Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Time Machine (1960) * * *

H. George Wells (Rod Taylor) is a scientist who invites four upper-class friends to a dinner in London On January 5, 1900. But their host is absent, and as requested, they begin the meal without him. Then Wells staggers in, exhausted and disheveled, and recounts his adventures since they last met on New Year's Eve 1899.

A week earlier, George discusses time as the fourth dimension with his friends, including David Filby (Alan Young) and Dr Philip Hillyer (Sebastian Cabot). He shows them a tiny experimental machine that he claims can travel in time, and that his larger version can carry a man "into the past or the future". When activated, the device first blurs, then disappears. They dismiss it as a trick and leave. Filby warns George that if it was not a trick, it is not for them "to tempt the laws of Providence." They agree to meet again next Friday.

Wells: When I speak of time, I'm speaking of the fourth dimension.
Filby: If that machine can do what you say it can do, destroy it, George! Destroy it before it destroys you! Take your journey on your contraption. What would you become? A Greek, a Roman, one of the pharaohs?
Wells: David, I've got to tell it now. While I still remember it!
Filby: Relax, try to relax. You've all the time in the world.
Wells: You're right David, that's exactly what I have. All the time in the world.

Wells goes to his lab where the full-scale model is located, sits in it, pushes the lever forward, and watches time pass at an accelerated rate. To his astonishment, he observes the changing of women's fashion on a mannequin in the window of a shop across the street. He stops at September 13, 1917. There he meets a man in uniform whom he mistakes for David Filby, but it turns out to be his grown son James (Alan Young) who informs Wells that his father had died in the "war".

Wells returns to the machine and travels to June 19, 1940. There are barrage balloons and bombing. He cannot believe the war has lasted so long, then realizes "this was a new war." His next stop is August 18, 1966, where he is briefly fascinated by the changes in the neighborhood, which is now part of a future metropolis with skyscrapers and an elevated monorail. However, he is puzzled to see people hurrying into a fallout shelter amid the blare of air raid sirens. An older, gray-haired James Filby tries to get him into the shelter, warning him that "the mushrooms will be sprouting". Shortly after, James spots an "atomic satellite zeroing in" and flees into the shelter. An explosion turns the sky red and destroys the entire city, and lava oozes down the street. Wells restarts the machine just in time to avoid being incinerated. The lava covers the machine, cools and hardens, forcing Wells to travel far into the future before it erodes away.

He stops the machine on October 12, 802,701, next to a low building with a large sphinx on top. Wells explores the idyllic pastoral paradise and spots young adults by a river. A woman is drowning, but the others are indifferent. Wells rescues her, but is surprised by her lack of gratitude or other emotions. She calls herself Weena (Yvette Mimieux) and her people the Eloi.

As night falls, Wells learns that the Eloi have no government, no laws, and little curiosity. It seems a paradise on earth with clean air, fruit growing in abundance, and a society of young beautiful people who don't have a care in the world. However, humans have forgotten all that has been learned through the centuries, and the Eloi prefer to frolic in the sunshine. Wanting to learn why, he asks to see their books. He finds them all covered in dust, rotted by mold, and they disintegrate when he handles them.

Wells: What have you done? Thousands of years of building and rebuilding, creating and recreating so that 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.

Wells returns to where he had left his time machine, but it has been dragged into the building, behind locked metal doors. Weena follows him and insists they go back inside, for fear of the Morlocks. As Wells tries to recover his machine, a Morlock grabs Weena, but Wells saves her. They listen to the talking rings. The next day Weena shows him openings in the ground like air shafts. She then takes him to a museum with "rings that talk" and tell of a centuries-long nuclear war. One group of survivors remained underground in shelters while the rest decided to "take their chances in the sunlight, small as those chances might be." Wells climbs down a shaft, but turns back when a siren sounds. Weena and the Eloi walk towards the open building in a trance, conditioned to seek refuge from a non-existent attack. When the siren stops, the doors close, trapping Weena and some others inside.

