Closing Time for the Human Race

The Time Machine: adapted by David Duncan from the novel by H.G. Wells; directed by George Pal; starring Rod Taylor (H. George Wells) and Yvette Mimeux (Weena) (1960): H.G. Wells didn’t name the Time Traveller in his 1895 novel The Time Machine after himself — that’s a liberty this 1960 film adaptation takes, among many, with Wells’ original story. Still, this is an enjoyable science-fiction movie, earnest and a bit dull at times but with some intellectual and emotional heft.

As in the novel, much of the story is told in flashback (which, as the traveller moves forward in time, is really a flashforward) to a group of men sitting around the traveller’s house eating and drinking. The traveller tells them of his forward plunge through time, punctuated by stops at later points in the 20th century (the movie is set in January 1900) prior to a mad rush to the year 802, 701 A.D. where the main action of the film takes place.

Producer/director Pal keeps the bones of Wells’ original story intact. The traveller meets the Eloi and the Morlocks, two vastly different permutations of evolved humanity. Wells’ Eloi and Morlocks were parables of how he saw class division going: the Eloi are a child-like, waifish race of pleasure-seekers who lack knowledge, drive, and basic survival skills. They frolic in the sun while below, with the machines, the Morlocks keep things running, feed and clothe the Eloi — and harvest them for food.

The film makes the Eloi more recognizably human, primarily so that the traveller can fall in love with one of them (Weena, a name derived from the book). The Morlocks are made more horrible. Perhaps most significantly, the film removes Wells’ bleak ending, in which the traveller moves far enough into the future to see only a lone, giant crab scuttling across a beach lit by Earth’s dying red sun.

The Time Machine works as an action-adventure movie, though Pal has stripped it of Wells’ bleaker view of humanity as just another species within a gigantic, mechanical structure of evolution and entropy. Some of the stop-motion and optical effect are still quite impressive, though others look, well, a bit goofy. The acting is serviceable, though I’ve never understood the appeal of Rod Taylor, who is the most stolid and blocky of blockhead actors. Recommended.

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