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The Time Machine is a 2002 American science fiction film loosely adapted from the 1895 novel of the same name by H. G. Wells and the screenplay of the 1960 film of the same name by David Duncan. Arnold Leibovit served as executive producer and Simon Wells, the great-grandson of the original author, served as director. The film stars Guy Pearce, Orlando Jones, Samantha Mumba, Mark Addy, and Jeremy Irons, and includes a cameo by Alan Young, who also appeared in the 1960 film adaptation. The film is set in New York City instead of London, and contains new story elements not present in the original novel nor the 1960 film adaptation, including a romantic backstory, a new scenario about how civilization was destroyed, and several new characters such as an artificially intelligent hologram and a Morlock leader.

The film received mixed reviews and grossed $123 million worldwide. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Makeup (John M. Elliot Jr. and Barbara Lorenz) at the 75th Academy Awards, but lost to Frida.


In 1899, Dr. Alexander Hartdegen is an inventor teaching at Columbia University in New York City. Unlike his friend David Philby, Alexander would rather do pure research than work in the world of business. After a mugger kills his fiancée, Emma, he devotes himself to building a time machine that will allow him to travel back in time to save her. When he completes the machine in 1903, he travels back to 1899 and prevents her murder, only to see her killed again when a horseless carriage frightens the horses of a horse-drawn vehicle.

Alexander realizes that any attempt to save Emma will result in her death through other circumstances. Distraught, Alexander travels to 2030 to discover whether science has been able to solve his question of how to change the past. At the New York Public Library, a holographic sentient librarian called Vox 114 insists that time travel to the past is impossible and is the realm of fictional authors such as Isaac Asimov and H.G. Wells. Alexander looks up himself and learns that he was reported missing in 1903 and dismissed as a crackpot. Alexander travels to 2037, when the accidental destruction of the Moon by the lunar colonists' demolition team has begun rendering the Earth virtually uninhabitable. While restarting the time machine, he is knocked unconscious and travels to the year 802,701 before reawakening.

When Alexander comes to, he learns that Earth has now healed and the human race has reverted to a primitive dystopian lifestyle. Some survivors, called "Eloi", live on the sides of cliffs of what was once Manhattan. Alexander is nursed back to health by a woman named Mara, one of the few Eloi who speak English. He observes the broken moon and suggests that maybe his teachings led to this future. One night, Alexander and Mara's young brother Kalen dream of a frightening, jagged-toothed face and a creature calling their name. Alexander informs Mara of the dream, and she tells him they all have that dream and notices that his watch is missing. The next day, the Eloi are attacked and Mara is dragged underground by ape-like monsters called "Morlocks" that hunt the Eloi for food. In order to rescue her, Kalen leads Alexander to Vox 114, which is still functional after 800,671 years.

After learning from Vox how to find the Morlocks, Alexander enters their underground lair through an opening that resembles the face in his nightmare. He is captured and thrown into an area where Mara sits in a cage. Alexander meets the Über-Morlock, who explains that Morlocks are the descendants of the humans who went underground after the Moon broke apart, while the Eloi are descended from those who remained on the surface. The Über-Morlocks are a caste of telepaths who rule the other Morlocks.

The Über-Morlock explains that Alexander cannot alter Emma's fate, because her death is what drove him to build the time machine in the first place: saving her would be a virtual impossibility due to temporal paradox. He then reveals that the Morlocks have brought the time machine underground, and tells Alexander to return home after he gives Alexander his watch and the answer of why he cannot change the past. Alexander gets into the machine, but pulls the Über-Morlock in with him, carrying them into the future as they fight. The Über-Morlock dies by rapidly aging when Alexander pushes him outside of the machine's temporal bubble. Alexander arrives at the year 635,427,810, revealing a harsh, rust-colored sky over a wasteland of Morlock caves.

Accepting that he cannot save Emma, Alexander travels back to rescue Mara. After freeing her, he starts the time machine and jams its gears with his watch, creating a violent distortion in time. Pursued by the Morlocks, Alexander and Mara escape to the surface as the time distortion explodes, killing the Morlocks and destroying their caves along with the time machine. Alexander begins a new life with Mara and the Eloi, while Vox 114 becomes a teacher to the Eloi children.

Back in 1903, Philby and Alexander's housekeeper Mrs. Watchit are in his laboratory discussing his absence. Philby tells Mrs. Watchit he is glad that Alexander has gone to a place where he can find peace, then tells her that he would like to hire her as a housekeeper, which she accepts until Alexander returns. Mrs. Watchit bids Alexander farewell and Philby leaves, looking toward the laboratory affectionately, then throws his bowler hat away in tribute to Alexander's distaste for conformity.