To rescue her, Wells climbs down a shaft and reaches a large cave. In one chamber, he sees human skeletons and learns the terrible truth: the evil subterranean mutant Morlocks feed on the Eloi. The Morlocks are shown to be hulking, brutally monstrous ape-like creatures. Wells finds they are sensitive to light and uses matches to keep them at bay, eventually making a makeshift torch. A Morlock knocks it away, but one of the male Eloi summons up the courage to punch the Morlock. Weena pitches in as well. Wells gets the Eloi to set fire to material in the cave, driving off the Morlocks, then leads the Eloi up the shafts to safety. Under Wells' direction, they drop tree branches into the shafts to feed the fire. There is an explosion, and the area caves in.

Finding the doors to the building now open, Wells goes to get his machine, but they close behind him. A Morlock attacks, but Wells activates the machine and travels into the future, watching the Morlock turn to dust. Wells returns to January 5, 1900. He tells his story to his friends, but only Filby believes him. After George's friends leave, Filby returns, but by the time he reaches the laboratory it is too late, Wells has left again. The housekeeper, Mrs Watchett (Doris Lloyd), notes that he took three books. Filby rhetorically asks her which three books she would have taken to restart a civilization.

(last lines)
Mrs. Watchett: Mister Filby, do you think he'll ever return?
Filby: One cannot choose but wonder. You see, he has all the time in the world.

THE TIME MACHINE, also known as H.G. WELLS' THE TIME MACHINE, is a science fiction film based on H. G. Wells's 1895 novel of the same name about a man from Victorian England who builds a time machine and travels to the distant future. He discovers that humanity has been divided into two hostile species: a mild gentle race, and a cannibalistic one living underground. His machine is stolen by the underground race and he must risk being captured and eaten to return to his own time.

The movie's charm lies in its Victorian setting and the marvels from H.G. Wells' classic story. The pioneering spirit of the movie is enthralling, but it gets a bit mediocre when Taylor turns into a hero, rescuing beautiful blonde Eloi Weena and battling with the chubby green Morlocks whose light-bulb eyes blink out when they die. Although it's quaint when compared to the special-effects of the digital age, the movie is still very entertaining and filled with a timeless sense of wonder.

MGM art director Bill Ferrari created the Machine, a sled-like design with a big, rotating vertical wheel behind the seat and an inscription on the control plate "Manufactured by H. George Wells". As Wells travels in his invention, Oscar-winning special effects show us what the scientist sees: a cavalcade of sights and sounds as he races through time at varying speeds, from lava flows of ancient earth to the rise and fall of a towering future metropolis.

The cast also includes: Tom Helmore (Anthony Bridewell), Whit Bissell (Walter Kemp), Bob Barran (Eloi Man), Paul Frees (Talking Rings voice), Josephine Powell (Eloi Girl), and James Skelly (Second Eloi Man). Russell Garcia composed the original music. David Duncan wrote the screenplay derived from H.G. Wells' novel of the same title. Produced and directed by George Pál.

Warner Brothers provides an excellent wide screen (1.66:1) transfer on the DVD. The colors are clear, sharp and vibrant, and the picture quality is nearly flawless with only a little infrequent softness that is likely from the original film. There are no scratches, dust or other defects. The soundtrack is remastered in Dolby Dig 5.1, available in both English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 2.0), and comes through clean and clear. There are some special features, including a theatrical trailer, plus cast and crew biographies. Also included is a 47 minute Behind The Scenes documentary that looks like it was made for television broadcast as there are obvious stopping points for the inclusion of commercials. Titled "The Time Machine: The Journey Back", it is hosted by Rod Taylor, and offers a lot of details about the film, but the main focus seems to be on the machine itself, how it was developed, created, and its long and curious history after production on the original film ceased. This takes up most of the running time, and the rest is used to create a reunion tale as some of the original actors resume their character roles for a short bit. The documentary has it's own scene selections to choose from or you can just watch it straight through. The film may be viewed in French and has subtitles in English and French, but the black bar area is not used--they are at the bottom of the film.

