The Time Machine (George Pal, 1960) – Time is often referred to as a fickle mistress and it holds quite true in the realm of films and filmmaking. Even though a film has been remade it certainly doesn’t mean that it has improved on the original. Based on the classic H.G. Wells story, The Time Machine is a stylish and entertaining yarn that captures the spirit of the story thanks to a special effects master who always kept the social gravitas of the time and entertainment factor in perfect balance.
It’s the turn of the century, 1899 that is and inventor H George Wells (Rod Taylor) is sitting at the controls of his brand new creation, something that could change the world as he knows it. At the helm of his new time machine he has all the time in the world to do whatever he wants. He gets whisked from 1899 to witness all the war ravaged times of the 20th century all the way to the year 802701 where the passive and submissive sub sect of people known as the Eloi face a grim future at the hands of the Morlocks who also stole his machine. In order to get back home and save these people ,he’s forced to interfere and insert a little 19th century moxie into the distant future and hope that humanity can hold itself together no matter what happens.
Director/Producer George Pal was an early front runner in the realm of science fiction filmmaking and with The Time Machine he hit his peak with a charming little film that embodies the essence of Wells’ story and is some brilliant sci-fi that captures the time in which it was made and the social issues that it endeavours to discuss.
Pal gives us, science fiction that isn’t necessarily overtly flashy but it is thoughtful, smart and meaningful entertainment. It’s a quick moving, creative narrative that does bog itself down in any hokey tricks or narrative devices that have been seen in movies of a similar ilk a thousand times before. Rather, it allows us to embrace the spirit of humanities quest for knowledge and self-discovery as we follow our heroes natural curiosity slowly but surely devolve into an unspeakable horror at what has become of the human race. The special effects are quite good and the even won an Academy Award as they never feel cheap or out of place even for a movie which at the time had a limited budget. It never gets simple in its tone, but it sustains as the action and the social commentary are never drowned out by each other with our charismatic leading man, guiding us through this amazing story which is still as vibrant and important as the day Wells began to write it.
Australian hunk Rod Taylor was a solid but unspectacular leading man in the 1950’s and the 60’s and with the exception of his turn in The Birds he may have delivered his best work here as our eccentric but visionary inventor, walking the fine line between being condescending as a man of science and overtly corner as a man of action. Familiar faces like Alan Young, Sebastian Cabot, Tom Hellmore and Walt Bisell are fine in supporting roles while a very young Yvette Mimieux shows up as the enchanting girl from the future named Weena that inspires George to help them build a new civilization. It doesn’t have any particular depth, but it is a lot of fun with some skilled people leading us along the way.
With The Time Machine it’s not the kind of film that gets recognized for its acting or direction but it is one of those B-Movie Science Fiction adventures that we all remember and make us feel great as it reminds of the very potential of our own imaginations.
Picture and sound quality on the Blu-Ray are top notch and the special features on the disc include the theatrical trailer and an archival documentary called Time Machine: The Journey Back. (Dave Voigt)