The Public Movie Defender : “The Time Machine” (2002)


The idea behind The Public Movie Defender is to take up the cause of a particular movie that I believe is better than the majority of reviews it has received. These are movies which I feel are worth either a second look or at least a more open examination considering the predominantly negative opinions of them. The films chosen are ones that I like so therefore I’m taking their case and defending them before the court of negative opinion. Let the trial begin…


TIMEThe 1895 novel “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells has long established itself as a science fiction classic. While I’ve never read the entire novel, I still remember seeing a film adaptation as a young boy. It was a film from 1960 which was directed and produced by George Pal (Pal had already made a film version of the other Wells science fiction classic “The War of the Worlds” in 1953). There was a made for TV movie in the late 1970s but Pal’s version from 1960 was my first real exposure to this timeless story (pun intended).

Time jump ahead 42 years to 2002 where Simon Wells, the great-grandson of H.G. Wells, made his live-action directorial debut with a fresh look at “The Time Machine”. It’s more of a remake of Pal’s film but it has several unique angles of its own. It’s certainly a movie I feel compelled to defend. It was universally dismissed and its current Rotten Tomatoes score sits at an abysmal 29%. I think this is a much better film than that and many of the criticisms fired its way are a bit unfair. For me Simon Wells puts out a vision with a little more heart and weight than the previous film and John Logan’s sharp screenplay is a crucial part of that.

But for me the biggest selling point for the film was the performance of Guy Pearce. There’s no need to dance around it – I’m a huge Guy Pearce fan. He’s an immensely talented and underrated actor who has shown diverse range throughout his acting career. This was one of the movies that really sold him to me. Some have found his performance “lifeless” while others have claimed he was miscast. I couldn’t disagree more. I think it’s Pearce’s performance and his ability to convey the driving force behind his character’s actions that gives this movie an injection of emotion. I also think he fits perfectly into the socially awkward role that’s called for early on.

Pearce plays Dr. Alexander Hartdegen, a Columbia University professor and part-time inventor. Alexander feels detached from his home in 1899 New York City where everyone are “dinosaurs” and “all alike, all in identical bowler hats”. He’s a nerdy fellow who loves tinkering and he has a hidden interest in the theory of time travel. Sometimes his interests take his focus off of his sweetheart Emma (Sienna Guillory) whom he truly loves. In fact, a horrible tragedy involving Emma is the catalyst for him building his time machine. In other words the romance is a key component to the story. It’s not delved into at great lengths but I do feel that Pearce sells it and the post-tragedy emotions especially well.


“The Time Machine” can really be broken down into two parts, the pre-machine 1899 New York and the unintended future year of 802,701. Yet in between those two main focuses are several scenes featuring different time periods. Alexander’s ‘fish out of water’ status and overloaded curiosity at his futuristic stops was a treat for me, again much due to the performance of Guy Pearce. These brief scenes give some explanation to the bleak future that Alexander ends up in. They also offer a small bit of commentary which I quite liked.

The second half of the film takes place in the aforementioned future of 802,701. Technology and advancement is gone and humanity has basically started over. It’s here that Alexander meets Mara (Samantha Mumba), a young woman who is part of a cliff dwelling tribe called the Eloi. Naturally the clash of a well-dressed future man and an indigenous native tribe is a huge obstacle but fortunately Lara speaks a little English (the stone language). Don’t worry, this isn’t a random thing. The movie does explain it. But Alexander soon learns that even that time period has its own problems, namely a subterranean species known as the Morlocks.

I’ve defended the acting and the story. Now let me talk a little bit about the special effects. I found the movie’s visuals range from the bland to the spectacular. The time traveling scenes are beautifully done and show off the technical rise of society all the way through another Ice Age and the blossoming of a new world after it. I also loved the design of Alexander’s time machine. There is such detail and craft in the way it’s made and you can almost believe in it completely. Now I wasn’t as impressed with the Morlocks once they appear. They’re just a tad too fake. But that doesn’t apply to Jeremy Irons who shows up as the Uber-Morlock – their leader. He is disgustingly eerie. His makeup alone was a big reason the film received an Oscar nomination in that category.

