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The Time Machine

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
The Time Machine

from Film Forum, 03/14/02

Enough about the last year at Film Forum. There are other backward-looking endeavors to consider. One of literature's most beloved sci-fi writers, H.G. Wells, has given us The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, and the often-adapted The Time Machine. The story remains popular, its influence evident in numerous big-screen and television favorites, from Back to the Future to Star Trek to Quantum Leap.

This new big screen adaptation introduces drastic revisions. The scientist-inventor-hero (Guy Pearce) is now crushed by the loss of his sweetheart. So he employs a time travel vehicle that's part gyroscope, part cockpit, part Harley-Davidson—a whirligig that hurls him backward and forward, first in an attempt to prevent the death of his beloved, then in a quest to gain understanding from a future world 800,000 years away. In the future, he discovers the Eloi, an above-ground people caught up in conflict with monstrous subterranean Morlocks. The Morlocks are orc-like beasts led by a ghostly psychic (played by Jeremy Irons, who must have slept in a tub of bleach to achieve his ghastly appearance.

The film is directed by Wells's great-grandson Simon Wells (The Prince of Egypt). But Wells departed the project near its completion, and Gore Verbinski (The Mexican) took over. The result is a fusion of smirking comedy and action/adventure that became the weekend's box office champ but scored very few points with critics.

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) complains that the directors "straddle between two genres and ultimately satisfy fans of neither." The silver lining: "One thing the film does depict well … is the truth that no matter what man does to ruin this planet for himself, God designed it to endure."

Bob Smithouser (Focus on the Family) calls it "an amusing B-movie … a mindless popcorn flick. The movie raises issues of conformity, guilt, and deciding when it's appropriate to accept one's fate and when it's better to fight it."

Although she too liked the film, Holly McClure (Crosswalk) warns worried parents: "I predict your kids will have bad dreams for weeks."

Ted Baehr (Movieguide) writes, "Although it is too violent for young children and has a few gaffes in the story, The Time Machine is an interesting, fun diversion which makes some good, moral and even redemptive points."

Douglas Downs (Christian Spotlight) recommends the film, calling it "a compelling drama," and says, "Most sci-fi fans will be pleased with the trip."

Several other religious press critics vehemently disagree. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' critic calls it a "misguided effort with average special effects and forced performances in a spotty, convoluted screenplay that devolves from sci-fi to horror to action without entertaining."

[Warning: Minor spoilers ahead! Click here to go past them.]

Steven J. Greydanus (Decent Films) says the film is "pitiful entertainment, succeeding neither as spectacle, as action-adventure, or as love story." He's bewildered by the fact that the hero "works for years to save the love of his life, then gives up after one try." He poses other challenges to specific plot points, like, "How do you sucker-punch someone who's telepathic?"

Similarly incredulous, film critic Peter T. Chattaway stacks up further challenges in a comment at the onFilm dicussion list: "How on earth can a holographic library system survive 800,000 years after the city has been destroyed by falling moon debris and after an ice age has covered the earth and melted away ... what sort of power source is this thing running on? And how is it that the time machine can be turned into an explosive device ... and how does [the hero] know what sort of explosion the time machine will create? Arrrrgh. These are just the first inexplicabilities that pop into my head."

Mary Draughon (Preview) faults "a few mild crudities and one exclamatory profanity" and a "bleak view of a Godless universe."

Mainstream critics were bored and bothered by Time Machine. Jeffrey Wells ( writes, "The failure of The Time Machine is unqualified by mediocrity; its awfulness achieves a kind of splendor." He describes the Morlocks as "totally unthreatening. Not for a millisecond do you believe they're anything other than computerized creations, and unoriginal ones at that. They look like blond cousins of the Orcs from Lord of the Rings."

Mary Ann Johanson (Flick Filosopher) is reminded of Einstein's description of relativity: "Spend an hour with a pretty girl (he said), and it feels like only a moment. Put your hand on a hot stove for a moment, and it feels like an hour. The Time Machine is like spending time with the hot stove, not the pretty girl. I'll grant that it doesn't cause actual physical injury, only mental numbness."

Charles Taylor ( offers a frail compliment: "It's not much praise to say that The Time Machine is the sort of diversion that's better than you expect it to be. But we're almost a quarter of the way through a year that so far has offered no genuinely entertaining mainstream movies."