Pearce, John Logan and Mark Addy
scriptwriter John Logan
"We came in
with pretty strong ideas about the material and how to approach it in
a fresh way that would make it interesting to a modern audience and
also interesting for us to work on."-John Logan, scriptwriter,
The Time Machine.
first in a series
by Bondo Wyszpolski
This interview first appeared in the February 7th issue
of Easy Reader.
printed here with permission
How will it compare?
To remake a classic horror or science fiction film is tempting on the
one hand (everybody already knows the story), and dangerous on the other
(mess it up, and all hell breaks loose). For example, once the word
was out, it seemed that Tim Burton's version of The Planet of the Apes
couldn't get into theaters fast enough, only to be promptly vilified
by critics. Did later versions improve The Thing, Invasion of the Body
Snatchers, or even Psycho? And despite several remakes of the H.G. Wells'
novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau, none surpasses in atmospheric splendor
the 1933 film, The Island of Lost Souls. All of which brings us to The
Time Machine, to be released by DreamWorks on March 8.
This is the story
of a man who builds a machine that can move up and down through time.
He leaves London on the cusp of the 20th century and journeys over 800,000
years into the future, where he finds that Mankind has bifurcated into
the hedonistic but docile Eloi and the subterranean, brutish Morlocks,
who cultivate the Eloi for food.
flaws or limitations - aggravated by the passing of four decades - George
Pal's 1960 film remains an audience favorite, cherished in particular
by those who saw it at an early, impressionable age, or when it first
came out (locally, it played at the long-defunct Fox Redondo in King
Harbor). The film's principal leads - Rod Taylor, Yvette Mimieux, and
Alan Young - are credited to this day for conveying the charm and the
excitement that H.G. Wells packed into his 1895 novella.
The remake - if we may call it that, although the term may prove to
be inadequate - has more than a few things going for it. Directed by
Simon Wells, H.G.'s great-grandson, and with the backup clout of Steven
Spielberg and DreamWorks, the film stars Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential;
Memento) along with Jeremy Irons, Orlando Jones, and newcomer Samantha
Mumba. How it will fare - critically, popularly, financially - will
be revealed soon enough, but one thing already evident is the caliber
of talent behind the scenes.
We've spoken to
several of the key players, from production designer Oliver Scholl to
director Simon Wells, and over the next few weeks will be presenting
the fruits of our conversation. We'll begin with scriptwriter John Logan,
who spoke with us by phone from his home in Evanston, Illinois. His
script for Any Given Sunday (1999) put him on the cinematic map. His
contribution to Gladiator (2000) solidified his position, and presumably
his work on The Time Machine and Star Trek: Nemesis (now filming) will
only enhance it. Currently, he's researching material for a film on
Abraham Lincoln to be developed by Spielberg and DreamWorks.
Q: How did you
get involved in The Time Machine, how enthusiastic were you at the outset
- and were you still as enthusiastic several months later?
John Logan laughs.
"Ah, you've talked to other film people before, I take it! I was
in London - still working on Gladiator - and Walter Parkes, the head
of production at DreamWorks - came up to me out of the blue and said,
Hey, how would you like to work on the remake of The Time Machine? And
I thought about it for all of five seconds and I said, You bet! Absolutely
would I like to work on the remake of The Time Machine. After [a project]
as grueling as Gladiator, the idea of doing something really fun appealed
to me and, also, I'm just an enormous fan of the old George Pal movie."
Despite the usual legwork and then the ongoing retooling of his script,
Logan asserts that he's been thoroughly pleased with his involvement.
"I can't say that my enthusiasm waned too much, nor my affection
for the material, obviously, because it's great material to get to tackle.
I can only hope I'll be just as happy when the movie opens."
Advance press releases
have noted that Logan's script for The Time Machine is at least in part
based on the screenplay by David Duncan for George Pal's film, but Logan
paints a slightly different picture.
"The George Pal movie was pretty firmly etched in my mind - I've
seen it a few times over the years - but mostly I went back to the original
novel because it was always DreamWorks' intention to try to recapture
some of its spirit of scientific exploration and curiosity. In the early
days especially I spent a lot more time with H.G. Wells than with George
When asked if he
studied other time travel movies, Logan replies that he did not: "One
could probably spend their lifetime screening time travel movies or
TV shows." Instead, he opted to stick with his primary sources
- Wells and Pal.
