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The Time Machine

[This review includes spoilers.]

"Can a man control his destiny? Can he change the shape of things to come?"

Several years ago, I was pleased to hear that someone was finally remaking The Time Machine. At least until I saw it. Honestly, I swear that I don't always prefer the original to the remake, but the 1960 version of The Time Machine, produced and directed by George Pal, is a classic. There is so much heart and emotion in this movie. The 2002 version with Guy Pearce? Forget it. (Sorry about that, Guy. I did love you in L.A. Confidential.)

George (Rod Taylor), our main character, is a brilliant, impulsive man with a passion for progress and a hatred for the horror and waste of war. His idea of the perfect future is to be free of the need to work in order to experiment and study, to spend all of his time learning. He builds a time machine and travels to the future in order to find the utopia he dreams of, and instead he finds that humans have degenerated into two forms: the gentle, stupid Eloi, who loll about and live on fruit, and the monstrous Morlocks, who live underground amidst dark and monstrous machinery.

The Eloi are much like the humans in Planet of the Apes, which was made eight years after this movie, and Weena (Yvette Mimieux), a young Eloi woman who is intrigued with George, is much like Nova -- except that Weena speaks. (Well, a little.) George refers to the Eloi as cattle twice, before he realizes that that is exactly what they are: the Eloi are food for the Morlocks.

I've always liked Rod Taylor as George. He's definitely handsome action guy, but he looks so great in the turn of the century duds and I believe him as a passionate scientist. The supporting actors are all good, but I especially love Sebastian Cabot as George's skeptical friend Hillyer who keeps refusing to believe what George tells him. And the enduring friendship between George and his best friend David (Alan Young) is just lovely.

This movie is gorgeous. George's home in 1899 jammed full of clocks, the special effects of the machine moving through time, and the huge, battered building that the Eloi live in are all visual treats. The time machine itself is a spectacularly beautiful prop, with its tufted red seat and shiny handles and the revolving cylinder behind the seat. I'll grant you that special effects have moved ahead dramatically, but considering when it was made, they are quite cool. I particularly liked the use of the mannequin, with its little bit of dehumanizing symbolism. And the makeup on the Morlocks is convincing, which is pretty good for a movie that is over fifty years old.

The musical score is as gorgeous as the movie. I don't even remember the first time I saw The Time Machine on television because I saw it so very many times, but every time I hear the score, I get tingles. (I have a similar reaction to the opening credits of The Wizard of Oz.)

I will readily admit that there are flaws in the story. I dare say that humans in the year 802,701 would not speak English. The books would have been unidentifiable powder that blew away long ago. George's house would have been sold, not kept as a memorial to friendship. And did George really destroy the only Morlocks in England? I doubt it, somehow. It also seems unlikely that the Eloi would buy poorly fitting blond wigs in bulk.

The little model of the time machine with the cigar inside that red padded box? Now that's a movie prop I wish I had. In fact, I got a charge out of the first season episode of The Big Bang Theory entitled "The Nerdvana Annihilation", where the boys pool their money to buy the full-size prop from this movie, argue about who has custody, and end up going nuts trying to figure out where to put it.

Bits and pieces:

-- I really like that H.G. Wells had his Time Traveler go so extremely far into the future. No namby pamby century or two for him. In the book, the Traveler goes even further.

-- We never learn George's full name, but there is a metal plaque on the machine that states, "Manufactured by H. George Wells".

-- George's house is full of clocks. His housekeeper's name is Mrs. Watchit.

-- When George left the second time, Mrs. Watchit noticed that he took three books with him. David says to her, what books would you have taken? I spent some time trying to figure out what George would have taken, and decided that he probably took two volumes of a practical nature (farming? metallurgy?) and the complete works of Shakespeare. Which three books do you think he took?

Four out of four dystopian science fiction classics,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. What a great review! I first saw this on TV when I was a kid, and it's one of those movies that I always watch a little bit of whenever I run across it on cable.

    Y'know, I think I saw the remake, too. But I don't remember a thing about it. :-)

  2. Fun review, Billie! I remember finding this movie very campy, and yet somehow creepy and unsettling at the same time. But I much preferred the book. It creeped me the hell out! The mental images I conjured of the Morlocks were terrifying, so I believe the ones from the film ended up being underwhelming for me. I think I was more creeped out by the Eloi in the film! (I seriously found them creepy. Probably all the blond wigs.)

    Still, I really enjoyed that episode of The Big Bang Theory. What a hoot! Thanks for including the picture of the guys with their Time Machine.

  3. Thanks, guys. It's funny -- when I started compiling a list of my favorite movies, The Time Machine wasn't on it and I didn't even think about it. But a couple of months ago, it aired on television and Dan and I were watching it, and it occurred to me that, even though I didn't have a copy of the movie in my collection, I watched it every time it aired on television when I was a kid. And I still watch it every year or so. That makes it one of my favorites. Maybe a second tier favorite?

  4. Nice review Billie! My favorite part is the 'talking rings' and the way the voice slows down as the ring stops spinning.

    It occurred to me recently that people who lived on the surface might be more affected by residual nuclear fallout radiation than those living underground. So it's possible that the Eloi might be more deformed than the Morlocks. However, 800,000 years is a long time--depending on when the last war happened there might not be much radioactivity remaining. Still, mutations might have become permanent from the time when the radioactivity was higher.

    I also like Time After Time (1979) which combines The Time Machine with Jack the Ripper.

  5. Keith, Time After Time is an old favorite of mine. I've started drafting a review of it a couple of times, but it just doesn't seem to want to be written.

  6. I watched this earlier this evening. I haven’t read the book by H.G. Wells, so have no idea if the film is anywhere close to the novel in terms of story and quality.

    I cannot say I was hugely impressed to be honest, although I did like the Victorian setting in jolly old London at the turn of the last century. And the time machine itself (both the miniature and the big guy) were impressive albeit not very weather proof.

    But clearly the special effects were its Achilles Heel, no doubt constrained by a limited budget from a cautious production studio. So as our Brylcreemed hero, Rod Taylor, vaults into the future each new surrounding didn’t look overly futuristic; instead we have a model set of London streets with toy cars and papier-mâché bridges, roads and buildings. And 800,000 years further into the future we just have lots of plants, trees and a few caves to admire, again all done on the cheap. And the people, or more specifically the Eloi, look like Scandinavians with their perfect hair, teeth and bodies.

    As for their adversaries, the Morlocks, well they’re not all that good in a fight to be honest, and lack any form of intelligence. So how the pacifying Eloi can’t put up the slightest bit of resistance escapes me, and adds to another weakness in the story.

    I haven’t seen the 2002 remake, and judging by the hugely negative reviews I don’t think I will be bothering. But this kind of theme definitely deserves a reboot because in this day and age the cgi of any future utopia will be doable and believable, just so long as the story remains close to Wells’ book.

    Yes, I am in the minority here for not showing enough love, but for me this film was stuck in time, with some pretty Stone Age performances.



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