Review: How to Build a Time Machine
Jay Cheel’s documentary How to Build a Time Machine was a highlight of this year’s Hot Docs festival.
However, the film may be even better suited for a screening outside of the festival, because it does not feel very documentary-like. Obviously, the film follows the structure of a doc, with a focus on animator Rob Niosi. Niosi’s quest to recreate the moment he watched The Time Machine with his brother in the theatre, (and obviously drawing inspiration from the book from author H.G. Wells) is presented as admirable, heroic, even. There is a good scene in which Niosi refuses to divulge how much money has gone into building his time machine.
It is clear that Cheel has a larger project in mind than documenting Niosi and his seemingly impossible project. Therefore, cataloging the film as documentary feels like it’s missing the bigger picture. The film is a meditation about film itself, as there are some fascinating sections in which Niosi classifies film as a sort of time machine. Using a second lead, physicist Ronald Mallett,, (whose vignettes were less majestic) makes it clear that fiction is a major aspect of the pursuit, as Cheel does not attempt to differentiate science fiction and science fact.
One aspect that does become painfully clear is the theatrical nature of the film, wide angles, close-ups and a very strong eclectic score demands that the film in a theatrical setting. It is as much a loving tribute to the cinema as it is to the idea of time, and certainly to that of time machines.