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Simon Wells
Guy Pearce, Samantha Mumba, Sienna Guillory, Jeremy Irons, Phyllida Law, Mark Addy, Orlando Jones, Omero Mumba
John Logan, based on the novel by H.G. Wells

0 to 800,000 years in 1.2 seconds.
Box Office:
Budget $80 million.
Opening weekend $22.61 million on 2944 screens.
Domestic gross $56.684 million.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
English Dolby Surround
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Surround
English, Spanish

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 7/23/2002

• Audio Commentary with Director Simon Wells and Editor Wayne Wahrman
• Audio Commentary with Producer David Valdes, Visual Effects Supervisor Jamie Price, and Production Designer Oliver Scholl
• Deleted Scenes
• “The Hunt Scene” Animatic
• “Creating the Morlocks” Featurette
• “Building the Time Machine” Featurette
• “Visual Effects By Digital Domain” Featurette
• Stunt Choreography Fight Sequence
• Conceptual Design Gallery
• Theatrical Trailers
• Cast and Filmmaker Biographies
• Production Notes


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The Time Machine (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Now that we’re well over a century past the period in which H.G. Wells wrote The Time Machine, one would think the tale would lose any potential effectiveness. Since we’re now well into a future that Wells didn’t imagine, the story should seem irrelevant, I suppose. It doesn’t, but you might feel differently after you watch the 2002 movie version of The Time Machine, a fairly bland and flat piece of work.

Initially set at the turn of the 20th century, absent-minded professor Alex Hardegan (Guy Pearce) proposes to lovely young sweetheart Emma (Sienna Guillory). She accepts but things immediately go awry when a mugger shoots her during a struggle over her engagement ring. The movie scoots forward a few years as we find Alex changed into an obsessed man. During the interim, he threw himself into his work and ignored all else.

If you’ve noticed the title of the film, you’ll figure out on what Alex worked. He creates a time machine, and he plans to use it to go back to halt Emma’s killing. However, he soon learns that fate plays a role, as he seems unable to stop her demise in some form; it may not occur due to gunshot, but she dies nonetheless.

When Alex realizes he can’t change the past, he heads to the future to try to find out why. Initially he goes to 2030, where he finds no helpful answers. Alex then tries to move farther into the future but gets stuck in 2037; an accident caused the moon change orbit and muck up things on Earth. As Alex attempts to flee the police state that the planet has become, an explosion knocks him out and sends the time machine on an undetermined journey.

At the end of this, Alex finds himself hundreds of thousands of years in the future. There he meets sexy young teacher Mara (Samantha Mumba), one of the few in this era who still speaks his ancient language. She belongs to the Eloi tribe. They seem to lead an idyllic little life except for one big problem: the beastly Morlocks hunt them without mercy. During one of these attacks, they abduct Mara, which prompts Alex to ask why the Eloi don’t fight their oppressors. Alex doesn’t understand their acceptance of the apparent natural order, so he decides to do his best to save Mara. The rest of the film follows Alex’s attempts to learn more about the Morlocks and rescue Mara.

The Time Machine comes from a classic story, and briefly, it looks like it might offer an interesting movie. To be sure, the concept of attempting to change one’s fate offers a lot of intrigue, and when the film sticks with that side of things, it works well. The early scenes in the 20th century seem fairly compelling, especially after Alex goes to pot and attempts to change the past. I also think the near-future parts are reasonably effective, and Orlando Jones turns in a fun little bit as a mid-21st century living card catalog.

Unfortunately, once we meet the Elois and the Morlocks, it all goes downhill rapidly. These segments seem badly disconnected with the rest of the movie and really go nowhere. The Eloi feel like rather boring characters, and it doesn’t help that we can see where things will go well ahead of the story’s participants. And why is it that whenever a handsome distraught guy ends up in a strange place, the first person he encounters is a hot babe?

Probably the most intriguing aspect of The Time Machine stems from the fact that director Simon Wells is the great grandson of H.G. And that’s pretty much where the project ceases to be interesting. Admittedly, I can’t say that I actively disliked The Time Machine, and I did think it included some moderately compelling moments. Overall, however, the film seems bland and lifeless, and it doesn’t do much with the subject matter.

