2002's 'The Time Machine' Is Actually Not as Great as I Remember

Updated on July 25, 2018
Disastrous Grape profile image

Disastrous Grape is from a dimension of sentient exploding fruit, and is author of the novels The Thieves of Nottica and Time's Arrow.

I decided to look at the 2002 The Time Machine remake for old time's sake, and now I understand why so many people complained about it years ago when it first came out. At the time, I was young and didn't give a crap. Now that I'm older, I have so many craps to give.

Honestly, I think growing older just ruins stuff.

The Women Were All Plot Devices

Emma is presented as a standard Manic Pixie Dream Girl to Alex's Boring Depressed Smart Guy. She alone is wearing red in a sea of dull Victorian browns, greys, and blacks. She is full of life and thus she must die.

Emma exists purely to be "fridged," which is a way of saying she died in order to develop the "more important" male protagonist.

All too often in fiction, women are never anyone remotely important, are never characters in their own right, and solely exist to push male characters through their stories.

Just stating unfortunate facts here.

Emma was one such plot device. Used to make us pity Alexander and root for him, she is killed off within the first half-hour and her death is the catalyst for the story itself: without her death, there would be no time machine.

That might have been fine -- I mean, a lot of characters are used as plot devices. It can't be avoided. But they didn't even bother trying to give Emma some kind of real personality beyond her love of flowers.

In fact, it is Emma's ridiculous insistence on flowers that gets her killed the second time.

Mara is a New Goldfish

Alex gets to the future and meets Mara, who is just another version of Emma. She, like Emma, is used by the narrative to drive Alex through the plot when she is later captured by the Uber Morlock.

There was nothing so frustrating as watching Mara obediently fall back when Alex commands her. Alex then runs to save her brother for her, and because she humbly obeys him and doesn't help, she is captured instead.

I watched that scene thinking there was no way one of my female characters would have obeyed Alex and hung back while her baby brother was in danger. None of them would have fallen back. Every last one of them would have knocked Alex's skinny butt aside and run to save their brother.

Why in hell is Mara taking orders from Alex like some kind of child? Alex doesn't know this world. She does. Alex has never faced these creatures before. She has. And yet, she defers to him as if he were an expert on her world.

As the protagonist, Alex needs to seem heroic and in control. I get it. I get it perfectly. But a skilled writer would have found a way to make Mara look competent at the same time. Instead, she is infantalized by the narrative.

The plot relies on Emma and Mara being stupid. Instead of doing logical things, they do stupid, irrational, emotional things that get them kidnapped and killed. They are both written like some sexist guy's idea of a stereotypical damsel in distress.

Instead of just giving up her engagement ring, Emma fights a man with a gun.

Instead of just helping Alex save her brother from one Morlock, Mara hangs back with fifty other Morlocks.

And again, like Emma, Mara is reduced to having no personality beyond loving flowers. In fact, her utterly unique and interesting (obvious sarcasm) love of flowers reminds Alex of Emma.

Mara reminds Alex of Emma. She is basically his New Goldfish.

It could be that Emma is just an idiot and Mara is similar to her just to give the audience a feasible reason as to why Alex is suddenly so in love with Mara, a woman he has known all of, like, fifteen hours. But because there are only three women in the main cast, at a glance, it just looks like sexism.

The three remotely important women are Emma, Mara, and Mrs. Watchit.

It's bad when the two out of three women in a film are stereotypical depictions of some man's idea of "woman."

If Vox, the virtual librarian, had been a woman, that would have been really cool. Hell, Vox -- the sentient machine -- had more personality than Emma and Mara combined. I love Orlando Jones, but there were some great black female comedians who could have done that role just as well.

The Uber-Morlock Could Have Been a Woman

Honestly. There was no real reason for every important character to be a man. Even the background characters were mostly men. Hell, the robber who shot Emma could've been a woman. As much as I love Mr. Irons, could you imagine Angelica Houston in this role? She would have knocked it out of the park.

But employ more actresses in serious roles that don't involve nudity? I know. Silly, silly me.

Aside from the women being sexist stereotypes and plot devices, the other thing that really bothered me was the fact that the Morlocks were presented as "evil" and the Eloi were presented as "good."

In the original story, the Morlocks and the Eloi were neither evil nor good. They were simply the product of their evolution. The Morlocks were doing what they had to do in order to survive and the Eloi were their frightened cattle.

This was really a commentary on class systems in general, and how the working class is demonized while the rich and elite hoard all the resources, forcing the working class to live in poverty, ugly and unhealthy, and committing survival crime.

Jeremy Irons presents this well in his calm, tired "Go back to your time period" performance, but the message is still hand-waved when his character is killed and his people slaughtered by Alexander, who thinks he has done something heroic by the end.

In reality, all Alex did was postpone a time when more Morlocks would come from other areas looking for food. He didn't kill the root of the problem but the symptom.

What Alex did was the equivalent of going into a ghetto and killing all the people there, then going back to the same system of oppression and expecting no poor people to take their place.

We even see in the film itself that the Morlocks eventually take over, spreading across the entire planet, in much the same way humans eventually took over Earth after we learned to domesticate the animals we used to follow in roving hunter-gatherer bands.

The original message of the story is lost in favor of a childish black-and-white idealism. I believe it was lost because the writers didn't anticipate that the audience would be able to understand or accept the original story. . . . which is utterly depressing.

If I were H.G.Wells, I would be pissed about this movie. I know most writers like for the original themes of their books to be upheld.

To be fair, I think the writers of the 2002 version tried to get the point across that the Morlocks weren't evil, but they did it in a very subtle, very hesitant way, because in the end, the Morlocks are still destroyed and we are shown the "good" Eloi living in relative peace in their beautiful, sunny world.

"The day and the night" indeed.

© 2018 Ash Gray

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