The Time Machine (2002)

Movie released: 2002 | Set in: 2030, 2037, 802741

Summary Table
Event Likelihood Time frame
Time travel extremely low 2030+
Divergent human evolution medium 2100+
Telepathic manipulation low 2020+
Large orbital base high 2040+
Anytime, anywhere information access high 2015+

Approach to the future

Long-range scenario


Futurism: 6
Some nice futurist touches, but it is conservative about what the passage of 800,000 years might mean.

Entertainment: 7
A watchable tale, though it abandons some of the deeper meanings intended by H.G. Wells.

Plausibility: 3

Interesting depictions


Other technologies/topics depicted

Time Travel:
In 1899, Dr. Hartdegen is intent on changing the past, and invents a time machine that can go backwards or forwards in time. He visits the 21st century, but is ultimately propelled to the year 802701.

As time travel employs physics that we do not yet understand, it cannot be dismissed as impossible. Resolving the question requires further progress in basic physics.

Some physicists theorize that general relativity might allow a time machine to go back only to the point at which it was created and never further.

Dr. Hartdegen has a lab in Manhattan, and the machine stays in the same spot throughout its travels. This suggests a pre-Copernican view of the Earth as the center, fixed and immobile. That the continents, the Earth, the Solar System, and the galaxy are all moving may be a severe impediment to time travel, as there is no fixed reference point to guide a time machine’s return.

Some kind of homing beacon could solve this problem, but preserving it over eons would be difficult.

After 800,000 years, humans have diverged into two distinct species, the Eloi and the Morlocks.

The Eloi live in cliff-side homes, like giant swallows nests, in a canyon on the ancient site of New York City. Seemingly unchanged from the present, they all look like Polynesians or American Indians.

Most Eloi speak a new language, but some know “the stone language”—English—which they study from surviving inscriptions.

They are preyed upon by the Morlocks, who have spent millennia living underground, breeding themselves for hunting, thinking, and mind control.

In 800,000 years, humans could evolve into the hulking, muscular, ultrafast Morlocks even without deliberate breeding. Even the blue, tusked Morlocks of the 1960 version of The Time Machine could arise in that amount of time, with the right environment and mutations.

Steering the process could produce more radical changes. People have shaped much of the physical diversity of dog breeds in only a few centuries.

Humans are likely to transform themselves, but it may take only centuries, and we will use genetic engineering, brain science, and information technology.

Culture evolves much faster than biology, and it is striking that the Eloi who speak English pronounce it as we do. Even if each generation passed it down, it is likely that pronunciation and meaning would drift beyond recognition. The oldest human cultural traditions, such as certain words, stories, and ways of making things, seemed to have survived about one percent of the time that has elapsed in this movie.

The Morlocks are able to make all the Eloi dream the same dream. Mind control would be hard to breed, as humans have no known ability to influence thought at a distance. With sophisticated technology, it might be possible to create a device that could influence emotional states remotely by changing neural electrochemistry, but achieving this biologically is nearly impossible.

The disaster than befalls humanity is catastrophic enough to drive divergent human evolution.

By 2030, people have established a large Moon base, and ads are touting lunar resorts, which will be created by detonating 20-megaton hydrogen bombs to create huge spherical caverns.

When the time traveler reappears in 2037, the Moon is disintegrating due to the cavern blasting, and fragments threaten the Earth with massive destruction.

Would-be mega-engineers have proposed destroying the Moon deliberately, but current plans are much more modest. Most likely is a slow buildup of activity over the course of the century, with a human presence becoming permanent in a few decades. Resorts are plausible: tourism could turn out to be the biggest driver of lunar activity.

Kids visiting the New York Public Library in 2030 have transparent tablets that can receive data wirelessly and display anything.

The library provides information through an intelligent interactive system that understands ordinary speech and is linked to vast databases. When queried about time machines, it sings—rather disruptively, for a library—a selection from an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical of The Time Machine.

By 2030, we will be well into the era of anytime, anywhere access to immense amounts of information.

Some people will use wireless tablets, but information access will be highly diverse, from wall-size screens to retinal head-up display. Voice access will be common and supported by capable AI.

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The futures depicted in the movies