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Review written by: Alex Sandell
Have you heard the one about the Albino
The Time Machine may easily be one of the most over-hyped films in American history. Advertisements for the movie went into heavy rotation about 5 months ago, and they have been growing at what seems to be an exponential rate, ever since. This saturation of the marketplace will inexorably bring the film an undeservedly large opening weekend due to movie patrons with an insatiable curiosity as to what all the mass-marketed fuss is about. They say that anticipation can be half the fun ... with The Time Machine, it turns out to be at least 2/3rd's.
The Time Machine is nothing more than yet another CGI-fest slapped together for a quick buck. It reminded me of a bunch of 2001's summer adventure films along the lines of Tomb Raider, Jurassic Park III, or even the superior, The Mummy Returns. It also reminded me of cheesier fare from the 1980's, such as Masters of the Universe, The Last Starfighter and Krull. Unfortunately, for the studio, I sense that after the inevitable big opening weekend, The Time Machine's box office numbers will be closer to the latter group of films, rather than the former. First of all, it isn't a sequel to a hit film or based on a hot video game property. Second, the movie doesn't have enough substance to keep anyone other than the pre-pubescent audience, and maybe a few people with advanced Alzheimer's, more than mildly entertained.
I realize that the movie going public, even the portion without advanced Alzheimer's, doesn't generally expect films like The Time Machine to have a lot of substance, but they do usually call for sufficient story and character development to make the picture involving enough for them to be able to turn their minds off and have a fun time. During its first 20 minutes, The Time Machine appears to have brains enough to allow us to kick back and turn ours off, but the film is unable to maintain its own temperate level of cleverness, and it isn't long before the audience's good time comes crashing down harder than the time traveling contraption, itself.
The movie loses it somewhere between an inspired scene featuring Orlando Jones, playing Librarian Vox, and an insipid scene where Guy Pearce, playing Alexander Hartdegen, wakes up in the Ewok Village. From that point on, the film pretty much takes place on the earth's surface, where we find the aforementioned village, or under the ground, where the bad guys live. If you've read the book, or watched the far better 1960 film version of the novel, you pretty much know how the story goes.
Due to its moon falling apart in 2030, the earth was unable to sustain the lives of every human, and some had to move underground (I'm sure the Republicans denied any and all reports that moving underground would be detrimental to an individual's health, and chalked up any claims to the contrary as nothing more than unfounded bias propagated by the "liberal media"). Over the next 800,000 years (give or take a year) the folks who moved underground turned into monster sort of things, and became all Ted Nugent-y in regards to the hunting and eating of meat, and lackluster intelligence. To add to humanity's problems, the meat of choice that the underground Ted Nugent-y people hunt and consume is that of the normal looking, non-Ted-Nugent-y people living aboveground.
It doesn't take long before Alexander Hartdegen is thrown into the battle between the two groups of humans. Naturally, he sides with the people living on the earth's surface, residing in their Ewok Villages. They seem to have better hygiene, and we all know that a Hollywood hero never sides with people who don't brush their teeth, don't have their warts removed, and expound upon the artistic merit of the song, "Cat Scratch Fever." The premise of the film is fairly interesting, and I'm sure it could have made for a fine modern-day adventure flick, but, regrettably, it winds up seeming more dated, and less fun, than the 1960 version, which I have already stated was a far better picture.
The 2002 Time Machine is riddled with misfires, the two biggest, and most unforgivable, are with the main hero and the lead villain. I like Guy Pearce as much as the next man, and thought he did an adequate job in both L.A. Confidential and Memento, but he is simply the wrong choice to play a dashing, swashbuckling hero. He doesn't have the charisma or swagger of the great leading men of cinematic history, and he seems unable, or unwilling, to play the role with the compulsory wink and a smile required of any memorable action hero. It's almost as if he thinks that he's still starring in Memento, and that he had better play things deadpan, or no one will take him seriously as an actor.
On the other end of the spectrum we have Jeremy Irons hamming it up as one nefarious looking villain, but his performance is really nothing more than a glorified cameo. This movie needed a strong bad guy to keep the audience interested, but Irons isn't given enough screen-time to create an Im-Ho-Tep, much less a Darth Vader. It seems to me that this villain was simply tacked on at the end of the film to tie up a few loose ends while giving the audience one final battle between the well bathed and the unhygienic. This is unfortunate, because Irons seemed game for just about anything, and could have probably fleshed out this nasty cracker and turned him into a memorable movie scoundrel, if given half a chance.
The other misfires in the film aren't nearly as noteworthy, but they do annoy. The dialogue is poor (an ever-growing problem in current films), the characters are underdeveloped, and nothing is as interesting as it could have been, had some real effort been put into the picture. With a budget of over 100 million, the most surprising thing to me was that the special effects didn't make the grade, and turned out to be a detriment to the film, rather than an enhancement. With the drab acting, average effects and ineffective screenplay, the film comes off as a somewhat enjoyable made-for-TV movie that managed to work its way onto the big screen.
Nevertheless, The Time Machine does what it set out to do, which was to give action and adventure addicts something to tide them over until the real event films are released in the summer. It's just sad that the people behind the camera, and even those in front, didn't set out to do more with the film, creating a movie that could have left a lot of those abovementioned summer flicks shaking in their boots, simply by living up to its potential.
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Text ©(Copyright) 2002 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].
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