The DVD Grades: Picture A- / Audio A- / Bonus B+

The Time Machine appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture just fell short of true greatness, as it presented a consistently excellent image.

Sharpness almost always looked terrific. During most scenes, the picture stayed wonderfully crisp and distinct. Only when Alex entered the library in 2030 did I notice some softness, as those scenes looked just a little fuzzy. Those moments also displayed some light edge enhancement. Otherwise, the picture stayed well defined, and it lacked any signs of jagged edges or moiré effects. Print flaws seemed to be totally absent, as I observed no examples of grit, speckles, or other defects.

The Time Machine tended toward a fairly warm and romantic palette. The hues appeared nicely clean and concise. The slightly nostalgic brown tint was deep and distinct, and brighter colors came across as vivid and vibrant, with no problems related to noise, bleeding or other concerns. Black levels looked dense and rich, while shadow detail was appropriately heavy but not overly thick. Despite those brief examples of edge enhancement, The Time Machine usually presented a terrific picture.

I also felt very pleased by the DVD’s soundtracks. It included both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes. Other than a significant variation in volume levels - the DTS version seemed much louder - I thought the two editions presented very similar audio.

That seemed like a good thing, since the audio appeared consistently excellent. All five channels received a nice workout during the movie’s action scenes. The shots that involved Alex in the time machine made it feel as though the viewer sat alongside him, and the first Morlock attack offered a wonderfully vibrant and engaging set piece. The forward spectrum displayed a solid sense of environment, and the surrounds added much unique audio, as they created a terrific sense of the setting. Elements blended together smoothly and panned neatly between speakers to give us a seamless and lively setting.

Audio quality also came across as positive. Dialogue seemed natural and crisp, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music appeared dynamic and effervescent, as the score sounded bright and full. Effects also were clean and accurate, and they packed a solid punch when necessary. Bass response appeared deep and tight throughout the film. I expect a lot from a modern film of this ilk, and the soundtracks to The Time Machine lived up to current standards.

This DVD edition of The Time Machine features a nice roster of extras, starting with two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director Simon Wells and editor Wayne Wahrman, both of whom were recorded together for this running, screen-specific track. Wells needed to briefly leave the production of The Time Machine due to exhaustion. Apparently he feels better now, as he offers a very chatty presence during this commentary. Wahrman adds little to the piece; mostly he chimes “wow” or “that’s amazing”, and he contributes exceedingly few bits of original information.

However, I didn’t mind that since Wells presented so much on his own. He covers a nice mix of applicable topics. We hear about the sets, effects, storytelling alterations, stunts, challenges during the production, and a variety of other issues. While he acknowledges that Gore Verbinski needed to take over temporarily, Wells doesn’t go into the subject to any substantial degree. Nonetheless, this commentary seems lively and informative.

Next we find a commentary from producer David Valdes, production designer Oliver Scholl, and visual effects supervisor Jamie Price, all of whom were recorded together for this running, screen-specific piece. On the positive side, the three participants kept the action going most of the time, as this track suffered from only a few empty spaces. However, the material itself seemed fairly dry. I often enjoy commentaries that cover technical elements, but these do tend to become slow-paced and pedantic. This track fit that model. It offered enough interesting moments to keep me going, and I liked the fact that we heard more about Wells’ sabbatical from the film; the participants didn’t go into tremendous detail, but the more fully detailed Gore Verbinski’s involvement. Otherwise, this went down as a decent but bland commentary.

One very unusual but very nice touch: both audio commentaries provided English subtitles! Since commentaries are often the best supplements found on DVDs, more of them should be subtitled so everyone can enjoy them. While none of the other extras on the disc include subtitles, they do feature closed-captioning.

