Jun 252012
 

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HCF may be one of the newest voices on the web for all things Horror and Cult, and while our aim is to bring you our best opinion of all the new and strange that hits the market, we still cannot forget about our old loves, the films that made us want to create the website to spread the word.  So, now and again our official critics at the HCF headquarters have an urge to throw aside their new required copies of the week and dust down their old collection and bring them to the fore…. our aim, to make sure that you may have not missed the films that should be stood proud in your collection.

For the next three weeks, Doc will be looking at all three [yes three, there is another version besides the 1960 and 2002 versions that is actually available on DVD too!] versions of H.G.Well’s fantastic science-fiction novel The Time Machine, beginning with the classic production from 1960!

 

HCF REWIND NO.59. THE TIME MACHINE [1960]

AVAILABLE ON DVD

DIRECTED BY:George Pal

WRITTEN BY: David Duncan

STARRING: Rod Taylor, Yvette Mimieux, Alan Young, Sebastian Cabot

RUNNING TIME: 99 min

 

January 5, 1900: four friends – David Filby, Anthony Bridewell, Walter Kemp and Philip Hillyer, arrive for a dinner in a town in the south of England, but their host, Herbert George Wells, is absent.  As requested, they begin without him, but then George staggers in, exhausted and dishevelled.   He begins to recount his adventures since they last met on New Year’s Eve, 1899.  A week earlier, George discusses time as “the fourth dimension” with the four, and shows them a tiny machine that he claims can travel in time, stating that a larger version can carry a man “into the past or the future”. When activated, the device blurs and disappears. Most of his friends dismiss it as a trick and then leave, agreeing to meet next Friday,but Filby briefly stays behind.  Seeming to believe George, he tells him to destroy the machine as no good can come of it. They agree to meet again next Friday.  When Filby has gone, George goes to the full-size time machine and sets course for the future…….

I have always loved time travel stories, and luckily the subject is quite a common one in movies.  I suppose the two greatest time travel films would be The Terminator and Back To The Future, but I have always had great love for this 1960 movie, the first of three adaptations of H.G.Wells’s novel of the same name.  I may have seen it more times than the other two films I have mentioned.  It’s a wonderfully innocent, idealistic and romantic science fiction adventure which may seem a little corny to some modern day viewers but remains a really fine piece of entertainment, full of that sense of wonder that many older science fiction movies have.  What it isn’t is a faithful adaptation of Wells’s book, and neither are the two later versions, which had a chance to do the book right and botched it.  I still think that he book would make an amazing film if adapted exactly and I don’t think modern audiences would have a problem with its downbeat tone, most of which was removed for the 1960 movie.

Wells wrote his book in 1895, and, as with much of his work, it was in part an exercise in social comment.  He was worried with the way society was heading, especially the way the gap between the upper ‘privileged’ class and the lower ‘working’ class was widening.  Sound familiar?  As with many great science fiction writers, Wells seemed at times to actually tell the future, because he somehow had a knack for how society and technology would develop.  The Time Machine presented a distant future where mankind evolved into two distinct species, the Eloi and the Morlocks.  The Eloi were descendants of the upper class, carefree, peaceful but ignorant, who were now bred like cattle by the underground Morlocks, demonic humanoids who were the descendants of the downtrodden working class.  The book also had its hero, known only as the Time Traveller, travel so far into the future that he witnessed the end of the world.  For the film version, director George Pal, a major sci-fi film director with films like Destination Moon and The War Of The Worlds, and scriptwriter David Duncan, removed much of the social commentary and the downbeat final chapters, though they added bits set in 1917, 1940 and 1966 bits and also attacked war and the stupidity of the human race in continuing to wage it, things that were also close to Wells’s heart.

