The Time Machine (2002 film)

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The Time Machine
Time machine.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by
Produced by
Screenplay by John Logan
Based on
Music by Klaus Badelt
Cinematography Donald McAlpine
Edited by Wayne Wahrman
Parkes/MacDonald Productions
Distributed by DreamWorks Pictures
(North America)
Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • March 8, 2002 (2002-03-08)
Running time
96 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $80 million
Box office $123,729,176

The Time Machine is a 2002 American science fiction film loosely adapted from the 1895 novel of the same name by H. G. Wells and the 1960 film screenplay by David Duncan. It was executive-produced by Arnold Leibovit and directed by Simon Wells, the great-grandson of the original author. The film stars Guy Pearce, Jeremy Irons, Orlando Jones, Samantha Mumba, Mark Addy, Sienna Guillory, and Phyllida Law, and includes a cameo by Alan Young, who also appeared in the 1960 film adaptation.

The 2002 film is set in New York City instead of London and contains new story elements not present in the original novel, including a romantic backstory, a new scenario about how civilization was destroyed, and several new characters, such as an artificially intelligent hologram played by Orlando Jones and a Morlock leader played by Jeremy Irons. Director Gore Verbinski was brought in to take over the last 18 days of shooting, as Wells was suffering from "extreme exhaustion". Wells returned for post-production.[1] It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Makeup (John M. Elliot, Jr. and Barbara Lorenz) at the 75th Academy Awards, but lost to Frida.


In the year 1899, Dr. Alexander Hartdegen (Guy Pearce) is a young inventor teaching at Columbia University in New York City. Unlike his conservative friend David Philby (Mark Addy), Alexander would rather do pure research than work in the world of business. After his sweetheart Emma is killed by a mugger, he devotes himself to building a time machine in order to travel back in time to save her. When he completes the machine four years later, he travels back to 1899 and prevents her murder, only to see her killed by a horse and buggy.

Alexander goes to 2030 to find out whether Emma's life can be saved. At the New York Public Library, a holographic librarian called Vox 114 insists that time travel is impossible, so Alexander continues into the future until 2037, when the accidental destruction of the moon by space colonists renders the Earth virtually uninhabitable. When he restarts the time machine to avoid falling debris, he is knocked unconscious and travels far into the future before waking up and stopping the machine in the year 802,701.

By now, the human race has reverted to a primitive lifestyle. Some survivors, called "Eloi", live on the sides of cliffs of what was once Manhattan. Alexander is nursed back to health by a woman named Mara, one of the few Eloi who speaks English. One night, Alexander and Mara's young brother, Kalen, dream of a frightening, jagged-toothed face. The next day, the Eloi are attacked and Mara is dragged underground by ape-like monsters. The creatures are called "Morlocks" and they hunt the Eloi for food. In order to rescue her, Kalen leads Alexander to Vox 114, which is surprisingly still functioning.

After learning from Vox how to find the Morlocks, Alexander enters their underground lair through an opening that resembles the face in his nightmare. He is almost immediately captured and thrown into an area where Mara sits in a cage. There he meets an intelligent, humanoid Über-Morlock, who explains that Morlocks are the evolutionary descendants of the humans who stayed underground after the Moon broke apart, while the Eloi evolved from those who remained on the surface. Über-Morlocks are a caste of telepaths who rule the monsters that prey on the Eloi. The Über-Morlock explains that Alexander cannot alter Emma's fate because her death is what drove him to build the time machine in the first place: saving her would create a temporal paradox.

The Über-Morlock also claims that Alexander cannot change the role the Elois have as the Morlocks' livestock. He then reveals that the Morlocks have brought the time machine underground, and tells Alexander to get into it and return home. Alexander gets into the machine, but he pulls the Über-Morlock in with him, and they are both carried into the future as they fight. The Über-Morlock dies by rapidly aging when Alexander pushes him outside of the machine's temporal bubble. Alexander then stops in the year 635,427,810, revealing a harsh, rust-colored sky over a wasteland of Morlock caves.

Having finally accepted that he cannot save Emma, Alexander travels back to rescue Mara. After freeing her, he starts the time machine and jams its gears, building up a violent distortion in time. Though pursued by Morlocks, Alexander and Mara escape to the surface as a huge explosion kills the Morlocks and destroys their caves. Alexander begins a new life with Mara and the Eloi, with Vox 114 teaching the Eloi about human history, thus enabling them to progress and plan a new future.

