The Time Machine (2002) – Soundtrack Review

Klaus Badelt’s wondrous score for The Time Machine features a grand, adventurous and memorable main theme used to spellbindingly brilliant effect throughout the entire album, not to mention also having several excellently-crafted standout tracks and some truly exquisite orchestration to boot. Did I mention that this is also one of my favourite film scores of all time?

The Time Machine is a 2002 sci-fi movie that (rather loosely) adapts the original H.G. Wells novel, stars Guy Pearce in the titular Time Traveller role and is directed by Simon Wells. The score was composed by Klaus Badelt, and actually was one of the first film scores that I really, properly noticed while watching the movie – a few years ago, back before I was really into film music, I can distinctly remember watching the 2002 film for the first time, and being pretty much completely blown away by how utterly brilliant Badelt’s score was, particularly in its excellent use of orchestra. The hightlight for me was of course the end credits suite (which naturally featured most of the standout score cues) that was enough for me to look up the soundtrack album on YouTube a short while later, leading me to what is now one of my favourite pieces of film music of all time; I Don’t Belong Here – but more on that later. First, we start at the beginning.

Gentle strings open Professor Alexander Hartdegen, establishing a rather solemn tone before brass then starts to rise in the background and the main theme is introduced a few seconds later. Overall the motif is a well-crafted, emotional and rather powerful piece, and one that pretty much instantly sticks in your mind (at least for me) even after hearing it just the once here. With the theme finishing up its premiere, upbeat piano notes and lively woodwinds then join the fray alongside the established strings (with the brass fading away into the background) for two minutes of optimistic, almost magical-sounding score with the main theme then lightly intertwining at various intervals throughout. Here we also hear a brief hint towards the album’s love theme at around the two minute mark, though this fades away almost as quickly as it arrived as the cue then comes to a close. Wish Me Luck continues with the same eloquent piano notes and light, cheerful percussion, all-in evoking quite a Christmas-y mood for ninety seconds of pleasantly peaceful atmosphere. Emma then brings us back to the love theme hinted at earlier, playing the gentle motif slowly and romantically for several lengthy renditions on strings and quiet brass. The mood stays in serenity for the first minute or so before then being shattered by a crash of percussion and several swift notes of dramatic brass as the worst unfortunately happens in the film. A rather mournful piano then plays the love theme once more before the track then rather sorrowfully fades out.

The pace quickens in The Time Machine, and pay attention – it’s here where the main theme will be taking its first step into dramatically grandiose territory. Mournful piano notes open the piece, with the main theme then playing quietly through on apprehensive strings. It gets a couple of slow and pensive renditions here before a crash of percussion casts the strings aside, and brass then starts to build in its place. The love theme also gets a rather sorrowful farewell on piano, before the brass then finishes building, plays right up into centre stage, and the music simply starts to go. The pace builds to near-astronomical speed, the orchestra rises and the main theme then practically bursts through with several heroically emphatic performances inbetween the increasingly ferocious crashes of drums, This then all reaches crescendo a short while later, hinting quietly at things to come as the track then ends. Bleeker Street slows things back down proper, with the now gently mournful love theme returning on slow strings and low-pitched backing brass. Towards the end of the two minute cue hope then begins to creep back into the motif, with stirring piano notes emphasizing this change before the main theme then starts to play, signalling the start of standout cue I Don’t Belong Here.

The orchestra fully kicks in pretty much straight away in this track, with rising brass and percussion elevating the main theme to higher, bolder highs than ever before right in the first few seconds. Over the next minute or so the music swells and builds, with the main theme playing in pure, wondrous form as Hartdegen embarks on his journey through time in the film. The music then stumbles slightly as a crash of brass throws an element of danger into the musical mix, though this doesn’t last for long as the main theme then bursts back into the fray a couple seconds later for its loudest, jaw-droppingly epic rendition yet as the orchestra simply goes all out, then ending the standout cue with one final explosion of dramatic percussion. Overall – words cannot truly describe just how utterly brilliant I Don’t Belong Here is, particularly in its final, astonishingly powerful minute. This cue is what elevates this score from great to truly remarkable, and it remains to this day one of my favourite pieces of film music ever composed – I just can’t get enough of it. When it plays in the film, you can be sure that the volume level gets cranked to 100 for me, and then some.