There are several other great touches and key components that make this such a great film. I adore Klaus Badelt’s brilliant and stirring score. Orlando Jones is a blast playing a holographic A.I. librarian. And the touching final scene still pricks my heart every time I watch it. “The Time Machine” is an underappreciated movie anchored by a fine lead performance by Guy Pearce. Simon Wells would suffer from exhaustion and Gore Verbinski would finish up the film. I give them both credit for giving us a delightful science fiction picture that’s far better than what many critics have said. It struck a chord with me the first moment I saw it and in my eyes it’s still an overlooked gem.



Well Nostra over at My Filmviews is at it again. The master blogathoner has put together a little thing called “Movie Confessions”. It’s a chance for movie fans to come clean and answer a series of questions that expose some of their cinema shortcomings as well as their past cinema vices. So I thought I should get in on the action. Nostra has asked and here are my answers:

1. Which classic movie don’t you like/can’t enjoy and why?

There are several that could easily be mentioned here – “Easy Rider”, “Toy Story 3”, “Fight Club”. But the main movie that instantly came to mind was Stanly Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange”. This is a movie that’s considered monumental for the science fiction genre but I thoroughly detest it, and I’m a huge sci-fi guy! I’ve tried on three different occasions to watch it all the way through and to see what all of the hype was about but I just can’t. Kubrick’s blabbering self-indulgence didn’t work for me at all and I don’t see myself trying to watch it again. I know most consider it a great film and it’s certainly garnered it’s share of accolades, but I promise you, it’ll never make my list of favorite movies.

2. Which ten classic movies haven’t you seen yet?

Sigh. To my shame, I’ve yet to catch “Lawrence”

Gulp! This was the question that I feared the most (Nostra, how could you ask such a question?). Anyway, here it goes:

  1. Singin’ in the Rain” (Sorry, I HATE musicals)
  2. Lawrence of Arabia” (I’ve seen bits but not enough to say I’ve seen it)
  3. My Fair Lady” (Yes, another musical. I’m sorry, ok!)
  4. All the President’s Men” (This just never appealed to me. I know, no excuse.)
  5. West Side Story” (Sense a trend here?)
  6. East of Eden” (Dean’s first major role. Again, I have no excuse.)
  7. The Lion King” (I’m always slow to animated features. It’s to my shame.)
  8. Dr. Zhivago” (Incredibly popular yet I’ve never seen it.)
  9. A Streetcar Named Desire” (Another that I haven’t seen enough of to say I have.)
  10. Any of the “Harry Potter” films (It’s true…yes, it’s true.)

3. Have you ever sneaked into another movie at the cinema?

No. At least not to sit in and watch a full movie. Now I have walked into another room just to see what was happening on the screen. But I’ve never sneaked into a theater or another movie without paying. My hands are clean!

4. Which actor/actress do you think is overrated?

There are several actresses and actors that come to mind. Julia Roberts is certainly one. While she hasn’t been as big lately, she’s still considered a wonderful actress and honestly, I can’t see it. She’s a one-trick pony and so often her roles are just variations of the same performance. Jennifer Aniston is even more overrated. Sure she has the looks but at some point you have to be able to act. I think the roles she’s taking points to her serious lack of acting chops. But ahead of them both would be Angelina Jolie. Talk about someone getting roles for her looks alone (and now even her looks are long gone). She has flirted with decent performances but I’ve yet to see her do anything to warrant the attention she gets.

As far as actors go, Will Ferrell is popular and he seems to be a “love him or hate him” kinda guy. I’ve yet to see anything that earns him the praise he often gets. Worse than Ferrell is Seth Rogan. I know that since I don’t like raunchy comedies he naturally isn’t going to appeal to me, but does he really ever do anything else. Not only is he one-dimensional but I find him extremely annoying. But above all is Ashton Kutcher. Sure, I know he’s mainly reserved for TV these days but he still is a big attention-getter and people really like him. WHY? How does this guy have an acting career. I’ll never understand his popularity.