Even so, he continues,
from the start the plan had been to avoid imitating what had already
been done. "We came in with pretty strong ideas, and in the initial
months we were just talking about the material and how to approach it
in a fresh way that would make it interesting to a modern audience and
also interesting for us to work on."
This took about
a year, Logan says, and he turned out a number of drafts. "They
were all fun to do, and we explored a lot of different avenues because,
clearly, if you look at something like time travel or temporal paradox
or the conundrums that time travel going backwards and forwards can
create for a character, there are a lot of opportunities, and we went
down a lot of dead ends before we would backtrack and find our way again.
Then, when Simon got involved, he really led the way in terms of shaping
material and giving us all a path to follow."
Did you become
attached to elements in your early drafts, or did you go into this project
simply knowing that it's a collaborative effort?
"I only become
attached to that which works best," Logan replies, epigrammatically.
"One of the great things about my job is that I get to collaborate
with really smart people. When Steven Spielberg comes into the room,
and all the producers, and when you're tossing ideas around and the
design people come in, there's a lot of interesting ideas to cannibalize
from. So I've never been recalcitrant about changing things to make
the final project better, and this is one of those rare occasions where
the development process truly helped us to focus on the material we
were working on."
Also, because Logan is serving as one of the co-producers of the movie,
he's been involved in all decisions concerning changes and adjustments
to the script, even down to the wire. And despite the collaborative
nature of the whole-
certain things in The Time Machine that I felt very strongly about,
and I would fight for my ideas and we would get into debates and discussions
- all in a very friendly way, I believe - about the most mundane minutia
[as well as] the largest, sweeping, philosophical statements of the
movie. One of the things that's so enjoyable for me about The Time Machine
is being part of those discussions, going into the editing room with
Simon and Wayne [Wahrman], the editor, and Walter, and looking at cuts
and discussing scenes, and discussing how we're communicating certain
things by the way the movie was being edited."
proved highly productive, such as in fleshing out the very nature of
the time traveler himself.
"In our movie
he's named Alexander [Hartdegen]," says Logan, "because we
wanted to give him a name. He didn't have a name in the Wells novel,
and he's sort of perfunctorily called George in the George Pal movie,
but not significantly.
thing that struck me in looking at the material was the lack of motivation
for him to build the time machine in the first place. In the novel he
[displays] a vague sense of intellectual curiosity and in the George
Pal film he sort of doesn't like the time he's in - he doesn't like
machines being used for war - and so he says I'll go and see a better
world in the future.
those struck me as incredibly dynamic or incredibly personal to the
character. So, the very first thing we did with The Time Machine was
to try to give that character an intellectual and emotional journey,
a reason to build the time machine in the first place that was based
on deeply personal events in his life. When you have an actor like Guy
Pearce you have to give him something to play: He simply has to have
reasons to be doing what he's doing."
When you work with
actors like Guy Pearce, do they sometimes suggest a change in their
"Absolutely," Logan says. "One of the great pleasures
for me working as a dramatist is collaborating with actors, because
they bring a whole set of experiences, a whole set of muscles, if you
will, to the match. I spent a lot of time with Guy, talking through
the scenes, discussing dialogue, trying different dialogue, and trying
to satisfy his concerns about the integrity of the character as well
as the script's concerns. And the same with Jeremy Irons or Samantha
Mumba. It's the foolish writer who ignores an actor."
then, were you there with them on the set?
"I was there
a fair amount - half to do my job and half because it was just a hell
of a lot of fun." He pauses. "Because there's a bunch of Morlocks
chasing Eloi; who would want to miss that?"
Special effects capabilities are a thousand times better than they were
when George Pal made his movie, so did you take this into account when
writing the script?
Logan replies. "We were aware that we could do things that George
Pal - simply given the limitations of when he was making his movie -
couldn't do, things with our time travel sequences or our Morlocks.
