Film: The Time Machine (2002)

The Time Machine is a 2002 film adaptation by Simon Wells of the science fiction novel The Time Machine by his grandfather H. G. Wells.

The movie departs even further from the novel than the 1960 version. This time, the Time-Traveler is named Dr. Alexander Hartdegen (Guy Pearce). He's an American in this version, so naturally he's played by a British-born Australian actor. Alex loves science and inventing things, but his friend David Philby (Mark Addy) knows that Science Is Bad. After the death of his fiancée Emma (Sienna Guillory), Alex spends years building a Time Machine so he can go back and prevent it. However, it turns out that You Can't Fight Fate, so he heads off for the future, hoping it'll hold the solution to his problem. In the year 2037, space colonists decide using nukes for mining is a brilliant idea and blow up the moon. Large chunks of the moon rain down on the Earth, knocking humanity back to the Stone Age. So clearly science is terrible.

Alex arrives in the year 802,701. In this version, the Eloi are portrayed as Magical Native Americans, as opposed to their usual Greco-Roman vibe, and Weena's counterpart is named "Mara" and played by Samantha Mumba. After Alex gets to know her for awhile, Mara is kidnapped by the Morlocks. The other Eloi refuse to do anything about it, so Alex sets off to rescue her on his own. Within the Morlocks' underground lair, he meets the Big Bad, the so-called "Uber-Morlock" (Jeremy Irons) answers Alex's original question. The answer, of course, is that he can't rescue Emma because that would create a Temporal Paradox. Anyway, Alex causes his time machine to blow up and all the Morlocks die in a big explosion as he and Mara Outrun the Fireball. And so our Science Hero has learned that living in harmony with nature is awesome and settles down with Mara.

