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
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.