So that allows a writer the freedom to explore the wildest possible
ideas because there's nothing you cannot film nowadays.
more importantly, from my point of view, was the work we did on the
ideas and the characters of the movie that deviate from both H.G. Wells
and George Pal. The ideas behind the characters and the philosophical
basis of the movie were much more important to me than 'Can't we make
the Morlocks look scarier than they did in George Pal's movie.'"
In the book, and
in the earlier film, the Eloi do not inspire confidence, and the reflective
viewer might wonder why the time traveler is pinning all his hopes on
them. Today's audience would presumably be more discriminating.
them as sort of beautiful sheep; they're all blond in Grecian togas,"
Logan says of the Eloi, "is an idea that I don't think would play.
We were always exploring, going back to the original H.G. Wells novel
again, how two species could have evolved from the same human root,
being the Eloi and the Morlock. We really looked at it scientifically
as much as possible to think, All right, if we're taking a huge jump
into the future, how might Mankind have developed and how would they
be surviving, and what would their ecosystem be like, and how would
that ecosystem relate to the social structure they lived in?
the Eloi are prey to the Morlocks. So it was Oliver [Scholl] and Simon
who came up with the brilliant idea of putting their houses, their village,
in a sort of defensive formation. It wasn't based simply on 'this would
be a cool thing to see,' it was based on how people that were prey to
predators would live."
And then there's
the Morlock half.
"When we looked at the original movie and the novel we found an
interesting conundrum in that the Morlocks exist in a very complex social
system and yet they are characterized as these sort of proletarian brutes,
and that didn't make much sense to us. So we came up with the idea of
different castes within the Morlock society, and a much more sophisticated
society with, if you will, a controlling intelligence behind it all,
who becomes the character that Jeremy Irons plays in the movie. That
was one area where we looked at what was there and thought that we could
do it in a way that might be more contemporary and more interesting
than those who'd come before us."
Time Machine had been slated to open in December, 2001, but was delayed
until February, then March. Often such delays are interpreted, by outsiders
at least, in a bad light. I've seen no evidence yet that this is the
case here; on the contrary, those I've spoken with seemed pleased.
"I'm delighted we moved to March," Logan replied when I broached
the subject. He laughed. "As far away from Lord of the Rings as
possible is my philosophy."
He says he'll be
back in L.A. for the film's opening, although he's already seen it several
times in an incomplete state. But all finished, and with a full house,
that's something he's looking forward to.
"That'll be very exciting, because it should be a very audience-friendly
movie. We weren't trying to be too rarified or too intellectual, although
certainly we have ideas that we think are interesting and provocative.
It is and should be at its core a great adventure."
I asked John Logan what his key to success is. After all, I pointed
out to him, everybody out here wants to write a movie script.
"I can only
speak for me," he says, "which is really two things. One is
I work hard; I work hard all the time. I live in Evanston, I don't live
there. And I take my job very seriously. I try to be very diligent and
very tenacious in how I work. That would be one key to success.
is the job of collaboration, not seeing directors or producers or designers
or studio heads as the adversary, but seeing them as colleagues and
allies in trying to make the best possible movie. Film is a director's
and a producer's medium, and it's the wise writer who realizes that
and is willing to work within those parameters.
"For me, part
of the job has always been sitting in my attic, working at the computer.
On the one hand, it's sitting across the table from Ridley Scott or
Oliver Stone or Michael Mann or Simon Wells and sharing ideas. So I
think the successful writer has that sort of personality, very introverted
and very focused on personal private work, and [yet] very public and
that he attended Northwestern University because he wanted to study
acting. However, "I quickly decided all that emotional energy was
not for me, and just as a fluke I took a playwriting class - and I absolutely
loved it. The minute I sat down to research my first play I said, Well,
that's it, this is what I'm doing the rest of my life. I've never looked
back from there."
by working in the university law library as a clerk, Logan wrote plays
at night. "I did that for a decade," he says, "and was
perfectly happy to do it. I never resented it; I never thought I was
owed anything other than the chance to do hard work when I could."
You have a lot
"Well, I get
up in the morning to a job I love. That gives you all the energy you
Next : Production
Designer Oliver Scholl.