The Time Machine

The Time Machine (1960) movie poster

(1960) director George Pal
viewed: 06/10/2011

This 1960’s version of The Time Machine was the version that I grew up with.  I never read the book, and though I might have seen some other treatments of it, when I think of a Morlock, I think of a Morlock from George Pal’s version of the story.

The kids were really into it, pretty rapt during much of the film.  Actually, the Morlocks are pretty scary in a pre-Star Trek special effects sort of way.  I was actually a little surprised how well the film went down with them.  I mean, I know it’s H.G. Wells but a story written around 1900, filmed in 1960, in which a vision of the future of 1966 has people wearing those kinds of “future civilization” outfits that it’s doubtful that people will ever wear outside of a science fiction movie.  There is a lot of inherent anachronism.

But it’s brilliant as well.  Rod Taylor is very charming in the lead role, the scientist named George (Wells) who invents a time machine to look into mankind’s future, hating the increase of military might and destructive weaponry, technology to kill people, that dominates his present.  When he does go forth, he manages to land in London first of WWI and then in WWII, and finally in the 1966 in which the world is destroyed by nuclear missiles.  Bad timing, you might say.

So, what’s he do but fly far, far into the future, through a time in which for several millennia he spends encased in solid rock (but only for a few minutes of his time), and he lands in the future future future state inhabited by the bland, beautiful, mindless Eloi and the creepy, Trogodyte-like Morlocks who harvest them.  If you don’t know the story, I’m sorry if I spoilt it for you but you really should know this story by now.

Pal got his start in puppet-oriented stop-motion animation and many of the key special effects are achieved through this technique, and in many cases are very effective.  In fact, when George starts up the time machine at a slow pace, minutes passing in seconds, one of the first things he witnesses is the spinning hands of a clock and the melting of a candle at high speed.  Felix wow’ed at this aloud, which is pretty impressive for a kid of this generation who’s seen all kinds of computer special effects of greater magnitude.  It speaks to the power of the technique when employed well and executed in stylish fashion.  Equally, the sun and moon, passing over the glass-windowed porch in which he sits, effectively communicates the concept of the passing of time.

Both Felix and Clara were really intrigued by the concept of time travel.  The way that the film depicts George sitting the in the same place in space, while moving through time really came across to them vividly.  And even though Felix derided the lava flowing through London in 1966 as “totally a model”, other aspects of the film’s effects struck them significantly.  We also watched part of but not all of a feature-ette shot in 1993 that describes some of the effects and designs, which they were both pretty into, as well.

It’s the fun, funny, thing about watching these curated films that we watch together, such a span of time and experience and history and culture.  It’s most funny to me because this wasn’t one of the first things I’d thought to show them by any means, but it was a big success.  We’ll have to watch a couple more George Pal films now, like his 1953 War of the Worlds or his 1962 The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm or his 1964 The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao.  Another trope has been opened.

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