It's strange that when watching The Time Machine, one can suspend the obvious disbelief and still get distracted by minor details. In hindsight, it's not surprising as even director Simon Wells-the great grandson of writer H.G. Wells-ignores the more intriguing themes and questions of time travel.
In a departure from both the novel and the original film, the story begins in turn-of-the-century New York as Alexander Hartdegen (Guy Pearce) proposes to his girlfriend Emma (Sienna Guillory). It's a short engagement, as she's promptly murdered. Motivated by his grief, he develops a time machine to save her. Since he discovers he can't change the past, no matter how many times he tries, he goes into the future, hoping he can solve the quandary of time travel.
However, folks in 2030 haven't mastered time travel and laugh at his inquiries. So, he treks a bit further and finds the world destroyed. Then, owing to a bump to his head, he hurtles 800,000 years forward when the Earth has rebuilt itself-though not so much that pieces of modern New York aren't still around. He discovers a peaceful cliff-dwelling community called the Eloi and quickly becomes smitten with Mara (Samantha Mumba), who thankfully speaks English. However, paradise is disrupted when an evil species, the Morlocks, come hunting and capture Mara. The Morlocks are insanely evolved humans who use the Eloi, for food.
Such a disjointed plot raises questions. Why was the setting moved from London to New York? Are the British no longer cool? How does a in geeky professor kick the crap out of mutated über-humans? Why don't the Morlocks dine on something else, like whatever the Eloi eat? How do remnants of New York sidewalks and signage survive so long? Is Hartdegen's name a play on him using his "heart again?" Why does Hartdegen need a motive to develop his time machine, anyway? Isn't time travel cool enough without wanting to resurrect dead loved ones?
Sadly, the modern Wells doesn't seem to think so. He ignores the more interesting questions concerning the possibilities of time travel, its consequences and everything in between. The Time Machine is pure action and adventure, when it could have been true science fiction. With captivating effects and exceptional acting, it's good fluff but falls short in intelligence. It stirs the imagination more than the brain, where as the 1960 version and even Back to the Future stir both.
One explored theme-that machines will be man's downfall-offers some insight but in the end contradicts itself. If it wasn't for Hartdegen's time machine, the future world wouldn't be saved. However, if it wasn't for machines destroying the earth, it wouldn't need saving. While I can't even write a review without being distracted by these fundamental curiosities, Wells made a movie without even noticing them-and it's easier to suspend my disbelief of Morlocks than it is of that.