  • Guy Pearce as Dr. Alexander Hartdegen, associate professor of applied mechanics and engineering at Columbia University. In the novel, the time traveler's name isn't given.
  • Samantha Mumba as Mara, a young Eloi woman who befriends Alexander and eventually becomes his love interest.
  • Orlando Jones as Vox 114, a holographic artificial intelligence librarian at the New York Public Library in the future, who befriends Alexander.
  • Mark Addy as David Philby, Alexander's good friend and conservative colleague.
  • Jeremy Irons as The Über-Morlock, the leader of the Morlocks and a member of the telepathic-ruling caste of the Morlock world.
  • Sienna Guillory as Emma, Alexander's fiancée.
  • Phyllida Law as Mrs. Watchit, Alexander's housekeeper in New York.
  • Alan Young as Flower store worker
  • Omero Mumba as Kalen, Mara's young brother.
  • Yancey Arias as Toren
  • Laura Kirk as Flower seller
  • Josh Stamberg as Motorist
  • [[Myndy Crist[[ as Jogger
  • Connie Ray as field trip teacher
  • Peter Karika as The Trainer
  • John W. Momrow as Fifth Avenue carriage driver
  • Max Baker as Mugger who kills Emma
  • Jeffrey M. Meyer as Central Park carriage driver
  • Raymond Hoffman as Central Park ice skater
  • Richard Cetrone cameos as a Hunter Morlock.
  • Doug Jones cameos as a Spy Morlock.


The film was a co-production of DreamWorks and Warner Bros. in association with Arnold Leibovit Entertainment who obtained the rights to the George Pal original Time Machine 1960 and collectively negotiated the deal that made it possible for both Warner Bros and DreamWorks to make the film.

Director Gore Verbinski was brought in to take over the last 18 days of shooting, as Wells was suffering from "extreme exhaustion". Wells returned for post-production.

Special effects

The Morlocks were depicted using actors in costumes wearing animatronic masks created by Stan Winston Studio. For scenes in which they run on all fours faster than humanly possible, Industrial Light & Magic created CGI versions of the creatures.

Many of the time traveling scenes were entirely computer generated, including a 33-second shot in the workshop where the time machine is located. The camera pulls out, traveling through New York City and then into space, past the ISS, and ends with a space plane landing at the Moon to reveal Earth's future lunar colonies. Plants and buildings are shown springing up and then being replaced by new growth in a constant cycle. In later shots, the effects team used an erosion algorithm to digitally simulate the Earth's landscape changing through the centuries.

For some of the lighting effects used for the digital time bubble around the time machine, ILM developed an extended-range color format, which they named rgbe (red, green, blue, and an exponent channel) (See Paul E. Debevec and Jitendra Malik, "Recovering High Dynamic Range Radiance Maps from Photographs, Siggraph Proceedings, 1997).

The film's original release date was December 2001, but it was moved to March 2002 because a scene was removed from the Moon destruction sequence showing pieces of the Moon crashing into buildings in New York because it looked too similar visually to the September 11 attacks.


A full score was written by Klaus Badelt, with the recognizable theme being the track "I Don't Belong Here", which was later used in the 2008 Discovery Channel Mini series When We Left Earth.

In 2002, the film's soundtrack won the World Soundtrack Award for Discovery of the Year.

Critical reception

The film holds a 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 150 reviews with an average rating of 4.8/10. The site's critical consensus reads "This Machine has all the razzle-dazzles of modern special effects, but the movie takes a turn for the worst when it switches from a story about lost love to a confusing action-thriller".

William Arnold of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, who was somewhat positive about the film, wrote that it lost some of the simplicity and charm of the 1960 George Pal film by adding characters such as Jeremy Irons' "über-morlock". He praised actor Guy Pearce's "more eccentric" time traveler and his transition from an awkward intellectual to a man of action. Victoria Alexander of wrote that "The Time Machine is a loopy love story with good special effects but a storyline that's logically incomprehensible," noting some "plot holes" having to deal with Hartdegen and his machine's cause-and-effect relationship with the outcome of the future. Jay Carr of the Boston Globe wrote: "The truth is that Wells wasn't that penetrating a writer when it came to probing character or the human heart. His speculations and gimmicks were what propelled his books. The film, given the chance to deepen its source, instead falls back on its gadgets."

Some critics praised the special effects, declaring the film visually impressive and colorful, while others thought the effects were poor. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times scorned the film, and found the Morlock animation cartoonish and unrealistic, because of their manner of leaping and running. Ebert notes the contrast in terms of the social/racial representation of the attractive Eloi between the two films... between the "dusky sun people" of this version and the Nordic race in the George Pal film. Aside from its vision of the future, the film's recreation of New York at the turn of the century won it some praise. Bruce Westbrook of the Houston Chronicle writes "The far future may be awesome to consider, but from period detail to matters of the heart, this film is most transporting when it stays put in the past."