The film ends with two scenes juxtaposed in the same location but in different times: while Alexander shows Mara and Kalen a field that was once his home, Philby and Alexander's housekeeper, Mrs. Watchit, sadly discuss his absence. Philby tells Mrs. Watchit he's glad that Alexander's gone to a place where he can find peace, then tells her that he would like to hire her as a housekeeper, which she accepts until Alexander returns. As she leaves Alexander's laboratory, Mrs. Watchit says, "Godspeed, my fine lad. Godspeed". Philby leaves and looks toward the laboratory contentedly, then throws his bowler hat away in tribute to Alexander's distaste for conformity.



The film was a co-production of DreamWorks and Warner Bros. in association with Arnold Leibovit Entertainment[2] who obtained the rights to the George Pal original Time Machine 1960 and collectively negotiated the deal that made it possible for both Warner Brothers and DreamWorks to make the film.

Special effects[edit]

The Morlocks (in the story, semi-humanoid creatures that dwell in the future) were depicted using actors in costumes wearing animatronic masks. For scenes in which they run on all fours faster than humanly possible, Industrial Light & Magic created CGI versions of the creatures.[3]

Many of the time traveling scenes were entirely computer generated, including a 33-second shot in the workshop where the time machine is located. The camera pulls out, traveling through New York City and then into space, past the ISS, and ends with a space plane landing at the moon to reveal earth's future lunar colonies. Plants and buildings are shown springing up and then being replaced by new growth in a constant cycle. In later shots, the effects team used an erosion algorithm to digitally simulate the Earth's landscape changing through the centuries.[3]

For some of the lighting effects used for the digital time bubble around the time machine, ILM developed an extended-range color format, which they named rgbe (red, green blue, and an exponent channel) (See Paul E. Debevec and Jitendra Malik, "Recovering High Dynamic Range Radiance Maps from Photographs, Siggraph Proceedings, 1997).[3]

The warning sirens used during the moon destruction sequence were later used in the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button for Hurricane Katrina.


A full score was written by Klaus Badelt, with the recognizable theme being the track "I Don't Belong Here", which was later used in the 2008 Discovery Channel Mini series When We Left Earth.[citation needed]

Critical reception[edit]

The Time Machine received mixed to negative reviews. Many critics preferred the earlier film and the original novel, implying that the story lacked the heart of its previous conceptions. William Arnold of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, who was somewhat positive about the film, writes that it lost some of the simplicity and charm of the 1960 George Pal film by adding characters such as Jeremy Irons' "über-morlock." He praised actor Guy Pearce's "more eccentric" time traveler and his transition from an awkward intellectual to a man of action.[4] Victoria Alexander of wrote that "The Time Machine is a loopy love story with good special effects but a storyline that's logically incomprehensible,"[5] noting some "plot holes" having to deal with Hartdegen and his machine's cause-and-effect relationship with the outcome of the future. Jay Carr of the Boston Globe writes: "The truth is that Wells wasn't that penetrating a writer when it came to probing character or the human heart. His speculations and gimmicks were what propelled his books. The film, given the chance to deepen its source, instead falls back on its gadgets."[6]

Some critics praised the special effects, declaring the film visually impressive and colorful, while others thought the effects were poor. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times scorned the film, and found the Morlock animation cartoonish and unrealistic, because of their manner of leaping and running.[7] Ebert notes the contrast in terms of the social/racial representation of the attractive Eloi between the two films... between the "dusky sun people" of this version and the Nordic race in the George Pal film. Aside from its vision of the future, the film's recreation of New York at the turn of the century won it some praise. Bruce Westbrook of the Houston Chronicle writes "The far future may be awesome to consider, but from period detail to matters of the heart, this film is most transporting when it stays put in the past."[8]

The film received a 29% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 148 critic reviews.[9]


  1. ^ The Time Machine (2002) Trivia. IMDB.
  2. ^ The Time Machine (2002) Company credits. IMDb.
  3. ^ a b c Robertson, Barbara (March 2002). "About Time". Computer Graphics World 25 (3): 24–25. 
  4. ^ Arnold, William (March 7, 2002). "Despite excesses, 'The Time Machine' cranks out an imaginative adventure". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 
  5. ^ Alexander, Victoria (March 6, 2002). "The Time Machine (2002)". Archived from the original on 2009-07-19. Retrieved 2013-11-19.  via
  6. ^ Carr, Jay (March 8, 2002). "'Time Machine' looks great, but it isn't transporting". Boston Globe. 
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 8, 2002). "The Time Machine". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  8. ^ Westbrook, Bruce (March 8, 2002). "Past works best for 'The Time Machine'". The Tuscaloosa News. The Houston Chronicle. 
  9. ^ "The Time Machine (2002)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. 

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