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Film / The Time Machine (2002)

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The Time Machine is a 2002 science fiction film directed by Simon Wells, loosely adapted from the classic novel of the same name by his great-grandfather H.G. Wells. More precisely, it's adapted from the 1960 film adaptation, with the writer of that version, David Duncan, even receiving a "based on the screenplay by" credit.

The Time-Traveler is Dr. Alexander Hartdegen (Guy Pearce), scientist and inventor. Alex sometimes comes off as overly optimistic and absent minded to his friend David Philby (Mark Addy) and his doting housekeeper Mrs. Watchit (Phyllida Law). The plot is set in motion when just after proposing to his girlfriend Emma (Sienna Guillory) the pair is mugged, and being unwilling to surrender the engagement ring she is shot and killed. Alex becomes a shut-in devoting all of his time and energy into making his theoretical time-machine into a reality. However You Can't Fight Fate comes into play, and his attempts to save her only result in death employing other means to find her.


Reasoning that if he discovered the secret to time-travel someone else eventually would, Alex decides to skip the years of maturation of the technology and travels forward in time, hoping to find an answer to why he cannot change the past. He arrives in the year 2037, where human efforts to colonize the moon have ended in disaster causing the moon itself to breakup and pelt the Earth with meteors. While attempting to flee this time line he is wounded and knocked out while his time machine continues forward. By the time he comes to the machine has spirited him to the year 802,701.

Here the Eloi are protrayed as Magical Native Americans, and lean very hard on Acceptable Breaks from Reality to be able to understand his language. Alex begins to make friend among the Eloi, including Mara (Samantha Mumba). Shortly thereafter Mara is kidnapped by the Morlocks, and with the Eloi too frightened to attempt a rescue he resolves to do so himself.


In the lair of the Morlocks, Alex meets the Über-Morlock (Jeremy Irons), who controls the Morlocks (and spies on the Eloi) through telepathy. Knowing who and what Alexander is, the Über-Morlock shows him a vision wherein his wife never dies, and as a result he chooses to spend his time with her and with his family rather than on building his time-machine. Now having given him the answer to the question of why he couldn't change the past, the Über-Morlock chooses to direct Alexander to return to his own time. But with nothing to return home to, Alexander chooses to fight the Über-Morlock and converts his time machine into a bomb to destroy the Morlocks, hopefully freeing the Eloi from their predation. The movie ends with Alexander finally coming to terms with the events he cannot change, and moving on to live in the new time in which he has found himself.