Also located within the commentaries domain, we find an animatic for “The Hunt”. This piece lasts six minutes and 36 seconds and can be viewed with or without commentary from Wells. It shows the segment through filmed storyboards accompanied by rough audio. The commentary makes the program more compelling, as Wells discusses the differences between this early visualization and the final scene in the movie. He also provides some cool technical info such as the reason that the actors who played the Morlocks in the scene couldn’t load their own blowguns.

Once we enter the “Behind the Scenes” domain, we get five different elements. Creating the Morlocks provides a five-minute and 38-second featurette that shows shots from the set and interview snippets with Wells, producers Walter Parkes and David Valdes, actors Irons and Mumba, Morlock makeup effects creator Stan Winston, and Morlock makeup effects technician Greg Fiegel. The program offers some good behind the scenes material - especially as we watch rough footage of the fight between Irons and Guy Pearce - but overall, it seems too superficial.

A similar program appears next under the title of Building the Time Machine. The five-minute and 42-second piece uses the same format as “Morlocks” and we hear from actors Pearce and Mumba, producers Valdes and Parkes, director Wells, production designer Oliver Scholl, special effects supervisor Matt Sweeney, visual effects supervisor Jamie Price, and visual effects Dave Prescott. As with “Morlocks”, we see some fun shots from the set, but the information provided seems pretty basic and doesn’t do much to illuminate the subject.

In a different vein, Visual Effects by Digital Domain gives us a four-minute and seven-second sequence of progressions for a number of effects. We watch different stages of the death of the Uber Morlock and the time lapse segments, for example. Along with this, we get commentary from visual effects supervisor Jamie Price, who adds some rudimentary notes. I enjoyed the shots of Irons in front of a greenscreen, but otherwise this was another fairly bland featurette.

Next in the “Behind the Scenes” area, we find one Deleted Scene. The six-minute and 48-second clip would have appeared at the end of the opening credits. We see Alex as he takes a class on a field trip into the Columbia University courtyard, where he offers a demonstration of solar power. He also has a run-in with a superior. Presented anamorphic 2.35:1 with Dolby Surround 2.0 audio, this scene seems pretty good to me. It slows the pace of the film, which is likely why it didn’t make the cut, but I think it offers some interesting notions.

For the final component of the “Behind the Scenes” area, we get 51 seconds of Stunt Choreography Fight Sequence. This rough footage shows the planning for the fight between Alex and the Uber Morlock. It’s moderately interesting at best.

Inside the “Archives” we discover another five subdomains. The Conceptual Design Gallery further splits into eight areas. Each of these includes between two and 80 images for a total of 219 pictures. Unusually, 18 of the stills also provide commentary from production designer Scholl, something that adds a variety of informative and illuminating tidbits.

Within the Cast domain, we find short but reasonably decent biographies of actors Guy Pearce, Samantha Mumba, Jeremy Irons, Orlando Jones, Mark Addy, Sienna Guillory, Phyllida Law, and Omero Mumba. When we move to the Filmmakers section, we see similar material for director Wells, production designer Oliver Scholl, writer John Logan, editor Wayne Wahrman, producers Walter F. Parkes and David Valdes, costume designer Deena Appel, costume designer Bob Ringwood, executive producers Laurie MacDonald, Jorge Saralegui and Arnold Leibovit, composer Klaus Badelt, visual effects supervisor James E. Price, special effects supervisor Matt Sweeney, director of photography Donald M. McAlpine, and the Stan Winston Studio. For the final text piece, the Production Notes offer a nice and surprisingly detailed synopsis of the film’s creation.

The final area within the “Archives”, Trailers includes three promos. There’s the theatrical teaser as well as the domestic trailer and the international trailer. All offer Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, but only the domestic clip features anamorphic enhancement.

Although The Time Machine had a lot of potential, the final result seemed muddled and bland. The movie managed a few compelling moments and never truly became bad, but it remained lifeless and nondescript for the most part. The DVD provided very strong picture and sound, however, and it also included a fairly nice roster of extras. If you like the film, you’ll be very pleased with the package. Others may want to consider a rental if they think they’ll enjoy it, but that’s the most I can endorse for this lackluster flick.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.8684 Stars Number of Votes: 38
6 3:
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