5. From which big director have you never seen any movie (and why)?

This one was really tough because I have seen films from most of the great directors. But one classic director that I have yet to see a film by is the Italian great Federico Fellini. He’s a highly accomplished and stylish film director and a winner of five Academy Awards. The sad part is that I have no good reason for not seeing any of his films, especially “8 1/2”, a movie that has been in my Netflix queue for months and months. I should have already watched some films made by this influential director.

6. Which movie do you love, but is generally hated?

Yes, I love “The Time Machine”. What of it?

One movie that comes to mind is “The Time Machine”. Now I’m not talking George Pal’s movie from 1960. I’m speaking of the 2002 film directed by Simon Wells and starring Guy Pearce. This adaptation from the H.G. Wells classic was generally panned by critics (its Rotten Tomatoes standing is an abysmal 29%) and by moviegoers alike, but I truly love the film. I whole-heartedly concede that the special effects in the second half of the film aren’t the best. But I still think Pearce was wonderful, the storytelling is strong, and it features a great score. And I still get a warm and almost misty feeling during the wonderful final scene. Yes, I know I’m one of the few, but I loved this version of “The Time Machine”.

7. Have you ever been “one of those annoying people” at the cinema?

I can honestly say no. My mom and dad began taking me to the theater at a very young age. They pretty much taught me early to be quiet, watch the movie, and not ruin it for others. That even stuck with me through my doofus teen years. And still to this day, I can’t stand people talking or being disruptive during a movie. It drives me crazy.

8. Did you ever watch a movie, which you knew in advance would be bad, just because of a specific actor/actress was in it? Which one and why?

Oh yes! I am a HUGE Humphrey Bogart fan. I have the majority of his films in my collection and there were a lot of them. I have even some of his older low-budget pictures and movies where he played only a small part. Some were, to be honest, real stinkers but I not only watched them but added them to my Bogart collection. Yes, I’ve actually watched films such as “Isle of Fury” and “The Return of Doctor X” solely due to Bogart’s participation.

9. Did you ever not watch a specific movie because it had subtitles?

 I’m not going to say I never have, but as a big fan of foreign cinema, subtitles don’t bother me at all. In fact, I would rather there be subtitles that English voice-overs which do more to take away from the film than help it. So for me, subtitles are no problem at all.

10. Are there any movies in your collection that you have had for more than five years and never watched?

Hmmm, yes I have DVDs that I own and haven’t watched but they aren’t movies that I haven’t watched. These are DVDs of movies I have seen before but have never watched my copy. I’ve seen them but may have found them on DVD really cheap or they were given to me. But I don’t think I have a single movie that I haven’t at least seen.

11. Which are the worst movies in your collection and why do you still own them?

Yep, that’s “Van Helsing”!

I mentioned some of the earlier Bogart movies that are pretty terrible but I have them because they are Bogart films. But after briefly looking at my collection there were a handful of others that stood out. Movies like “The 13th Warrior” . I’ve watched it but never again. Then there is the Kevin Sorbo “Kull” movie. I’m not sure why I even bought it. Oh, and how about “Van Helsing” . Kate Beckinsale is in it so there’s the only reason for owning it….maybe.

12. Do you have any confessions about your movie watching setup at home?

I wouldn’t say there is anything I want to confess about it, but it works good for me. I have a 55-inch HD TV, a Playstation 3 for my Blu-Ray and DVD player, and Direct-TV’s HD package. That’s really it. It’s not the greatest setup but it certainly works for me.

13. Any other confessions you want to make?

Well, I’m definitely not the emotional type but good movies have a way of getting to me. If a film packs an emotional punch that’s well done, I’m certainly vulnerable to watery eyes. It may not be the most macho thing to announce, but it’s the truth.

And there it is. My movie confessions. If you’re interested in more information about Nostra’s blogathon, head over to his blog site My Filmviews . There you can find out how to participate and read the confessions of other movie-oholics like me.