March 18, 2002 12:00 PM

The Time Machine

Guy Pearce, Jeremy Irons

Why do we dream of hurtling back to the past or forward to the future? To H.G. Wells, who speculated on the matter in his 1895 classic The Time Machine, it was a matter of noble intellectual curiosity. His time traveler (like Wells) was a civilized mind pondering cosmic questions. In this movie (directed by H.G.’s great-grandson Simon Wells), the hero still possesses a beautiful mind: Alexander Hartdegen (Pearce) is a professor at turn-of-the-century Columbia University in New York City. But what sets him time-hopping is his love for one of the biggest airheads in movie history—past, present and, one suspects, future. While Hartdegen spends his days scribbling out equations, Emma (Sienna Guillory) cares about nothing other than whether he’ll bring her flowers or how a new hat looks on her presumably empty head.

When Emma is murdered, Hartdegen invents his machine—which, depending on the angle, resembles a Victorian crystal chandelier or a hibachi grill—to go back and prevent her death. When that mission fails, he roars off into the future in a funk, finally screeching to a halt in 802701 AD. By then man has evolved into two species: the Eloi, gentle, vaguely Polynesian beings who live aboveground; and Morlocks, subterranean malcontents who look as if they might rent a time share on the island of Dr. Moreau.

Kids will enjoy watching Hartdegen battle the Morlocks, and Pearce smoothly handles his own evolution from rabbity nerd to postapocalyptic-hero-with-Chuck-Heston-tan. But the special effects and visual design are the alpha and omega of this sort of story (previously filmed in 1960 with Rod Taylor and, as the sexiest of the Eloi, Yvette Mimieux), and these are only so-so. Irons, turning up late in the game as the Morlocks’ albino overlord, looks as if he needed defrosting an eon earlier. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Waste of Time

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