I couldn’t think of a better way to start off the new year than by watching a classic sci-fi movie that’s as old as I am.
The Time Machine is George Pal’s telling of H.G.Wells’ timeless (sorry, couldn’t resist) short story about a scientist at the turn of the 1900s, who experiments with time travel.
If you’ve read Wells’ story, of course you’d see plenty of political allegories as he was a devout Socialist in search of an Utopia, which he believed would eventually come to pass. The film, though, is a more straightforward action movie concerning the character of "George" played by Australian actor Rod Taylor. Presumably, this is H.G.Wells, having built the time machine.
We kick off with a prologue where George is late for a dinner he’s hosting for some of his friends at his home, the story is then told in flashback as a dishevelled George appears with a fantastic story to tell.
George is an inventor, and he has built a time machine. He has already demonstrated the concept by sending a small model of the machine to the future to the scorn of his sceptical friends. (Sceptical that is, with the exception of Filby, played by Alan Young who is the warm hearted sympathetic member of the group).
George starts his experiments very slowly and cautiously. His time machine consists basically of an easy chair on a sled with a large revolving disc behind, three lights in front, a display to show the current year and a lever. Forward to go ahead in time, backward to...well, you get the idea.
Being 1960, or 1959 when the film was made - forget any notion of CGI - the effects are all old school, involving time lapse photography played at high speed to convey the notion of time travel as a candle burns down in seconds, flowers bloom and wilt in the blink of an eye and days turn to night as speedily as a strobe lamp. George’s main companion and an inventive visual device to demonstrate his journey, is a mannequin in a shop window opposite his lab, and the changing fashions she displays.
His first stop is 1917, and George is dismayed to learn that the world is at war. Moving forward, he’s disappointed to learn that mankind is still in the business of wholesale slaughter in 1940. Worse still, in 1966, he finds himself in the middle of the Atomic War (which, of course we all remember well). Jumping back to his time machine to avoid incineration by an atomic explosion which triggers a volcanic eruption he needs to head far into the future because the lava has encased him and cooled down to solid rock.
Fortunately, erosion has done its work by the year 802701 and George has found his Utopia. The planet is a warm tropical paradise and a playground for the childlike Eloi.
If the film has a point of saggage, this is it - when were slow down to a crawl for the introduction of love interest Weena (Yvette Mimeux). Sitting through this movie with Steve, I couldn’t help cracking up every time her name was called because Steve, being Steve, asked why they were calling the poor woman "Weiner".
Anyhow, George is righteously outraged that the Eloi have become pathetically passive, to the point of being stagnant. Their books have disintegrated, they have no knowledge of the past, nor aspirations for the future. (Actually, watching the film, I think H.G. might well have been on to something with the Eloi, their whole attitude reminded me of a bunch of unemployed Chavs. Food comes, no idea where from, but as long as it’s there, then that’s okay. Dull and ignorant of what’s going on around them...Yeah, Wells was a visionary)
But, the blissfully unaware Eloi do have a place on the food chain - below the Morlocks who live underground, using sirens to lure the cattle like Chavs...sorry Eloi... down to dinner. Did I mention the Morlocks are cannibals? They’re among some of the most memorable movie monsters of that era, they’re albino-like, with long hair and are practically blind because they live underground and never go out in the sun. (So, they’re kind of emo-like, I guess).
Having helped the Eloi defeat the Morlocks, George returns to 1900 to tell his story, then as his guests leave - he returns to the future to help rebuild society, taking with him only three books.
The open question at the end is, of course which three?
As a film to jump start the new year, this fits the bill perfectly. High budget, solid storyline and good performances all round, especially by Rod Taylor, who never lets his English accent slip to Australian. The Time Machine itself is an iconic and elegant design. Whimsical, maybe - but far more memorable that the one that was used in the remake of a few years ago.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be revisiting several sci-fi classics and reviewing them here - if you have any suggestions or comments, head on over to the guestbook and let me know what you think. Otherwise, drop me a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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