Tropes from the 2002 film version which weren't in the book:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Our hero now has a Back Story in which he invents the time machine in order to go back and prevent his fiancée's untimely death.
  • Ambiguously Brown: The Eloi this time around are portrayed as having a somewhat dark, relatively even tan. This was presumably the result of thousands of years of constant intermingling, in contrast to the white Eloi in the 1960 version.
  • And I Must Scream: The Uber-Morlock ends up hanging onto the Time Machine but outside the bubble; he's forced to basically age to death in normal time, unable to either let go of the machine or stop the process.
  • Anti-Villain: The Morlocks to a degree, though this loses in translation both the anti-war symbolism of the 1960 film and the class commentary in the original novel. As the Uber-Morlock explains, they were forced by circumstance to breed themselves into castes when it became apparent to their distant ancestors (i.e. the ones who went underground) that they couldn't return topside. The Uber-Morlock, in particular, answers Alexander's question and returns his time machine to him, asking only that he leaves. The only time he actually acts hostile towards Alexander is after Alexander attacks him.
  • Artistic License – Astronomy: An explosion on the Moon rains debris upon the Earth and leaves the Moon itself split into two large broken halves and a cloud of smaller rocks over a period of almost a million years, rather than either gravitationally attracting each other back into a single body or spreading themselves out into a ring system as they actually would have over that long an interval.
  • Awesome Anachronistic Apparel: When the doctor stops in the (relatively) near future, a girl passing by admires his "retro" outfit.
  • Bare Your Midriff: Mara's outfit.
  • Brain Critical Mass: The Uber-Morlock has a massive brain that extends down his back and uses it to control the Morlocks.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Alex reaching out of the time bubble to catch his dropped pendant and his hand rapidly aging while outside the bubble's protection.
  • Cultural Translation: The film moves the setting from London to New York.
  • Deadly Deferred Conversation: Nonlethal example. Alexander is arguing with his friend after the death of his fiance. They agree to continue the discussion in a week but by that time Alexander is stuck in the future.
  • Disposable Woman: Emma. Alex spent years building the time machine to change history and save her from dying. Two failed attempts are depicted, and then later we're told he tried to save her twenty-seven times. She really does have no further Character Development than being destined to die.
  • Eternal English: This time, the Eloi have their own language, but they still speak "the Stone Language" found on pieces of ruins of U.S. buildings. And Vox the AI librarian (see Who Wants to Live Forever? below) likely fills the same role in maintaining early 21st-century American English pronunciation as the talking rings did in the 1960 film.
  • Evil Albino: The Uber-Morlock
  • Evil Overlooker: The poster.
  • Fictionary: The Eloi have their own language that, oddly, sounds rather limited. The word tamquen seems to have several different connotations, as it's used several times in rapid succession at one point.
  • Funny Background Event: In the 2030s library, one of the extras (a woman scolding her son) can be heard to say "...or so help me, I'll re-sequence your genome!"
  • Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: Arguably, this film's aversion of the trope is surprising. The book uses the Eloi-Morlock split as a commentary on class, but the 1960 film treats it as the outcome of nuclear war. Replacing nuclear war with genetic engineering seems almost too obvious an update (given that the root differences between Eloi and Morlocks are evolutionary/genetic), but instead it is changed to "lunar colony accident" by way of a more generic (or at least ambiguous) Science Is Bad message.
  • I Choose to Stay: Alex at the end.
  • Irony: Because Alex created the machine for the purpose of saving his fiancee, that's the one thing that he can't use it to do.
  • Large Ham: See One-Scene Wonder.
  • Lost in Imitation: This film seems to really be a rather loose remake of the 1960 film, which itself was a somewhat loose adaptation of Wells' novel, so you can imagine how little it resembles the book in any way.
    • The film was directed by a direct descendant of H.G. Wells (his great-grandson Simon Wells) so that could mitigate any dissonance in the adaptation.
  • Musicalis Interruptus: In 2030 New York, when Alex cuts off Vox's singing of a selection from a musical it also cuts off the majestic background music.
  • My Brain Is Big: The Uber-Morlock. Rather than have the usual huge head, his brain extended down the neck and lower back.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Alexander Hartdegen, the time traveler.
  • The Lost Lenore: The protagonist is now entirely motivated by the loss of his love Emma.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Some fans have questioned whether Alexander killing the Uber-Morlock, thus leaving the more feral Morlock without a leader, in fact is what brought on the apocalypse that Alexander saw in the even more far-future.
    • Alternatively, destroying a single hive may not have done anything to change the Bad Future, as the Uber-Morlock told him there were many others. What's to stop the other hives from expanding into the now-empty territory?
  • Perfect Pacifist People: Arguably, the Eloi are these, though deconstructed since it makes them easy prey for the Morlocks.
    • The 1960 version had an anti-war sentiment that was lost in this version, shown when an Eloi male says "It is all clear," a phrase he'd learned from the Talking Rings. In THIS version, however, the Eloi are pacifists because of the Uber-Morlock's "psychic filter," which makes them forget about their dead and keeps them pacifistic. (Warning: this may have gotten lost in the cutting-room.)
    • It's also mentioned that any Eloi who fights back simply are the one the Morlocks come for first. Which is part of why the Eloi have been beaten down into submission and completely refuse to fight back.
  • Promoted to Love Interest: The 2002 film goes further than the older movie adaptation: not only was Weena replaced with a love interest named Mara and the Eloi made even less childlike, but the Time Traveler was given an entire backstory of building the machine as a way to save his girlfriend from being killed by a mugger.
  • Psychic Dreams for Everyone: Literally. Though, as it turns out, it's a side effect of the aforementioned psychic filter.
  • Ragnarok-Proofing: Averted with Earth in general. After the lunar disaster, any traces of civilization were pretty much obliterated over almost a million years.
    • Inexplicably played straight with the photonic library computer. His main processing unit survives orbital bombardment, the resulting thousands of centuries of neglect, and somehow ends up underground on top of that. He even still has numerous functioning projection screens.
    • Also played straight with US structures. According to the now-defunct official website, those cliffs that the Eloi use to build their homes are actually old New York skyscrapers.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Given to the hero by the villain of all people.
    Alex: This is a perversion of every natural law!
    Uber-Morlock: And what is time travel?! But your pathetic attempt to control the entire world around you!
  • Recursive Canon: Alex is offered a copy of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine in the future library.
  • Remake Cameo: Besides the 1960 The Time Machine, there had been two made-for-television movies based on H. G. Wells' novella and Alan Young is the only actor from any of the other three The Time Machine incarnations to appear.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: The photonic library computer. The computer even gets visibly irritated at what he regards as stupid questions from the Time Traveler, when a real computer would simply and happily attempt to answer any of his inquiries regardless of what was asked. This means that for whatever reason creators gave him the same flaws as a human librarian would have, even though there was no reason for it and would actually hinder his performance as a library computer.
    • On the other hand, Vox is described in the commentary as effectively being an Internet Search Engine with a Personality. Now imagine if you were a sentient compendium of all human knowledge, whose entire reason for existence was to be asked the same inane questions by people, over and over again? Can you really blame Vox for having developed into a passive-aggressive Deadpan Snarker to cope with the monotony?
  • Ripple Effect-Proof Memory
  • Science Is Bad: "We went too far."
    • The irony is that Alex has drawings in his lab that perfectly mirror the 2030's New York. Despite the fact that Alex is a visionary, it was ultimately men like him that doomed the world.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: Morlocks and Eloi.
  • Spinning Clock Hands: The first sign Alex is traveling into the past is when the hands on his collection of pocket watches slow down, then reverse, speeding up as he travels further back.
  • Temporal Paradox
  • Time Is Dangerous: The titular device creates a spherical bubble to protect the occupant. Reach outside, that protection no long applies. Alex hurts his hand when he instinctively grabs at an item he dropped. The Uber-Morlock, while wrestling with him on the machine, ends up hanging outside the bubble and ages into dust. Logically, any attempt to reach outside the bubble should have violently scattered their atoms across dozens of years of history, but the Rapid Aging looked cooler, presumably.
    • Or left the Uber-Morlock standing there with no hands. Presumably, some atoms would be scattered as they are pushed out by the dissipating aura radiating off the time bubble.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: Inevitably.
  • Twenty Minutes into the Future: Alex stops off in the 2030s on his way to 802,701.
  • Undeathly Pallor: The Morlocks, though not undead, have become pale from living underground and fear the light.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Vox, the photonic library computer AI from 2030, inexplicably manages to survive the apocalypse in an above-ground building which presumably has absolutely no protection from that sort of thing. His power and memory unit last literally hundreds of thousands of years. The fact that he remembers everything doesn't help. Leads to a bit of Pet the Dog when he's given the opportunity to do the one thing he wants to do: teach.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Played straight and then possibly averted. Alex tries to save Emma but every time, she gets killed. The Uber-Morlock later explains that the time machine cannot change the past in a way that prevents it from being built in the first place. Later in the movie, Alex goes to a Bad Future where the Morlocks have wiped out the Eloi, and then he goes back in time and wipes out the Morlocks. Either this means he successfully averted that bad future, or in the intervening several million years, the Morlocks from other areas will invade and wipe out the Eloi.
  • Young Future Famous People: Referenced. Alex is in touch with a bright young man from a Swiss patent office, one Mr. Einstein.