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.
Here Rewind has a real surprise for sci-fi fans, a full review of the very rare 1978 TV version of The Time Machine!
HCF REWIND NO.66. THE TIME MACHINE 
AVAILABLE ON R1 DVD
RUNNING TIME: 99 mins
Dr Neil Perry is s scientist working for US defence contractor the Mega Corporation. When a missile goes off-course, Perry, using technology he has invented, reprograms it to crash into the sea, averting a disaster that could have destroyed Los Angeles. His reputation secures a grant of $20 million for his nearly-complete time machine project, but the corporation wants Perry to put the project on hold so that he can head a military weapon development project. Perry accelerates work on the time machine, permitting him to test it before being forced to work on the new project. A day later, he reports to the chairman of the board of Mega Corporation and tells of how he travelled in time, both into the past and into the future…….
The 1978 version of The Time Machine is a film that seems to be rarely seen, and is generally regarded as a travesty by those few who have viewed it. “One of the worst remakes ever made” I read on one review. I expected something rubbish with lots of unintentional laughs when I finally sat down to watch the film, but actually found it to be nowhere near as bad as its reputation. It has some bad ideas and poorly done scenes, but balances those out with good things too. For a start the idea of setting Wells’ tale in modern times is a good one and I’m very surprised that a major film has yet to do this. Deja Vu did reasonably well in combining time travel with computer technology and make us almost believe it, and of course the original story’s social commentary is more timely than ever.
This retelling isn’t any closer to the book than the 1960 version, something which may sound surprising considering it was part of a series of TV movie adaptations of famous novels called Classics Illustrated, which of course was also the name given to a lengthy series of comics running from 1941 to 1971 which very faithfully adapted books for children [God how we need something like that now!]. These films were produced by Sunn Classic Pictures, a company best known for some sensationalist documentaries which were often released in US cinemas in the 70’s about things like the Bermuda Triangle and psychic phenomena. The Time Machine was a major project but was received badly after its TV premiere and has been rarely shown since. In the UK it was, for some reason, shown in two parts.
The opening scenes of the film really are not promising at all and nor do they seem to have anything to do with a picture called The Time Machine, consisting mainly of lots of people looking at screens and a few shots of the rocket and Neil’s invention heading to destroy it, neither device looking like they’re actually moving. Then we have a quite astounding bit of idiocy when Neil’s weapon temporarily goes off course and Neil orders everyone out of the control room. The reason? The large number of folk in the room was causing the temperature to rise and [somehow] mess around with the guidance system [I’m not making this up]. After this, the only way is up and indeed the movie does improve a little with a couple of nice scenes between Neil and his assistant Agnes, who fills the role of Filby from the original film, and an okay recreation of the scene where a miniature time machine is sent into the future, a scene which gains a nice frisson from having the actor Whit Bissell, who was present in the scene in the ’60 movie, present at this one.
The speeded-up photography used to visualise George Pal’s time traveller’s time travelling makes a return here though it doesn’t look quite as smooth. It’s reasonable though, and at times turns into psychedelic weirdness as the time machine looks like it’s passing through 2001: A Space Odyssey’s star gate. The idea of having Neil travel back in time is a promising one and probably saved immensely on the budget but a 1692 scene in Salem [yes, this time machine can also travel to different locations] where he is found guilty of witchcraft, is so brief as to be almost pointless though the lengthy Western sequence which follows is certainly full of action and makes economic use of what looks like a Western set that turned up in many TV films and series around the time. Half-heartedly copying the flashback format of the first film, this version has the past scenes as a flashback but not the later future scenes. These future scenes are basically a scaled-down remake of the second half of the 60’s production, with our hero in the world of the peaceful Eloi and the demonic Morlocks again.
The white-clad Eloi seem far too like contemporary American young people of the time and bizarrely seem all too eager to let the Morlocks periodically take some of them away yet are happy to confront Neil. The love story with Weena lacks the charming innocence of before but the introduction of the Morlocks does introduce a dark atmosphere and could have been quite scary had they looked any good. With their silly masks and glowing eyes they just look laughable, not helped by the glow sticks which they carry around to stun their victims, but do create a few tense moments in the final action bits, which are low key but reasonably exciting and almost get away with the fact that it’s obvious that there are only two or three actual Morlocks. John Cacavas’s rather good score is especially good here, very suspenseful and sinsister. The second half of the film also benefits from the rather intriguing idea that in the ‘present day’ Neil will create weapons which will destroy much of Earth and create the Eloi and the Morlocks, though star John Beck, who is weak throughout, doesn’t show the emotions his character must be going through. This aspect is also weakened by some mediocre handling, including a tape in the future which shows the war that ravaged our planet [well, it’s better than those dumb talking rings], said tape showing footage from the 1953 The War Of The Worlds in amidst all the stock footage!
The actual time machine in this is rather good, simple in its minimalist design but looking quite practical and rather cool in its triangular shape. The original film’s anti-war theme is even stronger here and there’s a rather strong environmentalist theme in this one too. Wallace C. Bennett’s script certainly has its heart in the right place and has some invention but every now and again is let down by an idea which is just stupid. With some rewriting, the screenplay could have actually been rather good, but the hurried production given to TV movies obviously meant that rewriting was not an option. Still, this Time Machine has its merits and is certainly worth a look as an interesting if extremely flawed take on a well known story. If you don’t want to search for the DVD, which could take a while, you can view the whole movie on YouTube.