A burst of worrisome percussion opens Time Travel, with the main theme giving a short and decidedly ominous appearance on brass before then fading out as quickly as it arrived. Downtrodden, solemn brass notes follow for a minute or two before things then kick up into full action territory with the orchestra playing in particularly ferocious form. As the track then starts to reach its end the more upbeat, wondrous mood of previous cues starts to edge back in, with the main theme hinted at briefly on strings and gentle vocals as the cue closes out. It’s here though that the score then properly switches up its style, and another new theme is introduced – Eloi opens with quiet, thoughtful woodwinds and gently echoing vocals, establishing a rather tribal-sounding mood overall which then practically explodes into splendor as the orchestra loudly joins the fray. From here on the vocals soar, the percussion powerfully crescendos and overall makes Eloi a truly beautiful piece of music and one that has a considerable influence on the tone and atmosphere of the score to come. Take subsequent cues Good Night and Stone Language, for example; the peaceful woodwinds and evocative vocals from Eloi return here alongside some rather relaxing strings, soaking the score in rich orchestral atmosphere while also giving new depth to the main theme as it plays in calming, tranquil form with woodwinds taking centre stage. The tribal motif for the Eloi also naturally recurs throughout these cues, playing quietly in the background for the most part – though it does also receive a particularly powerful performance alongside the main theme towards the end of Stone Language.

Morlocks Attack is a pretty brilliant action setpiece, and one that takes the score down a bit of a darker road as it starts to near the end. Rapid, frantic percussion kicks off the pace, with brass then bursting through a few seconds later to play a dashingly heroic rendition of the main theme. So far we’ve heard it in quietly thoughtful and breathtakingly epic, but we’ve not heard the motif in bold, fast-paced heroic action form until now, and I have to say – it sounds absolutely sublime. The theme combined with breakneck-paced percussion, frenetic strings and loudly emphatic brass overall makes this cue pretty damned standout, beaten to the main award only just by I Don’t Belong Here for its sheer orchestral prowess. The short Where The Ghosts Are though then slows the pace right back down, with quiet vocals and thoughtful woodwinds playing the main theme in solemn melancholy. It isn’t long before the darker tone of Morlocks Attack then also returns; The Master brings dramatic, imposing brass and chanting, ominous vocals into the fray, grabbing your attention pretty much immediately as the villainous cue begins. Things do then calm down a tad as the track continues, with the vocals turning high-pitched and worrisome for a few further minutes before strings then arrive with a bit of a surprise; a reprisal of the gentle love theme that actually hasn’t appeared for quite some time.

This solemnity then leads into What If?, which opens with similarly anxious vocals and strings before loud punches of brass then break through the tension and the music heads back into dramatic action territory (though unfortunately sans main theme). After a few minutes of frenetic orchestra woodwinds then slow the music substantially, pulling it back into the more upbeat, happier mood from the first half of the score to play a decidedly victorious rendition of the main theme to cap off the cue on a triumphant note. Godspeed then ties up the album proper – for the first half of the cue, gentle, wistful woodwinds play the main and love themes in tandem once again in quietly hopeful style, before the loud, dramatic vocals from earlier then return for a proudly emphatic rendition of the theme for the Eloi, which then segues rather exquisitely into one final rendition of the main theme, closing out the album on an high note.

Overall, Klaus Badelt’s wondrous, perfect Time Machine score never ceases to amaze me, no matter how many times I listen to it. The main theme is nothing short of spectacular, and hearing it performed loudly and proudly in various orchestral renditions across the score truly is an experience to behold – whether it’s in the dramatically epic (and standout) I Don’t Belong Here, the quietly solemn The Time Machine or the frantically heroic Morlocks Attack, the theme simply stuns, every single time. That along with the beautifully vocal motif for the Eloi and some pretty tremendous orchestration recurring throughout the album not only makes this one of Klaus Badelt’s best film scores, but honestly one of the best scores for a sci-fi movie going. Needless to say, if you haven’t already hit play on I Don’t Belong Here below – you’re seriously missing out.

Score: 10/10

Standout Cue: 6. I Don’t Belong Here


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