This week:
The Time Machine

Filthy says:
"Goes sour faster than milk on the sidewalk."

Time travel has fascinated man for longer than even celebrity gossip or the Flintstones. It opens a philosophical can of worms: is it ethical to monkey with the natural course of events?

If you had a time machine, what would you do? Would you go forward and learn the secrets of the future, or would you go backward? If you went forward, you could learn of new inventions, medical cures and the fate of men and nations. You could return to the present as a beacon of peace and a means for solving famine and AIDS with advanced technologies. But, if you went backward, you could totally get even with all those jerks who beat the shit out of you in high school. You could tell your mom that all the masturbating didn't make you blind and you could get Maureen O'Connor to have sex with you because you'd know better than to wear the lavender "Members Only" jacket and Boy George buttons.

You see? The moral ramifications of your actions in a time you don't belong to are complex, and for every person there is a different answer. For sure, building peace and helping people is noble, but it isn't anywhere near as noble as boning Maureen. Fuck, that would be so sweet. And in the past I wouldn't be married. Or would I? There would be no piece of paper, and yet, in my heart I would have already committed to Mrs. Filthy. So, I guess she would have to come with me, and I'd convince her to have a totally hot three-way. After all, all bets are off when you're time traveling.

Oh, man, I want to go into the past so bad.

I sure as hell could do more with time travel than The Time Machine. This movie is crap; it sets up a good premise simply to devolve into a really crummy boom-boom action flick.

Guy Pearce (in overacting mode) is Alexander Hartdegan, an absent-minded, gadget-obsessed turn-of-the-century English scientist. When his mistake results in the murder of the only women he ever loved (Sienna Guillory), he builds a time machine to travel back and change the event. He succeeds, only to find her killed another way. No matter how many times he relives that day, she will always die. This is pretty cool shit, and at this point the story has all the possibility that a time machine offers. In mourning, Pearce want to know why can't he change the past?

Then the movie goes down the shithole. Rather than really get to think about the question, we are hurtled 800,000 years into the future, a time when the art of storytelling has died and actors parade through corny-looking sets in search of narrative and big explosions. There are brief and pointless stops in 2030 and 2037 before the lurch forward, but the movie can't even imagine these as worth sticking around for. Fuck, it's the future, guys, imagine something, anything. The Time Machine says that our world in 28 years will be so boring that even a gadget-loving scientist from 1900 won't be impressed or interested enough to stick around. I guess he didn't get to see any of Candy Bottoms's work.

Pearce continues on to the distant future, a time when humans have devolved into a technology-free culture and separated into two races: the cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers called Morlocks, and the beautiful hippies called Elois who take their role as Morlock food with surprising indifference. Pearce is with the Elois. He is no longer full of twitchy, nervous energy. Now he's a somber, overly serious dullard who quickly falls in love with flared-nostriled plot device Mara (Samantha Mumba), whom he has nothing in common with, what with her barely speaking his language and being from a culture 800,000 years removed.

Mumba is captured by Morlocks so she can stand around and wait for Pearce to go on a cheap-ass journey into the forbidden zone to rescue her from Jeremy Irons, playing a grumpy Edgar Winters lookalike. The original question that motivated Pearce is completely lost in the clatter of trite action. There is an answer, but only in passing, sort of like the screenwriter's saying "Shit, we better say something," but not caring. The woman he loved so much that he built a time machine to save her is quickly forgotten. Hell, it might be 800,000 years for everyone else, but for him it's only a few days between honeypots. And with his change of allegiance, his original quest becomes irrelevant to the movie.

There is absolutely nothing in common between the beginning and ending of this movie: not the theme, plot, setting or even Pearce's acting. In the beginning, it's slightly clever, corny, attractive and engaging. In the end, it looks like a Land of the Lost rip-off full of tired, cheap and illogical action scenes. It's as though director Simon Wells (H. G. Welles's opportunistic great-grandson) has a scale for deciding what to put in the story. On one side he puts logic, narrative and thought, and on the other he puts "shit that goes boom." The shit always weighs more.

How big an asshole is someone who exploits his relation to a great, dead author to get the chance to direct a story, and then show absolutely no reverence or interest? Welles's book was good sci-fi and a moral tale about the ethics of both technology and class war. Wells's movie is just big, dumb and loud. It chucks out every bit of the original story that is relevant, ignores its imagination, and makes up shit that probably has his great grandfather scratching furiously to escape his coffin and beat the fuck out of his snotty offspring.

At first, the movie looks neat, all 19th century brass and falling snow in New York City. The sets and scenes are meticulous. By the end, though, things look like the Tavern's men's room after "Free Chili Night." You'd never imagine how shit gets that high up on the walls. The Morlocks are supposed to be terrifying monsters, but they have the faces of old chimpanzees, the hygiene of stray dogs, and the bodies of crippled bodybuilders. They kill their enemies with blow darts (ohh, scary!) covered with a black goo that is, apparently, not poisonous just gooey. The Eloi are horrified by how dirty their loincloths get. Besides being preposterous, the underground Morlock world looks like Styrofoam. I swear to God, these are just the props from an aborted Disneyland rollercoaster.

Irons, as the smartest Morlock, looks too silly to be taken seriously in white makeup, a white wig, and exposed vertebrae that pop up and down like the pistons of a small V-6. He goes to great lengths to explain how he evolved smart and weak while the other monsters evolved strong and stupid. Yet, when it's time for a fight scene, he's strong enough to overpower Pearce. Meanwhile, the strong Morlocks get easily knocked around by Pearce. It's the shitty, inconsistent script, not the creatures, that needs to evolve.

The actual time machine looks like a nice piece of furniture: all brass and cushy leather chair. But, it's pretty fucking improbable, and that's saying a lot in a movie that requires you to believe in time travel. When did this absent-minded professor get such stellar metal-crafting and carpentry skills? If he was in such a hurry to save his fiancé, why spend so much time making it pretty? And, most importantly, how does sticking a watch into its gears turn it into a nuclear bomb? Also, how does an object sit in a major city for all of time without someone noticing and fucking with it? Perhaps Jeremy irons can answer these questions as glibly as he did Pearce's.

This one's a stinky turd. It didn't start out that way, but neither does a good steak. Two Fingers.

Want to tell Filthy Something?


Filthy's Reading
Donald Barthelme - Come Back, Dr. Caligari

Listening to
Wall of Voodoo - The Index Masters

Godzilla 2000

Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times

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Forty Days and Forty Nights is "Consistently engaging, clever and insightful! A frothy comedy with subtext!"

Kissing Jessica Stein is "Outstanding! Romantic comedy at its sharpest and most sophisticated!"

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