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

  • Adaptational Badass: The Eloi are great architects, and retain survival techniques as well as actually trying to flee the Morlocks as opposed to the mindless livestock they were in the novel and 1960 movie. The Morlocks themselves are significantly tougher, and in the case of the Über-Morlock, far more intelligent.
  • 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.
  • An Aesop: Accept the things you cannot change, and move on, no matter how painful it is.
  • Alien Sky: In 802701, half of the moon and a cloud of smaller rocks are visible in the sky, as a result of men destroying it in the past.
  • 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.
  • Anachronism Stew: In the opening, it's passingly mentioned that Alex is corresponding with a German patent clerk named Einstein. The film opens in 1899. Albert Einstein, while a brilliant university student, didn't get his job as a patent clerk until 1902.
  • And I Must Scream: The Über-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.
  • And Starring: "With Orlando Jones and Jeremy Irons."
  • 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 Über-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 Über-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.
  • Apocalypse How: The Detonation Moon in 2037 apparently devastated the Earth with natural disasters which caused a Class 2, leading to humans evolving into the Eloi and Morlocks respectively. If there was any devastation to the Earth's biosphere, it seems to have fully recovered within 800,000 years.
  • 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.
  • Artistic License – Physics: Nuclear weapons detonated on or in the moon would cause a huge spray of debris, a massive earthquake, contaminate its surface with radioactive material and leave behind a huge crater. That's it. There's no chance it would be thrown out of orbit or start breaking up even if you used the entire world's nuclear arsenal combined.
  • Awesome Anachronistic Apparel: When the doctor stops in the (relatively) near future, a girl passing by admires his "retro" outfit.
  • Bait-and-Switch Tyrant: The Über-Morlock. When first encountered, the audience could be forgiven for thinking that the shit has absolutely hit the fan for Alex, but that's not the case. While at first he makes it clear that he's not to be trifled with, but after that the Über-Morlock treats Alex civilly, prevents the other Morlocks from harming him, points out that the current predator/prey relationship between the Morlocks and the Eloi is simply the result of evolution, explains to him why he can't use the Time Machine to save Emma (Emma's death was the reason he built it in the first place, so he can't use the Time Machine in any way that would prevent its' own existence), gives the Time Machine back to Alex and is perfectly content to let him leave, and even returns Alex's pocket watch to him. He only attacks Alex after Alex attacks him.
  • Bare Your Midriff: Mara's outfit.
  • Blessed with Suck: When Alex asks why he considers the Eloi "lucky" to have no knowledge of the past or ambition for the future, Vox replies, in an almost teary voice: "Can you even imagine what it's like to remember everything?"
  • Brain Critical Mass: The Über-Morlock has a massive brain that extends down his back and uses it to control the Morlocks.
  • Brain Monster: The Über-Morlock is of a caste in which the brain has become so enlarged that it's not only visibly exposed on the back of his head, but its lobes extend halfway down his back as well.
  • Call-Back: At the start of the film, in a seemingly throwaway conversation, Alexander tells David he gets into a philosophical rant about how generic everyone's look is, with endless bowler hats, Alexander wanting to just get rid of them. In the closing seconds of the film, David looks like he's about to tip his hat to his missing friend... when he outright throws it away, showing his respect for Alexander's radical ideas.
  • 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. The Über-Morlock is killed when Alex manages to shove him outside the bubble and sends the machine forward, aging him to dust.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Try as he might, Alexander cannot prevent his beloved Emma's death. Any attempt to alter history simply results in her getting killed by another unforeseen event. Turns out there's a very good reason for this. If he achieved the impossible there would be no reason for him to build the time machine in the first place, creating an unresolvable paradox.
  • 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, during which Alex intends to change history and fix things. Instead, by that time Alexander is stuck in the future.
  • Detonation Moon: In the year 2037, the moon breaks up due to attempts to demolish the lunar colony going horribly awry, causing an Apocalypse How. In the year 802,701 AD, the moon's remains are still orbiitng the Earth, visible in the night sky.
  • 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 Overlooker: The poster.
  • Fashions Never Change: Subverted in that the Eloi and Morlocks' clothing are fitting of a Scavenger World. Also averted, as with the 1960 version, with the fashion shop mannequin briefly seen during the first time travel sequence depicting the changing fashions throughout the first half and a bit of the 20th century.
  • 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 New York Public Library in 2030, a teacher says to one of her students, "Tommy, do that again and I'll resequence your DNA. Now, march!"
  • Godiva Hair: Mara wears a largely transparent net top that leaves little of her upper body to imagination for much of the movie, yet her naughty bits are always obscured by either shadows or her long, strategically draped hair.
  • A Handful for an Eye: In the final fight, Alexander breaks open a pipe on the time machine so that it sprays steam in the Über-Morlock's face.
  • Hive Caste System: The Morlocks have not only evolved to live underground and prey on the surface-dwelling Eloi, but also into at least two different castes, one of them the more muscular drones/warriors, and another one possessing greater cognitive abilities and psychic powers to control the other.
  • 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.note 
  • I Want My Jet Pack: While 2030 has some impressive technology, Alexander is disappointed that no one even tried to expand on his time travel technology.
  • Jitter Cam: Used briefly during the escape scene in the finale.
  • Lampshade Hanging: The Vox's remark that time travel is impossible; e.g. the sort of time travel from earlier adaptations of The Time Machine.
  • Large Ham: See One-Scene Wonder.
  • Lost in Imitation: Despite being directed by Wells' own great-grandson, this film ultimately seems to be a loose remake of the 1960 film, which itself was a somewhat loose adaptation of the novel. The ending credits outright admit it with the (buried) credit, "based on the screenplay by David Duncan," who was the writer of the 1960 version. Most tellingly, the film includes numerous elements from the 1960 film, even hitting most of the same story beats, but doesn't really include anything from the book unless it's via the 1960 film. There are also some elements that might have been borrowed from the 1978 TV version.
  • The Lost Lenore: The protagonist is now entirely motivated by the loss of his love Emma.
  • 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 Über-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.
