Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Time Machine (1960)

Starring Rod Taylor, Alan Young, Yvette Mimieux
Directed by George Pal
Based on the novella by H.G. Wells
Science Fiction/Adventure
Rated PG


The film begins on December 31st, 1899, where we are introduced to our time traveling protagonist; George (Rod Taylor). George quickly establishes his belief in progress and a utopian future as well as his distaste for war. He uses a time machine that he has invented to seek out this future. He skips ahead every few years to check on the state of the times. In each period he stops in he is greeted by the descendants of his friend Filby (Alan Young), who are kind enough to exposit the effects of the majors wars as well as the looming threat of nuclear armageddon.

This leads George's landing site to eventually be hit by a nuclear bomb, propelling his time machine into the far off future of October 12th, 802701. Here he meets the Eloi, a peaceful society living in a lush natural land, but devoid any real civilization, seeming to be only connected by common apathy. George is about to leave to return to his own time when the monstrous Morlocks emerge from underground and abduct many of the Eloi to use as food. What makes things worse is that the remaining Eloi do not feel compelled to do anything about it. They are unwilling to help their own, and are simply content to lounge in their comfortable lifestyle. George can no longer stand by as an observer, and must act to save the future.

Up until this point in the movie there has been nothing subtle about its anti-war stance and pretty much ignores the idea of confrontation with evil being at the root of conflict. This renders the final act rather silly as George is able to free the prisoners and retrieve his time machine through violence. Suddenly he goes from a preaching pacifist to some sort of rock 'em-sock 'em pulp fiction action hero. I’ve just got to wonder how someone who so detested fighting so much could be a master of the famed Austin Powers Judo Chop. To make things even more ridiculous, the climax occurs when one of the obstinate Eloi natives curls his fist like George McFly from "Back to the Future"and socks the enemy Morlock so hard that the monster starts oozing strawberry jam out of its mouth.

Thus the day is saved by introducing violence into the united, peaceful so
ciety. George doesn't appear to realize the irony that he's become the very thing he despised or offer any kind of explanation for his contradictory behavior. Instead we just get a typical action movie ending.


The preaching of the first half is quite irritating and makes the bizarre shift in tone during the final act utterly jarring. The only enjoyable part of the first act is Alan Young's brief bits of comic relief.

The special effects showcased in this movie were groundbreaking at the time of its release. Though, the historical context is likely to be lost by those who have been weaned on Computer Generated Images. Time lapse photography is used to show clocks move in fast motion, candles melting and flowers budding as George travels through time. There also a running gag involving his comments on a store mannequin whose fashions change with the passing decades. I'm amazed that something made of wood and plaster could have such longevity. Surely the store owners would have had it replaced in the course of a decade, or at least gotten more than one after a time since the business was booming if it stayed open over a hundred years in the future. Personally, I think it might have been funny use the stop motion to show the mannequin's neckline dive and hemlines soar in a sort of a parody of the quickly changing designs in women's clothes at the time this was made as well as anticipate our current global warming wardrobe.

If the message of "The Time Machine", had been “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing” like in “High Noon” it might have been something, but I don’t think that moral is intentional here. The original novel was written in 1895 to satirize British class divisions. It depicted aloof socialites as ignorant, giggling florists who, when the tables are turned, were subjugated by the undesirable working class depicted as subterranean savages as their class would have been perceived. This adaptation doesn't do the source material justice. A film that they might have done better to follow the example of is Fritz Lang's classic silent film “Metropolis” , which contained many of those similar themes.

Final Score:
Three out of Five. Average.

For a more thought provoking film about H.G. Well's famed time traveller, I would recommend the 1979 film“Time After Time”. In that movie we see the intoxicating nature of violence on a Victorian time traveller and how he was pushed to the breaking point as a result.

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