STARRING: Guy Pearce, Jeremy Irons, Yancey Arias, Sienna Guillory, Samantha Mumba, Orlando Jones, Mark Addy

2002, 96 Minutes, Directed by: Simon Wells

Growing up in the 1970s we believed that one day we would go on holiday trips to a permanent settlement on the moon, pretty much the same way one would fly overseas nowadays (2001 was usually the date given for when this would happen, for some reason).

In the most recent version of H.G. Wells' 1899 novel, The Time Machine, the creation of such a settlement leads to a catastrophe that almost results in humanity's extinction. Thousands of years later (the year 802 701 to be exact), a Victorian inventor that traveled forward in time finds that because of this disaster one half of humanity has evolved into a ferocious race of monsters that dwells in underground caves called Morlocks, while the other half seems like extras left over from Waterworld (called Eloi).

In the previous version of The Time Machine (made in 1960) it is a nuclear war that precipitated this - who could have thought that a settlement on the moon would be just as disastrous as a full-out nuclear war! What were our generation thinking? None of this of course featured in Wells' original novel. In fact, the 1960 movie version dumbed down Wells' novel to a considerable degree in favour of action and adventure, discarding Wells' social commentary about the division of wealth leading to humanity evolving into two separate races as it were! This latest version, produced by Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks studio, dumbs the material down even some more.

Towards the end of the Wells novel, his time traveler witnesses the final extinction of all humanity. His point? That evolution isn't necessarily on our side and judging from this latest movie version it would seem depressingly clear enough that Wells had a point: movie-makers and/or moviegoers definitely got dumber.

Here Wells' story has been stripped of whatever intelligence even the 1960 movie had. It is a dumbed down action blockbuster in which everything is signposted by what I call "wonderment music" playing on the soundtrack, usually Enya-like New Age warbling that is supposed to make audience go "gosh! wow!"

However, there is preciously little to go "gosh! wow!" about. In the 1960 movie and Wells' novel the Victorian inventor (played here by Guy Pearce of LA Confidential and Memento fame) builds a time machine because, well, it's a pretty neat idea. Who wouldn't want to know how people would live in a few centuries' time? Or maybe witness historical events? Here he is given a "reason" to invent the machine: he wants to change the past by preventing the death of his fiancée during a botched mugging.

Later on, one of the Eloi asks why would he want to travel through time. In the 1960 movie the Eloi were portrayed as an ambitionless, vacant lot that lack culture and drive. This is a movie for them. It consists mostly of a scrawny scientist who has spent four years obsessively writing mathematical formulae on black boards (pretty much like Russell Crowe did in A Beautiful Mind - not much time for exercise one assumes) outrunning impossibly agile and fast computer generated monsters.

When it abruptly ends - with a big explosion in which things get blown up real good - one is amazed: can it be over already? It is, and as you're leaving the cinema, a fellow punter remarks that "the special effects were good." Sure, I thought. Post-Star Wars sci-fi flicks seem to offer little else.



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