The Time Machine
Directed by Simon Wells
(Guy Pearce, Jeremy Irons, Samantha Mumba)
The Time Machine embraces its science fiction foundation, but at the same time accomplishes the uncommon balance between imaginative settings and philosophical questions as well as realistic characters and entertaining adventures.
The story is a fair and thorough tribute to H.G. Wells’ same-titled novel. Guy Pearce (Memento), in another impressive performance, is Professor Alexander Hartdegen. He is a creature of academia and is happiest surrounded by books and chalkboards. He loves Emma, so much so that when she dies he becomes obsessed with constructing a device to bring his love back.
Much of this story, existing in a fantastic journey across time, rests on Pearce’s shoulders, and he carries the burden with remarkable assuredness. He calmly changes gears from the academic nerd to the swooning suitor, the mourning lover, the emboldened widower, the awestruck traveler and the courageous savior. At every turn, he makes Alexander a believably desperate and passionate man.
Director Simon Wells, grandson of H.G. Wells, with his first live-action film, is the perfect compliment to Pearce’s performance. He keenly aids a weak script when needed and gets out of the story’s way when ideas speak for themselves. Wells counters the film’s weak moments with side-by-side editing and other techniques that give scenes perspective. He entertains philosophical debates about fate and entertains sentimentality as time accelerates during Alexander’s travels. Most importantly, he keeps the film squarely focused on Alexander. The machinery and the settings are merely the means to an end
Wells and Pearce guide this film. The script is by no means perfect and, yes, the film wanders a bit as the journey comes to an end in the land of the Eloi. But, what makes The Time Machine better than most recent sci-fi films is a consistent concentration on realistic characters, even in extreme situations. Pearce earns our trust. Wells wisely invests the film’s time in creating moods and motivation.
Accordingly, wondrous sights like the New York City Library in 2030 or a future civilization existing entirely on canyon walls are captivating because the audience has made an investment in the journey.
The Time Machine opens this Friday.