A major success in 1960, despite many studios not wanting to film the script even if it must have seemed like a sure-fire hit, it won the Oscar for Best Special Effects and rightly so, special effects being something like Pal was a bit of a pioneer in, especially animation.  The Time Machine is no barrage of effects though and may disappoint new viewers in its early scenes, which are very slow and talky and set mostly inside Wells’ house where he is telling his friends about time travel and his invention.  I really like these scenes, with their elaborate recreation of Victorian interiors and costumes, especially when Wells unveils his miniature time machine and sends it into the future.  Though we rarely go outside, we get a real sense of the world Wells wants to leave, which he soon does and we are treated to what I believe is still the best depiction of time travelling ever, with time-lapse photography [basically photography speeded up] simply but beautifully showing the passage of time, from a snail rushing across the floor to flowers blooming and dying, and often focusing on a manikin in a shop window opposite where the time machine is, for a while Wells’s ageless companion in his travels.

The brief war scenes, to be honest, are none too impressive, especially a damp squib of an atomic bomb dropping which consists mostly of a couple of buildings exploding and lava destroying a few cars, but that was obviously due to budget constraints and are not really the central focus anyway, which is more on the human element.  There are very touching scenes of George encountering his friend David’s son in 1917, and then as an old man in 1966. Then we get to 802, 701, after being fed some wonderful concepts like the human race eventually being able to control the weather, and we slowly introduced to a brave new world, though it’s certainly not brave.  It cleverly seems like a sort of paradise at first, as its people seem to spend their days lazing around, but it’s really a kind of Hell.  The Eloi look far too 60’s with their makeup and hairdos, but the Morlocks, though just men in suits, look very impressive with their blue skin,white hair and bug eyes, especially when seen in partial darkness with their eyes lit up.  They provide a few surprisingly creepy moments, and eventually lead to a lengthy action climax where Wells battles them to rescue some Eloi.  The Time Machine is not an action movie, it isn’t trying to be, but the extended sequence here is tremendously exciting, aided immensely by Russell Garcia’s thrilling scoring, and contains one of my favourite “hell yeah”! moments as an Eloi, after Wells has been doing all the fighting, finally decides to help, clenches his fist and launches into action.

It has been said that it is morally suspect having Wells turn peaceful people into violent ones, but I just don’t see it; he is helping them to rid themselves of tyranny.  It goes with the film’s message  that, even if it usually ends up going wrong, there is still some goodness in mankind and hope that it get it right….one day.  The novel was far more ambiguous on this issue, as it was on the subject of Weena, the woman whom George becomes friendly with, who is turned into more of a love interest for the film.  Their tentative, almost child-like romance is really sweet, though contains a few clangers in the dialogue such as when George tells her his housekeeper is 60 and old and wrinkly and Weena laughs, even though she would have no idea of old age because the Eloi are killed off by the Morlocks when they reach 30 and would thereby not have understood what George said.  There is also a silly scene where some ‘talking rings’ tell George some much-needed background; it would have scarcely been sillier if Basil Exposition has shown up.  Some details are really clever though, like the way the Morlocks use the siren we heard in the 1966 scene to summon the Eloi into their lair to be killed.  The film’s total charm, and faith in the story it is telling, more or less steer it through its occasional dodgy bits.

Rod Taylor is a great hero you are behind all the time, especially in the early scenes where he seems like both the mad scientist and somebody you actually believe. He’s almost the personification of the heroic explorer.  I’ve always liked this pleasant if maybe limited actor and thought it a great shame that The Birds was the only other really major production he starred in. Yvette Mimieux, who was under 18 when production began, is very stiff and awkward but it seems somehow fitting for her character.  She’s rather adorable and you just want to hug her to death [well I do anyway].  The afore-mentioned score has a lovely main theme which is maybe used too much, turning up as both the main theme and the love theme, but it’s so nice it doesn’t matter too much, and the score has plenty of darker and even experimental passages too, such as the weird whirling musical patterns you here when George is travelling.  And of course, though I have left it a bit late, I have to mention the Time Machine itself, such a beautifully designed prop.  For the most part, The Time Machine remains great stuff, vastly entertaining yet may also make you think, and is in my opinion the greatest of all films based on Wells’s enduring tales.  What a shame Pal never made that sequel he wanted to do……

Rating: ★★★★★★★★½☆

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