  • Never My Fault: The mugger that ends up killing Emma is visibly shocked by the act, and has the gall to ask Alex "Why did you [resist]? It was only a ring!" when he was the one that was mugging two people that were in the middle of a wedding proposal, even demanding the ring even after they had willingly gave him everything else of value.
  • My Nayme Is: Filby is Philby.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Alexander killing the Über-Morlock leaves the more feral Morlock without a leader, bringing about an apocalypse since the feral Morlock have nothing keeping them in check. Alexander fixes this by turning his time machine into a temporal bomb, wiping out the entire colony. It's not revealed what happened to the other colonies.
  • No Sense of Time: After killing the Uber-Morlock, Alexander travels all the way to the year 635,427,810. Apparently in that time, the Morlocks have run wild and enslaved the Eloi as a direct consequence of his actions. 635 million years is a huge amount of time, roughly equal to how long it took for protists to evolve into humans - making it doubtful that the Morlocks or Eloi would have persisted that long.
  • Our Time Travel Is Different: The Video Cassette variety, as with the novel and the 1960 version.
  • Ontological Inertia: No matter what Alex tries, his fiancée's death cannot be changed.
  • 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 which (it is implied ) has become part of the Eloi's genetic memory. In THIS version, however, the Eloi are pacifists because of the Über-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 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.
  • Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh...: The Über-Morlock effortlessly shrugs off Alexander's punches.
  • Psychic Dreams for Everyone: Literally. Though, as it turns out, it's a side effect of the aforementioned psychic filter.
  • Ragnarök Proofing:
    • Averted with Earth in general. After the lunar disaster, any traces of civilization were pretty much obliterated over almost a million years.
    • 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. He mentions he's the last remaining Vox, because the rest of the library, including the original books, is fossilized or worse. It also only turns on when someone is nearby, so keeping the batteries running indefinitely.
    • 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!
    Über-Morlock: (strangles Alex) And what is time travel?! But your pathetic attempt to control the entire world around you!
  • Recursive Canon: Vox begins telling Alex about H.G. Wells' novel The Time Machine and the 1960 film adaptation directed by George Pal in the library in 2030.
  • Released to Elsewhere: A strange case here: When Hartdegan asks Mara about her parents, she says only that "They have gone from this place", which Hartdegan interprets as a gentle euphemism for death. However, thanks to the manipulations of the Über-Morlock making people forget, it's possible that she genuinely does not know or remember what happens to the Eloi the Morlocks harvest.
  • 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: Vox, the photonic library computer. He speaks slowly to get his point across to Alexander, and even gets visibly irritated at what he regards as stupid questions, 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 his 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? When he's turned on in the distant future, he's picked up even more quirks, being effectively a library computer without a library.
  • Ripple Effect-Proof Memory: Alex changes history, but doesn't change his memory of history, even though his original impetus for using the time machine was altered when he first used it.
  • Ruins of the Modern Age: In the year 802701, the library that the protagonist previously visited 20 Minutes into the Future has deteriorated quite a bit, although the A.I. is still active. Also, Word of God is that the cliffs used by the Eloi to build their villages are remains of New York skyscrapers, apparently able to withstand 800,000 years of erosion and an Ice Age but covered in dirt.
  • 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.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Skeptic No Longer: After living hundreds of thousands of years and happening to run into the same yokel who was babbling about impossible time travel, Vox seems to have accepted that Alex was telling the truth on that count. Not much else is made of it, as both have bigger concerns at this point.
  • Slobs vs. 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.
  • Stable Time Loop: A heart-wrenching example. Alex can't stop Emma from dying, because her dying is the catalyst of him building his time machine, so time will come up with a way to kill her so that he has to go invent the time machine, trapping himself in the loop.
  • Temporal Paradox: In the climax, Alex travels into a Bad Future where the Morlocks have ravaged the Eloi valley. He goes back and turns his time machine into a bomb to kill all of them. Now that future presumably no longer exists, yet Alex is still around.
  • 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 Über-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, or cut the Über-Morlock's hands off when Alex started going forward, but the Rapid Aging looked cooler, presumably.
  • Too Dumb to Live: In 2030, someone apparently thought using nukes on the moon to make caves for future habitats was a good idea. Cue, a few years later, Apocalypse How.
  • 20 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.
  • Voodoo Shark: In the original film, it's never explained how the time traveller can understand what people are saying 800,000 years into the future. (In the novel, he had to learn the Eloi's language, but film versions don't seem to have the time for that.) This film does try to explain it by saying that the people speak a different language and that the 'stone language', or English, they learned from comes from broken signs and whatnot in Manhattan. Unfortunately that just raises questions on the logistics of how since a) only a tiny portion of all English vocabulary would be found on signs; b) knowing just the words don't help you in learning the language, you also need to know grammar, structure, etc. to form sentences. However, Mara does mention in dialogue that she was taught English, the "Stones" merely serve as learning aids as to what the letters look like.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Four years after Emma's death, Philby tells Alex about how his frequent visits to Alex lessened until he stopped coming completely, and asks him if he even noticed.
    • The mugger who accidentally shoots and kills Emma actually berates Alex for being unwilling to give up Emma's engagement ring, which is really pretty rich.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Vox, the photonic library computer AI from 2030, 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.. It leads to a bit of Pet the Dog when he's given the opportunity to do the one thing he wants to do: teach. As a handwave, he mentions he's the only Vox left, and there's only one corridor of the entire library shown to be intact.
  • The World Is Just Awesome: Goes into full effect when Alex travels forward for the first time, making the coming destruction all the more tragic.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Played straight and then possibly averted. Alex tries to save Emma but every time, she gets killed. The Über-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.


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