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Friday, Jun 21, 2024

'Time Machine' Gives Glimpse of the Future

Author: Laura Rockefeller

There is a point in the life of every human being when he or she is confronted with the vexing question: "What if?" What if I had gone to a different college? What if I had chosen a more lucrative career? What if I had told him what I really thought?

It is this simple but evocative question, "What if?," that drives the hero of Simon Wells' recent film "The Time Machine" to venture through the centuries in search of the solution to this mystery. Professor Alexander Hartdegen, played by Guy Pearce, is haunted by the possibility of transforming the past. To this end he builds a marvelous machine that can take him back in time to find out whether science can give him the power to change history.

In this film, screenwriters David Duncan and John Logan and actor Guy Pearce took the cold and enigmatic hero of H.G. Wells' 1895 novel "The Time Machine" and turned him into a delightfully bumbling young associate professor of physics at Columbia University.

Other changes include naming the scientist, known only in the book as the "Time Traveler," Alexander Hartdegen, casting Phyllida Law as his imperturbable housekeeper who is much like Sherlock Holmes' Mrs. Hudson and giving him a beautiful fiancee named Emma. In the film it is the murder of this delicate blonde that motivates Alexander to create his time machine and travel back in time to prevent her murder.

Giving Hartdegen a romantic motive for his journeys through time definitely added to my enjoyment of the plot of the movie, surpassing the rather dry plot of the book. It detracted, however, from the sense of pure scientific inquiry and unalloyed exploration of the society of the future found in Wells' novel. The "Time Traveler" of the novel is a man of science who creates his time machine mainly to prove to his colleagues that it can be done and that, as it develops, science will be able to defy many boundaries that previous generations considered unassailable laws of nature.

The film does serve a similar function in that it warns its audience that industrialization may take humanity too far. However, the film takes its audience to eras when man has developed science beyond the wildest imaginings of Wells' novel.

The changes in society described in the novel are those that would be brought about in due course if history followed the track predicted by Marx and Darwin, two of Wells' contemporaries. Duncan's screenplay, on the other hand, describes a world that must regenerate itself after being destroyed when an experiment with settlements on the moon goes wrong and throws the moon off its orbit.

The two new species of humans that have developed in the novel are a weak and effeminate aristocracy whose control over a wily and resourceful proletariat class is beginning to wane.

The movie, however, depicts an aboriginal tribe (led by a mysterious beauty played by the popular singer Samantha Mumba) that accepts the brutality of the members of another species which look remarkably like the orcs in Peter Jackson's recent film version of "The Lord of the Rings."

The story of the film almost becomes an examination of the ethics of war and imperialism rather than the novel's examination of scientific theory. Wells' commentary on Marx's theory about the inevitable rise to power of a formerly subjugated working class is completely lost in the movie adaptation.

Although the story told in the film was a compelling one, it did not flow as smoothly as it could have because of frequent stops highlighting certain special effects or battle scenes.

It seemed that the time machine randomly stopped just so that the director and screenwriter could experiment with what life in New York might be like in 50 or 100 years.

Sometimes these superfluous stops were fun, such as a segment filming a shop window where skirts got progressively shorter as the years clicked by on the time machine's meter.

However, other segments were not as tasteful. Another member of the film's audience commented to me that the clip shown of New York in the year 2037, on the eve of collision with the moon, looked uncomfortably like Ground Zero.

Overall it was an engaging movie, even if the director had a little too much fun playing with computers and special effects. Pearce gave a charming performance as the absent-minded professor and, once again, Jeremy Irons' sinister voice did good service underneath all of the make-up he sported as the head of the malignant Morlock tribe.

The film is currently playing at Ethan Allen Cinemas on 1170 North Avenue in Burlington at 7 p.m. and 9:20 p.m. For more information, call the theater at (802) 863-6040.