A Missed Opportunity
The biggest problem for The Time Machine, is its heritage. Both the Wells' book, and the George Pal 60s film. When held in comparison, it doesn't stand favourably. It works best, when you try and distance yourself, and view it simply as a fresh new story.
It's biggest mistake, is the time travel. That is the film's central core, yet instead of enjoying a passage of time through various stages of history, we get two VERY brief glimpses of the near future, and then the far distant Eloi and Morlocks. It desperately needed some feeling of exploration, instead of simply bypassing everything in about five minutes worth of montage. The core of the original, both film and book, is the protagonist's vision of how time does, and doesn't change man.
It's other major error, is in its motivations, though you can understand why they thought it was a good idea. The film makers attempt to give the Time Traveller an emotional basis for his efforts, with the death of his fiancée. On the surface this seems a good idea. However, by doing so, we are robbed of not only his sense of exploration and adventure, but his reasons for travelling to the future seem flimsy at best. Not only that, but it forces the film to spend unwarranted time on this subplot, before we delve into the interesting aspects.
Thirdly, the finale is so mindless, that it makes little sense. The 'explosion' of the time machine, is so utterly contrived a plot device, simply for an alternative to the old 'blow something big up for the end' trick. How does he know his machine will do precisely this, when he sets it to malfunction? What makes him think he will have enough time to get the girl out and save her by doing this? It just feels utterly contrived, and tacked on for the sake of a wham-bam Hollywood finale.
If we do compare the versions, it's surprising how this veers even more from the book (considering its director's relation) than the Pal version. Lost is the contrast of the practically helpless Eloi, as they simply appear to be a fairly self-sufficient tribal race. The Morlocks, who originally came over as abominations, hideous debased humans (despite the dated make-up of the time), now come over simply as mindless animals. While Jeremy Irons' Uber-Morlock is an attempt, too late in the game, to provide a central villain to defeat.
It had real potential, and despite its flaws, is an enjoyable enough romp. Unfortunately, that's all it is, and it seems a shame that even with all the extra time, money and effort, it still couldn't equal, let alone surpass, its 1960s predecessor.