In 1899, Doctor Alexander Hartdegen (Guy Pearce) is a professor at Columbia University. Unlike his friend David Philby, he is more comfortable doing scientific research than making money. After a mugger kills his fiancée Emma (Sienna Guillory), he begins work on a time machine so he can go back in time and save her. Four years later, he does just that, but she is killed again when a horseless carriage spooks a horse in the street.
He comes to believe that no attempt to save her will succeed. He travels to 2030 to see if time travel has been perfected. At the New York Public library, a holographic librarian named VOX 114 (Orlando Jones) tells him that travel to the past is impossible. Alexander travels to 2037, when the destruction of the moon has made Earth uninhabitable. He is knocked unconscious and the machine travels to the year 802,701 before he wakes up.
The Earth has healed, but the human race has become primitive. The Eloi live in the New York cliffs. A young Eloi woman named Mara (Samantha Mumba), one of the few Eloi who speak English, nurses him back to health. He studies the broken moon and wonders if his own teachings led to its destruction. He and Mara’s brother Kalen (Omero Mumba) dream of an ape-like creature. Apparently, all the Eloi have that dream. His watch is missing, too. The next day the Eloi are attacked by Morlocks and Mara is dragged underground. Kalen brings Alexander to the hologram VOX 114, which still functions, for information.
Alexander enters the caves of the Morlocks. He is captured and finds Mara in a cage. The Uber-Morlock (Jeremy Irons) tells him they are the descendants of those who hid underground and the Eloi of those who survived on the surface. The Morlocks feed on them and Mara is being kept for breeding purposes. The Uber-Morlocks are telepathic. Alexander is told that he could not alter Emma’s fate because it is her death that drove him to build the time machine in the first place. Alexander gets into the machine but pulls the Uber-Morlock in with him and they are carried further into the future. When Alexander pushes him out of the machine, the Uber-Morlock dies of rapid aging. Alexander stops in the year 635,427,810 and sees a harsh, rust-colored sky over a wasteland Earth.
He goes back to save Mara. He sets his machine to create a distortion in time which destroys the Morlocks, freeing Mara and the Eloi. Back in 1903, Philby hires Alexander’s housekeeper Mrs. Watchit (Phyllida Law).
This is the remake of 1960’s The Time Machine, produced by George Pal. You will find a review of that one on Joes Corner in The End—Depopulation. This one was produced by Arnold Leibovit and Simon Wells, great-grandson of H.G. Wells. Gore Verbinski was brought in when Wells became exhausted. The 1960 movie was more philosophically minded, and this is more of a romantic adventure, and not bad at that. It received mixed reviews, made some money, and was nominated for makeup at the Oscars. Doug Jones appeared as a Morlock and Alan Young (from the 1960 film) had a cameo, in which he wore some of his original costume. Stan Winston studio created animatronic masks for the Morlocks.
The special effects shots of time-travel were more realistic, obviously, than those in 1960. Scenes showing the pieces of the moon crashing into New York were edited because of the 9-11 attacks. Guy Pearce did most of his own stunts, but he broke a rib in the process. At the time, the time machine was the most expensive prop in the movies. The Morlocks were more like those described in the book and resembled the Morlock Sphinx statue in the 1960 film, but Stan Winston Studios was unhappy with how they were filmed under bright lights rather than in the spooky shadows they were designed for. The scene in the original, in which the time-traveller watches clothing change in a shop window, was reproduced.