Friday, June 23, 2017

The Time Machine (1960)

With any time-travel story, there’s always the question of the Earth moving around the Sun and the Sun moving through the galaxy, which is itself in motion.  This is usually ignored in the narrative, as I’m sure most authors don’t think of it.  When you’re writing a story, you’re probably trying to focus on other aspects of the plot.  Plus, I’d like to think that anyone smart enough to build a time machine would be smart enough take this into account.  What a shame it would be to go through all the trouble of building a time machine only to get lost in the void of space.

In the book by H. G. Wells, an unnamed person builds such a machine and visits Earth in the distant future.  It’s supposed to be more a commentary on class division, with the Evil Morlocks taking advantage of the peaceful Eloi.  This movie, released in 1960, takes many of the same plot points.  The ultimate destination is still 802701.  The story is still set in England.  You still have the Eloi and the Morlocks.  A few details have changed, though.

The movie starts on January 5, 1900.  Four men have gathered at the house of a friend named George.  George is absent, which they consider somewhat rude, as George is the one that invited them all for dinner.  At least George was kind enough to leave worth to let them start without him.  (Dinner has already been prepared by George’s housekeeper, Mrs. Watchett.)  Just as they’re about to begin, George stumbles in, looking like he’s been through a war.  As in the book, he recounts his tale.

It begins a few days earlier, on December 31, 1899.  All five men are gathered together in George’s house, where he’s telling them about a time machine that he’s built.  He plans to go ahead to see what becomes of humans.  His friends don’t believe him, even though he has a scale model that he sends into the future.  Shortly after the friends leave, so does George.  He goes a few hours into the future, then a few years.  He goes to 1917 and 1940, both years that England is at war.   He then goes to 1966, where he witnesses the destruction of his immediate area by lava.

He narrowly escapes to the distant future of 802701.  He hasn’t moved from his original spot, but everything is different.  Humans seem to have regressed to a group that lives off the land.  They don’t have a care in the world, even when one of their own falls into a river. George saves and befriends the woman, who gives her name as Weena.  She tells George that her people are called the Eloi

When everyone gathers to eat, George joins them.  He asks all sorts of questions that the Eloi seem to regard as strange.  They have no sense of history or any desire to plan for the future.  They play and eat.  That’s about it.  It isn’t until that night that George finds the Morlocks, who use air-raid sirens to get the Eloi to go into a building, never to return.

George discovers that humanity has branched into two groups.  The Morlocks are what became of the industrial people.  They control the machinery and make clothing for the Eloi.  The Eloi descended from those that stayed above ground.  With no technology, they’re dependant on the Morlocks, which comes at a very high cost.

George is dismayed at what he has found.  Humanity hasn’t progressed.  We’ve let buildings deteriorate.  We’ve let books turn to dust.  There’s nothing left that George recognizes as human any more.   We’ve evolved, but that isn’t always a good thing.  Evolution doesn’t go in one direction.

He’d return to 1900, but George has had his time machine stolen.  (Fortunately, he held on to a key component.)  He’s stuck in a paradise run by monsters.  Since the movie started with George telling his story, we can assume that he found a way to get back to his own time.   It’s simply a question of whether or not he’ll save the future in the process.

Having read the book there are a few differences I noticed.  Some involve major plot points that I don’t want to give away.  The rest are minor, such as leaving out a few scenes.  (In the book, the time traveler goes beyond 802701, well into the future.  The movie skips that.)  I suppose it’s natural to have to make modifications.  You’re trying to tell a story in a different medium.  Not everything translates well.  Not everything can make it due to technological constraints.  The director and writer are also going to take certain liberties.  You can end up with two different products.  This is especially evident that the movie was made about 60 years after the book was written.  The movie has access to history that the book didn’t.

There are a few things that always get me, such as the Eloi speaking English.  Consider that English as we know it didn’t exist 1,000 years ago.  Imagine what people will speak 800,000 years from now.  For that matter, consider what they’d look like.  All of the Eloi are basically short, blonde white people.  I’d like to think we’d look different than that after 800 millennia.

Another thing that’s always struck me while watching the movie was the bubble that formed as George was going into the future.  He was pretty lucky that that happened.  He could have been killed.  (On that note, it wasn’t mentioned what it would look like to an outside observer.  Did people see a bubble form in a mountain or was it solely for George’s benefit?)  I don’t suppose there’s any good way to test the machine.  Today, we could probably automate the process.  With Victorian-era technology, George just had to risk it.

This was one of those movies I’d always catch on TV growing up.  There’s no cursing.  There’s also very little violence.  The Morlocks would probably scare small children, as would the fighting towards the end.  The effects look like what I’d expect from a 1960’s movie, so I can forgive this aspect of the movie.  A lot of the scenes are done in miniature.  It’s obvious to someone who has grown up on CGI.  (I’ve always wondered if it was as obvious to audiences of 1960.   Then again, I also wonder what modern effects will seem obvious 60 years from now.)

Ultimately, it’s a product made 60 years ago based on a story that was published 60 years prior.  We’ve had all manner of time-travel books and movies.  There are all manner of visions of what our future might look like.  There are all manner of great and not-so-great stories about going to the future and to the past.  We have everything from Back to the Future and Doctor Who to Time Changer and Future War.

This is one of those movies that has a certain nostalgia factor for me.  As I mentioned, I grew up watching the movie.  I’m not sure most people will feel the same way.  It may come off as overly cheesy to younger audiences.  I would recommend at least reading the book.  Your local library should have it.  I’m sure Amazon has a few dozen versions of it.  If you can’t get this movie streaming, your library may also have a copy of it if you’re interested in checking it out.

IMDb page

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