The Moment of Truth — March 16, 2002

The Time Machine: Moneyed Mediocrity Pilfers Past for Flimsy Futurology

Welcome to the Moment of Truth, the part that was lost in the capitalist clitorectomy of the body politic.

DO NOT SEE the remake of “THE TIME MACHINE.” I saw it and it is utterly worthless. You’re better off turning on the TV at any given moment and watching whatever’s on. Or opening up a can of corn and watching that for an hour and fifty-one minutes. Guy Pearce is good. Jeremy Irons is pleasantly Karlovian in his Morlock makeup. The time machine itself is beautiful; it actually resembles the one in the original George Pal film, as does the time traveler’s initial journey. That’s it. Everything else good about H. G. Wells’ novella and the George Pal film has been lost in the scramble to make sure no one can say this new version hasn’t kept up with special effects technology. The loping and leaping of the Morlocks bear a suspicious resemblance to the ambulations of the Apes in last summer’s insulting remake by Tim Burton of “Planet of the Prosthetics.” (An industry insider suggests they decided to get a little more mileage out of that loping and leaping effects program.)

Simon Wells claims to be a descendant of H. G. He certainly didn’t inherit any of his ancestor’s talent, and if he thinks he’s done the old guy any honor by turning his paradigmatic tale into one of next year’s sci-fi channel rerun, he’s mistaken. Wells the elder is not happy. God came and told me so. She said, “Herbert would give up eternal bliss if he could throttle the little whelp. But he’s contractually bound to allow five more terrible movies to be made from his work before he qualifies for a sabbatical to come back and haunt his living heir as a vengeful banshee.”

Rent the George Pal version. There’s a lot wrong with it, but what used to be wrong with movies is somehow so much more tolerable than what’s wrong with them now. Or maybe I’m just forgiving of esthetic flaws in charming antiquities. But listen: in the George Pal version, we see the idyllic future world of the Eloi, a frail and extremely white species of human. They are aimless and happy in their innocence. Suddenly the bucoliasm is rent by a sustained sonic blare. The Eloi begin to march toward a kind of sphinx. Doors in the sphinx open, and the Eloi continue in. Then the door closes, the siren stops. The Eloi remaining outside the sphinx go back to their aimless pleasures, because, they say: “It is … all clear.”

So eerie, so stark, so interesting.

What happens in the new film? Chase scene. Interesting? No. Saw the loping and leaping last year. And even if I hadn’t — chase scene v. stark lemming-like march with air raid siren and weird sphinx?

Oh my god, the new one is just so crappy.

It’s the difference between the first “Alien,” by Ridley Scott, a good director, and the first sequel, “Aliens,” by James Cameron, a bad one. “Alien” is all tension and fear. “Aliens” is all chasing and shoot-outs. Interesting? No. Or maybe I was just nostalgic for the first one. That charming antiquity from a year or two earlier.

Wells — the good Wells, not Simon, who should change his last name to Cameron (as in James) or Bay (as in Michael) or Arnold (as in Benedict) — Wells, good English socialist that he was, in his original novella hints that the division of the human species into two had its antecedents in the class divisions of industrial society. The reason given in the new film for evolutionary bifurcation? “After the moon exploded, some of us went underground, and then we tried to go back to the surface but we couldn’t.” Notice that Wells’ concept is charged with irony, moral ambiguity, and historical critique, while Simon Arnold’s concept is too shallow to have made the cut even in a script for the original Star Trek series.

The only improvement that needed to be made over the original Pal movie was in the depiction of the Eloi. In Wells’ book they are frail, childlike creatures with tiny bones. In Pal they’re nice-looking leisure-class blonds, which is interesting in regard to the social allegory but unfaithful to the book. It’s also asymmetrical; the frailty of the Eloi provides a counterweight to the evolutionary bulking-up of the Morlocks. Wells’ time traveler is a precursor to Humbert Humbert in his love for the Eloi girl Weena; he’s an anachronistic romantic hero in a grim parody of society that perverts his patriarchal heroism into pedophilia.

In Benedict Arnold’s future the Eloi are Maori natives. Not sure why — no reason, I guess. It’s a society of noble savages. They deserve to inherit the earth, if only the mean old Morlocks would leave them alone.

In Wells, the Morlocks and the Eloi coexist, like cattle and cowherds, except the cowherds aren’t any more or less self-aware than their cows. A future wherein our species has divided into two due to social forces rather than “natural” ones is the concept that made “The Time Machine” influential to writers like Huxley and Orwell. A subterranean blue-collar species living on the flesh of a coddled leisure one — the idea takes Jonathan Swift’s “Modest Proposal” and echoes it back in a conversation of satire on human cruelty, of how to characterize the cruel according to poetic logic, and what might be their fate in a poetically biological history.

In a way, Simon Barsinister’s new movie does enter into the conversation. It says, “Here on the eve of corporate totalitarian rule over the earth, Greed still decides what happens, after all these years and all your squawking, you satirical smart-asses. So, just to make sure you don’t forget, I orwell on your smirking discourse with this multi-million-dollar boot in the face.”

“Planet of the Apes,” “Rollerball,” and now “The Time Machine.” Three good old movies to rent. Why doesn’t someone take a movie that was originally bad and remake it in a way that deepens it, or improves it in even a superficial way? How about remaking “Giant” without the scenes that don’t have James Dean in them? And without that stupid dipsy-doodle music when he’s old and drunk? How about “Robocop” with him blowing away the entire board of the corporation at the end? How about “Green Berets” with heroin, massacres of civilians, and Nixon discussing with Kissinger if he should nuke Asia? How about “JFK” where they actually catch the second gunman?

How about “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” with George Peppard gay and without the Mickey Rooney role? No, they’d probably end up casting Britney Spears as Holly. I don’t even wanna think about who would direct it, and what song Phil Collins would write in lieu of “Moon River.” I’m sure they’d somehow get Robin Williams involved. Oy, uch. Forget I mentioned it.

Mejeffdorchen. Moment of Truth. Good Day.