguys. There is a theme of genetics: a bad joke from the teacher in the near future who threatens to re-sequence the DNA of an unruly student; the helix-like memorials of the Eloi, and the genetic manipulation of the Morlocks into castes. But this seems more like John Logan thinking about Nemesis than illuminating commentary.

This version does deal in time paradoxes, as the Irons character tells the time traveler (an American in New York, though the time period is a decade or so after the Wells' novel) why he can't go back in time to prevent the death of his beloved: because he built the time machine so he could do that, and if she hadn't been killed he couldn't have gone back to try to stop it. Curiously, this jibes with a very recent theory by a team of physicists who interpret quantum mechanics to allow for time travel but not for the alteration of significant events in the past that the traveler is sure happened.

On the other hand, the brainy Morlock Irons plays tell Hartegen (the time traveler) that the Morlocks were the "inescapable result" of his time traveling. After several viewings, I still can't figure out what he meant.

While the movie is impressive and fun on its own terms, in the end I'm not sure what it adds, besides the less than original idea that the human heart is more important than machines (is that the heart plus genetics to make Hartegen?).

No comments: