“Where would you go?”*
Directed by Simon Wells and Gore Verbinski (uncredited)
Starring Guy Pearce and Samantha Mumba
Alexander Hartdegen (Pearce) proposes to his intended, only to see her shot dead by a mugger. Dedicating himself to training as a fighter and detective, he becomes the Batma… No, wait.
He dedicates himself to saving her by building a time machine to alter history, but failing once he decides it must be impossible and instead travels into the future to learn why. Witnessing the rise and fall of humanity, he is then thrown forward into the distant future, where he encounters a humanity divided into two races, the atavistic, subterranean Morlocks, and the entirely human Eloi, and must decide whether to try to change the past, or fight for the future.
Actually, I’m kind of overstating it a bit. It’s more like he has to decide whether to walk away and let a creepy brain-boss Morlock turn his Eloi friend Mara (Mumba) into a sexy-dance monkey or not, which is a no brainer in anyone’s books.
What’s wrong with it?
So, you see above where I emphasise that the Eloi are entirely human? That’s the crux of it. I mean, it starts with the addition of a tragic backstory, which reduces the wonder of time travel to one man’s hissy fit with the universe, but it’s the Eloi and the Morlocks who are at the heart of it.
In the book – and I promise, this is not just a ‘the book is better’ rant – the Eloi and Morlocks are two sides of the class divide taken to extremes; the idle rich who have devolved into heartless, contented children, and the labouring poor who have become naught but bestial muscle. It’s an allegory. In this film, there really isn’t one. The Eloi are a little fatalistic, but ultimately unflawed, whereas the Morlocks are self-made monsters who chose to become cannibal trolls, and look ridiculous to boot with their huge, rubber faces and bullshit, dehumanising caste structure.
The Eloi also get their theme from the Civilization computer games, which is a little bizarre.
The film also manages to trump the nastiness of the Morlocks eating the Eloi, with brain Morlock (Jeremy Irons) explaining that they keep the cute ones as ‘breeding stock’.
Mark Addy, as Hartdegen’s friend Philby, has a terrible American accent.
What’s right with it?
The first part of the journey into the future is nicely done, with the collapse of the moon a nice alternative to the more obvious ‘nuclear holocaust’ option to create a divide in history.
How bad is it really?
Even leaving aside the value of the film as an adaptation of the book (it fails, but then again the book was of its time and its allegory no longer directly applies), it’s not a very good film. After a contrived introduction, it makes a good stab at the time travel bit, but it doesn’t have anything to say with the Eloi and the Morlocks, so it just becomes a nasty, rapey cannibal plot.
Best bit (if such there is)?
A holographic library interface sings a snatch of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s The Time Machine: The Musical.
What’s up with…?
- The brain Morlock, built to be the psychic smarts of the race, being as badass as any of the muscle/hunter Morlocks?
- The Morlock caste system in general?
- The Eloi’s superstitious fatalism? A species that can build sophisticated windmills and complex, cliff-hugging villages, ought not to be this helpless in the face of the crude Eloi hunting parties.
Production values – The Time Machine is a thing of beauty, and the futures wonderfully realised. It’s just a shame then that the Morlocks look so bollocks. 11
Dialogue and performances – The dialogue is largely uninspired, and the leads give it what it deserves. Stand outs are Orlando Jones as the library computer and Omero Mumba as Mara’s brother, putting the older and more prolific cast to shame. 12
Plot and execution – The films greatest weakness is a failure to do anything with the Morlock/Eloi divide. There is supposedly something about unbridled technology, represented by the mining of the moon, but it doesn’t connect to the split into two races, which makes the core of that section pointless. 16
Randomness – The film doesn’t make a great deal of sense, but that’s a failing in the core premise of the second half, rather than randomness. 5
Waste of potential – Two words: George Pal. It wasn’t perfect, but the 1960s version was so much better, and I’ve never understood the point of remaking something worse that the last version. Plus, it’s a good book, even if the allegory is utterly dated. 17
* The question is not where… but WHEN?”