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Time Machine/Ice Age

Somewhere right now, H.G. Wells is making 100 revolutions per minute in his grave. The author of such sci-fi classics as The Invisible Man and War of the Worlds was an enthusiastic supporter of technology and its
implications. But the new cinematic adaptation of The Time Machine takes a more contemporary, even apocalyptic, approach to the same material. In the hands of director Simon Wells (Prince of Egypt) and screenwriter John Logan (Gladiator), The Time Machine is a cautionary tale that ends up embracing the idyll of primitive man.

Guy Pearce (Memento) is Alexander Hartdegen, a young mathematician at Columbia University around the turn of the century. He's obsessed with new gadgets, but he's even more entranced with the beautiful Emma (played by Sienna Guillory in her American film debut). But when she's killed inside Central Park, he develops a time machine in the hope of returning to the past and altering its course.

Returning to the past turns out to be easy, altering the past is a different story. So for reasons never explained, Alexander travels 800,000 years into the future where he meets the beautiful Mara (pop singer Samantha Mumba) and her little brother Kalen (Mumba's brother Omero). They're part of the Eloi tribe, a primitive band that lives in houses far above the ground for fear of the evil Morlocks. There he becomes entranced with the wonders of zero technology, that is until the Morlocks come out of the ground for a feeding frenzy.

The Time Machine is highly reminiscent of the 1998 Robin Williams movie When Dreams May Come. Both feature beautiful set design and impressive special effects, and both are hamstrung by a ludicrous plot.

Using the Cliff Notes version of the myth of Orpheus, Alexander must go where no man has gone before--into the depths of the Morlock world. There he'll have an inane conversation about evolution with Uber-Morlock (this is the character's actual name) Jeremy Irons (Reversal of Fortune), understand the Morlocks' evil designs, and, in a plot twist that is both inevitable and yet incomprehensible, lead Mara out of Hades. As the two heroes raced out of the underworld, followed by a brilliant white light, I thought to myself, "There must be an extra half hour on the cutting room floor that would explain all of this. How kind of the producers to cut it out, so that
my agony might be shortened."

To The Time Machine's credit, its acting is much better than When Dreams May Come, which featured the uber-acting of Williams and Cuba Gooding, Jr. Here, Guy Pearce actually keeps a straight face, and Mumba isn't too bad in her pedestrian role. I also appreciated how the movie's special effects conveyed the passage of time, and the set design of New York, circa 1900, is fantastic. The walk through Central Park is genuinely beautiful.

But those are small pleasures compared to the large sufferings of the film's story. And for a movie predicated on state-of-the-art effects to embrace a world from the Stone Age seems more than a little ridiculous.
H.G. Wells, how little we knew ye.   

Ice Age, a new animated movie, imagines a more primitive time as well, one in which the lion lies down with the lamb and the tiger lies down with the sloth. The sloth?!? Yes, only in a Disney-inspired movie could a sloth be a quick-footed, if slow-witted, hero.

You see, the good-hearted but irritating Sid the Sloth (voiced by John Leguizamo) is on the run from two rhinoceroses he's provoked. So he takes refuge in the unwelcome snout of a woolly mammoth named Manny (Ray Romano). Together, they stumble upon an abandoned human baby and decide to try to track down the kid's parents, which requires traversing a snowy landscape. Along for more than the ride is Diego (Denis Leary), a not-so-gentle saber-tooth tiger who, for reasons too complicated to go into, must steal the baby and take it back to his pack but ends up learning the true meaning of friendship along the way. I assume you can take it from here.

Though the plot is generic, the movie is enchanting. Each of the three characters has a real presence, and the movie's moral, "that's what you do in a herd--look out for each other," is well-earned. The jokes for the adults are often clever (there are a couple nice riffs on evolution), and the kiddies will enjoy the omnipresent poop escapades. Both young and old will enjoy the antics of Scrat, the acorn-obsessed squirrel, though his role has absolutely nothing to do with the plot. Even the song montage, which comes halfway through the film, is enjoyable, as our trio trudges through the snow and ice. And the computer animation, while not up to Pixar's lofty standards, is more than adequate.

Ice Age isn't perfect. Even at 75 minutes, it feels 15 minutes too long. But as Disney seems to have abandoned its award-winning formula, it's nice to see another studio pick up where Disney left off. Parents, I give you a movie your kids will love and you'll enjoy.  
 
J. Robert Parks 3/11/2002

 
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