“What have you done? Thousands of years of building and rebuilding, creating and recreating so you can let it crumble to dust. A million years of sensitive men dying for their dreams… For what? So you can swim and dance and play,” says H. George Wells.
I first read H.G. Wells’ 1895 novel The Time Machine when I was in elementary school. Since time travel stories are among my favorite kind of science fiction stories, I was instantly hooked by Wells’ novel. I was most fascinated about a time traveler from Victorian England who went forward in time rather than the traveling back that is most commonly found in time travel stories. I was also fascinated by the world of the future the time traveler encounters, especially the distinction between the Eloi (who live on the surface) and the Morlocks (who live below). The novel has been adapted for the big screen twice; by George Pal in 1960 and by Simon Wells (the author’s great grandson) in 2002. I had a chance to see Pal’s version of The Time Machine at Symphony Space in the Upper West Side of New York City almost 13 years ago during their sci-fi film retrospective (it was part of a double feature with the 1953 version of The War of the Worlds, which had also been produced by Pal). This review of The Time Machine is my entry in the Movie Scientist Blogathon hosted by Christina Wehner & Silver Screenings.
1960’s The Time Machine follows an inventor who constructs a time machine and ends up traveling 800,000 years into the future only to discover that humanity has split into two groups, the surface-living Eloi and the Morlocks, who dwell below the surface. As he struggles to make sense of the future, he must also figure out a way to recover his machine from the Morlocks. Pal gathered together a terrific cast that includes Rod Taylor (as H. George Wells), Alan Young (as David Filby and James Filby), Yvette Mimieux (as Weena), Sebastian Cabot (as Philip Hillyer), Tom Helmore (as Anthony Bridewell), Whit Bissell (as Walter Kemp), Doris Lloyd (as Mrs. Watchett), and Paul Frees (as the voice of the Talking Rings). Taylor turns in a strong performance as the time-traveling George, bringing conviction and hope for humanity, and Mimieux shines in one of her earliest roles as the child-like Weena, highlighting her innocence. Pal’s strong direction draws excellent performances and stages some exciting action sequences (the time travel sequences are a marvel as well). The screenplay by David Duncan adapts a lot of Wells’ novel (with some slight alterations and/or deletions), examining a future dystopia that was caused by nuclear war while maintaining the sprit of Wells’ novel.
Paul Vogel’s cinematography supports the tone of the film (I loved the lighting scheme for the underground sequences with the Morlocks). The fantastic production design by George Davis and William Ferrari recreates Victorian England as well as the world of the future from Wells’ novel such as the dome structures, air shafts leading to the underground lair of the Morlocks, etc. (Ferrari was also responsible for the now-classic design of the time machine itself). William Tuttle’s makeup design is amazing (particularly his work on creating the Morlocks). The Oscar-winning special effects by Gene Warren and Wah Chang are incredible (the outstanding time-lapse photographic effects are what clinched the Academy Award; while Warren wound up as a recipient of the Oscar, Tim Baar somehow ended up being a recipient as well instead of Chang). George Tomasini’s editing moves the film at a good pace, and Russell Garcia delivers a wonderful, adventurous score. George Pal’s The Time Machine is an entertaining adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic novel, filled with Oscar-winning special effects and a rousing adventure that spans centuries.