This movie was produced and directed by George Pál, who also filmed a 1953 version of H. G. Wells' THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. Pál always wanted to make a sequel to his 1960 film, but it was not until 2002 when H. G. Wells' great-grandson Simon Wells directed a film with the same title. In 1993, a combination sequel-documentary short, TIME MACHINE: THE JOURNEY BACK, directed by Clyde Lucas, was produced. In the third part, Michael J. Fox talks about his experience with Time Machines in BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985) and its two sequels. In the last part, written by original screenwriter David Duncan, Rod Taylor, Alan Young and Whit Bissell reprise their roles.

THE TIME MACHINE (2002) is an inferior version that grinds all the sharp edges off the original story to make it child-friendly, so no one can get hurt watching it. H. G. Wells' original material has been picked clean and what remains are the social aspects of TIME MACHINE, but even those elements have been sanitized by filmmakers intent on making a movie that will offend no one.

Although the original film version as well as Wells' novel were set in London, this TIME MACHINE has been transplanted to Manhattan. Guy Pearce plays Prof. Alexander Hartdegen, an eccentric whose behavior causes his friend David Philby (Mark Addy) to sigh with exasperation. Prof. Hartdegen invents an electric toothbrush and says, ''It'll help people keep their teeth well into their 40's." He walks the streets of old New York without his bowler and corresponds with a patent clerk named Albert Einstein. ''Mr. Einstein deserves all the help I can give him,'' Prof. Hartdegen blurts out.

Pearce does his best with the stereotypical characterization of a distracted genius. He's fidgety and his mouth is slightly agape when he sees a horseless carriage. His excitement almost keeps him from an appointment with his girlfriend and the tragedy that will compel him to invent a time machine. Prof. Hartdegen gets inside his gleaming contraption and travels through time in unimaginative adventures trying to change the course of history. Despite the attention Prof. Hartdegen's machine draws, we can tell we're in a fantasy. It's impossible to suspend disbelief when he parks the time machine in Times Square, and no one tries to steal it, deface it or even put a parking ticket on it. Pearce's performance is reduced to a series of open-mouthed takes, gaping at the wonders of the future worlds that have been created by special-effects technicians.

Cities sprout and recede around his time-travel contraption as it moves through the ages. One onlooker says his glass globe with brass knobs and pipes probably makes quite a cappuccino. Prof. Hartdegen lands in 2030 and 2037 before ending up thousands of years in the future. He meets the peace-loving Eloi who dwell in pods affixed to mountains, the apparent future of Manhattan apartments, since they live in what used to be NYC. This remake of THE TIME MACHINE directed by Simon Wells, H. G. Wells's great-grandson, shows the awareness of its past by using Alan Young, one of the stars of the 1960 film of THE TIME MACHINE in a cameo role.

In this version, Prof. Hartdegen is mostly a passive observer and all of his trips can't change anything until he gets to the distant future. Then he gets to be the man who inspires the dusky-skinned, pacifist Eloi to fight against the cannibalistic monstrous Morlocks, led by the Über-Morlock (Jeremy Irons). Irons plays the über-creature with the kind of whimsy he used in portraying bloodless subspecies in DIE HARD WITH A VENGENCE (1995) and REVERSAL OF FORTUNE (1990). His flair gives THE TIME MACHINE its only real kick.

Otherwise, this is a drab film, despite the look of the Eloi. In Pal's 1960 version they are white skinned. This one makes the logical point that racial mixing will lead to a future race of dark skinned people. H. G. Wells' original 1895 story had the bonus of fury. He wanted to challenge the close-minded British caste system with his Socialist ideals and also didn't want to let scientists get away with what he perceived was a godlike desire to control humanity. His unnamed hero was partly responsible for the bleak future he journeyed through. But this remake of THE TIME MACHINE is like the Eloi--all of the aggression has been bred out of it.

However, there are a few thoughtful parts. A holographic figure played by Orlando Jones has artificial intelligence. He's ''a compendium of all human knowledge'' in the 2030 library. By the film's end, Mr. Jones is a griot, telling stories of what was. The only emotion that THE TIME MACHINE evokes is a sadness about what could have been, as Prof. Hartdegen's housekeeper, Mrs. Watchit (Phyllida Law), wonders what path her master has taken. THE TIME MACHINE is rated PG-13 for violence and scenes of intense danger featuring the Morlocks, which look less menacing than those in the original version.

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