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Time Machine, The

Entry updated 11 October 2021. Tagged: Film.

1. Film (1960). Galaxy Films/MGM. Produced and directed by George Pal. Written by David Duncan, based on The Time Machine (1895) by H G Wells. Cast includes Sebastian Cabot, Yvette Mimieux, Rod Taylor and Alan Young. Morlock designs by Pal (uncredited). 103 minutes. Colour.

Unlike Pal's earlier Wells adaptation, War of the Worlds (1953), The Time Machine is set in the Victorian era – at least at the beginning of the film – and it is these sequences, with the inventor demonstrating his Time-Travel creation to his disbelieving friends amid the Victorian bric-à-brac of their cosy world, that work the best. After a visually interesting journey through Time (special effects by Wah Chang and Gene Warren), pausing occasionally – for example, to note the nuclear bombardment of London in 1966 – the film reduces Wells's angry parable to a Hollywood sf formula. The parallels between the troglodytic Morlocks and the Victorian working class and between the beautiful but thoughtless Eloi and the Victorian upper class are lost. Here The Time Traveller, "H George Wells" (Taylor), becomes a confident, romantic hero, successfully rousing the Eloi to battle against their ape-like devourers (see Apes as Human), returning to tell his Club Story tale to friends in 1900, and vanishing again into the future – presumably to court the lovely Eloi woman Weena (Mimieux) and to help her people rebuild civilization with the aid of books from his Library. The disturbing Evolutionary perspectives of the end of Wells's book are also missing. William Ferrari's charming design for the Time Machine does not compensate for the vulgarization of the story. The film won an Oscar for best special effects; it was shortlisted for but did not win a 1961 Hugo. [JB/PN/DRL]

2. Made-for-tv film (1978). Sunn Classic Pictures for NBC-TV. Directed by Henning Schellerup. Written by Wallace C Bennett based on The Time Machine (1895) by H G Wells. Cast includes Priscilla Barnes, John Beck, Whit Bissell and Rosemary DeCamp. 99 minutes. Colour.

Defence research Scientist Neill Perry (Beck), employed by the Mega Corporation in the late 1970s, has been quietly working on a Time Travel project as well as a new class of Weapons for the corporation; he confides only in his housekeeper Agnes (DeCamp) and friend Ralph Branly (Bissell). Told that he must complete his weapon much sooner than expected, Perry tests his Time Machine and finds himself in Salem, Massachusetts, during the witchcraft hysteria. Regarded as a warlock, he is sentenced to be burned along with his "infernal device", but escapes into the future. He next finds himself in California in the year 1855 during the gold rush, and is jailed on uncertain charges. Again escaping with the time machine, he travels into the Far Future where he finds a devastated Post-Holocaust Earth. Perry shortly meets Weena (Barnes) and her Eloi friends who have just begun to be "harvested" as a food source by the Underground-dwelling Morlocks. Before he realizes this, Weena takes him to the ruins of the Science and Technology Museum where he finds his name on a weapon he helped design in the twentieth century: his weapons helped destroy civilization, leading to the current state of affairs. After battling Morlocks and rescuing Weena from them, Perry learns of their cannibalistic practices. Aided by male Eloi, he seals the Morlocks' tunnels with plastic explosives from the museum, then returns to 1978. There, Mega Corporation leaders are unconcerned about the devastation their weapons will cause, and want the time machine for military purposes. Stealing the device, Perry returns to the future to help the Eloi build a new civilization, leaving Agnes and Branly to wonder whether he will ever return.

This little-known adaptation deviates considerably from H G Wells's novel, dropping its Evolution-based implications and explaining the splitting of humanity as solely a side effect of retreat underground during World War Three. The machine's new ability to travel between geographic locations remains unexplained. The sequence where Perry is almost burnt at the stake is unintentionally humorous, though the film can be applauded for its anti-War message. Barnes makes an attractive Weena; Bissell had also appeared in 1 above. The film has yet to be released to the home video market. [GSt]

3. Film (2002). Warner Brothers Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures present a Parkes/MacDonald production. In association with Arnold Leibovit Entertainment. Directed by Simon Wells. Written by John Logan, based on the 1960 film's screenplay by David Duncan and the novel The Time Machine (1895) by H G Wells. Cast includes Mark Addy, Jeremy Irons, Samantha Mumba and Guy Pearce. 96 minutes. Colour.

This remake owes much more to the George Pal The Time Machine (1960) – 1 above – than it does to the original story, despite being directed by a great-grandson of Wells. In this version the Time Traveller, Alex (Pearce), is driven to create his Time Machine not out of curiosity but love: he is attempting to avert the death of his fiancée. During an accidental trip to the Far Future he encounters the Eloi, re-imagined as a race of noble savages who speak perfect English. Alex saves the Eloi by killing the wicked Morlocks, though not before having an absurd conversation with the Uber-Morlock (Irons) about the nature of Time Travel. Deciding that science was the ultimate cause of what went wrong with the world, Alex, nouveau Luddite, destroys his machine and stays to live with a surrogate Eloi family. The Time Machine does little with the Time Travel concept that is fresh. Nor does the script, more bathos than pathos, make any attempt to re-examine the Entropy-laden themes of the novel, or indeed show any sign of understanding them. The wooden performances – including that of Pearce, normally a good actor – suggest directorial problems beyond the obvious deficiencies of the script. [JN/PN]


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