Off and on this summer, I’ll be taking “Weekend Review” for a look at genre films adapted from the written word. Since Weekend Review has always been about films from the past, I’m going to start this series with George Pal’s celebrated take on The Time Machine. This 1960 adaptation of H.G. Well’s novel garnered an Oscar for its special effects and a Hugo nomination for Best Dramatic Performance.
Cast and Crew
Director: George Pal
Writers: H.G. Wells, David Duncan
Rod Taylor as H.G. Wells
Alan Young as Filby
Yvette Mimieux as Weena
Sebastian Cabot as Dr. Philip Hilyer
Doris Lloyd as Mrs. Watchett
Wah Chung as a Morlock1
Full credits available at the imdb.
Available at Amazon.com
A Victorian inventor creates a time machine and finds himself shocked by the bovine-like society of the distant future.
The subterranean scenes with the Morlocks have been handled effectively. They have a fairground attraction creepiness to them that remains fun to watch.
I’ll accept the historical records working after so many years, but I have to smile at the spectacular luck of Wells’ choice.
The film contains a number of problems with continuity and plot logic. My favorite: When Wells travels through time, he watches the world around him, though it moves at an accelerated rate. Nobody sees him, because he keeps his time-craft in an abandoned, sealed house (During the latter part of his journey, he is in a waste land, and then a cavern). Yet when he returns to the future the second time, his ship simply disappears. The others should be able to observe him—- presumably for the remainder of their lives—- as he travels forward in time. And then there are the inevitable paradoxes created by the conclusion….
Originality: 3/6. Pal and company have adapted a well-known novel.
Effects: 4/6. The film features some good visual effects and sets. I’m a little uncertain why a nuclear blast would create a volcano, however, and the Morlocks look spectacularly like extras in Halloween costumes.
Story 5/6. Despite the simplifications of Wells’ original premise, the story remains engaging. What this adaptation can add to the original is knowledge of history that occurred since its Victorian starting-point, and a fearful sense of events that could have happened in the 1960s.
Acting: 5/6. This is fine, though somewhat stilted in places.
Emotional Response: 4/6. The film retains some political edge—in a kid-friendly, Cold War sort of way— and doubtless raised a lot of questions in the minds of kids, back in the day. Wells’ strongest political points have been stripped from this adaptation, however. The Time Machine remains a fun film, though it has dated in many respects.
Overall 4/6. People often compare this film to Doctor Who, but I found myself thinking far more often of early Star Trek. Our hero finds an unfamiliar civilization, romances an exotic woman, employs square-jawed techniques against somewhat convincing monsters, and decides to correct that society’s faults. Wells also has personal motives for his actions, of course.
The Time Machine has become a classic of sorts because few films had really explored time travel so effectively before, and its vision of the future retains a certain power. Like a lot of fondly-remembered SF, it encourages people to ask questions.
Take care the next time you look around, say, certain student bars. The Eloi may remind you uncomfortably of people you know
In total, The Time Machine receives 29/42.
1. Wah Chung created the Morlock make-up, and may be familiar to Bureau-crats for his work on the first season of Star Trek. Chung is credited with making the original communicator, the Gorn, the Romulan Spaceship, and other props and costumes.
Very nice review. Wikipedia has a nice article on TTM. I remember watching this movie in the early 1960s on TV as a kid during the old NBC "Saturday Night At The Movies" show which recycled then-"recent" movies. We poped popcorn and watched these at my grandmother’s house – she had the bigger TV.
Serious sci-fi social anti-nuke commentary like TTM was in vogue and broadcast frequently in the early 1960s in a way people today just don’t recall or understand. I guess few B42 readers remember the old routine "duck and cover" exercises at elementary school. During 1962 and the Cuban Missile Crisis everybody thought we were going to actually use duck and cover by the end of the week – paricularly Mrs. Daurghty, my first grade teacher.
They also showed "Day The Earth Stood Still" with its anti nuke theme as well as I recall, along with numerous relevent Twilight Zone episodes, some of which I recall watching as well. As a bespeckled bookworm kid, I especially empathized with Burgess Meredith’s plight…
I recall getting interested enough in Wells to read TTM from the library as a result of this movie. Welles’s original socialism – class labor themes of the book went entirely over my head then – and no way any of THAT nonsense was going to make it into an American 1960s movie!!!
But then, the TTM story is always altered to fit and reflect the current social ill of its time. The 1960 TTM movie of course led eventually to the wonderful and charming 1979 Time After Time, where any anti-nuke theme was replaced by a muse on societal violence…
Re: Times Change
The Cold War dominated pop culture SF in my childhood, which is a little later than yours. And the remains of the Statue of Liberty were part of SF long before the most famous flash-forward in time, Hollywood-style.
Hmmmm… Have we reviewed Time After Time…?