Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison. It may not keep me sane, but it will probably always involve one guy shouting, “This doesn’t make any sense!” And that’s good enough for me.

THE TIME MACHINE (1960)

Loosely based on the film Time After Time– wait, hold on, no. Based on the classic novella by H. G. Wells, The Time Machine is the story of H. George Wells (Rod Taylor), an inventor who invites his skeptical friends over for dinner on New Year’s Eve 1899 so he can demonstrate that time travel is possible. They doubt the authenticity of his little toy, so he sends them home and climbs into a full-scale version of the fantastical contraption to embark on a trip into the future. What sort of destiny awaits mankind?

THE STORY:
We obviously have to compare this to the source material, and it takes a few liberties. For starters, George makes some stops along the way before landing in the year 802,701 A.D. This allows the filmmakers to add historical events that have occurred since the time the story was written. Or, you know, speculate on what 1966, a date just six years after the film opened, will be like.

Nailed it.

The book touches on all sorts of themes, from evolution to societal classes to humanity’s struggle with nature, but the screenwriters opted to make this story about war. There’s an eerie comparison made between the Pavlovian response to air raid sirens and leading cattle to slaughter, and I can’t help but hear some college sophomore shouting, “Wake up, Eloi! Your government is lying to you!”

“The atomic satellites were an inside job, Filbmeister.”

The Time Machine was released right after the tail end of the Second Red Scare, so it must have seemed pretty poignant at the time, but now it’s a bit dated. Still, with so many topics to elaborate on in the original, I don’t understand why they felt they had to add this one and make it occupy a third of the running time, especially when it meant having to cut out the end of the book, which is both darkly existential and involves huge freaking crabs.

Pictured: more exciting than giant mutant crustaceans.

My complaints on the deviation from the original story aside, this movie is fun as hell. George lands in 802,701 and finds the world to be a paradise, but the trade-off is that the occupants are all grinning idiots who call themselves the Eloi. They’re so stupid, they don’t even understand what death is. Yet, they’ve survived, so somebody has to be running things behind the scenes, right?

“So which country do you exploit to pick your fruit?”

It’s up to George to confront these secret overlords. Maybe if he– OH, GOD, WHAT THE HELL ARE THOSE?

The guest stars of my nightmares from 1991-1994.

THE ACTING:
Cinemanaut John pointed out while watching that Rod Taylor may very well have been an inspiration for Captain Kirk. I can’t confirm or deny this, but he’s right on the money that Rod has “smoldering rogue explorer” written all over him.

If your mom’s a nerd, you might wanna keep her away from the screen…

Taylor isn’t just an action man, though. There’s a genuine compassion for the future of the human race in his performance. When he tells you to wake up and fight, you follow him.

Weena, George’s Eloi love interest, is played by Yvette Mimieux, who I’ve never seen in anything else and I couldn’t possibly tell you why, because wow.

This website is not just a catalog of my childhood crushes, honest.

She definitely acts the part of “ditzy young woman” well, which was probably an important skill in the ’60s, but it actually makes sense for the story here, as everyone in the future has the mental capacity of a small child. Which, you know, has unfortunate implications for George’s character because–

Hey, Alan Young! He’s Scrooge McDuck!

“Aye.”

While an older viewing companion might crack a few Mr. Ed jokes, if you watched DuckTales, you may freak out at the Scottish accent of George’s best friend Filby, who is indeed the voice of everyone’s favorite vault-swimming one-percenter waterfowl. Young makes Filby a fun character, but he’s also clearly concerned for his friend; proud of his accomplishments, but frightened by what could be done with the power to travel through time. Also, he plays his own son, one of many ideas the Back to the Future series “borrowed” from The Time Machine.

“I won’t play my own daughter, though. That’s just stupid.”

THE SPECIAL EFFECTS:
There’s so much to choose from! And not a single screencap will do them justice, but here we go.

That’s a snail hauling ass across the floor as George tests the machine slowly at first. Most of these short trips forward in time are accompanied by some ingenious and undoubtedly time-consuming stop-motion animation of clocks speeding up, store window displays changing, fruit growing on trees… it’s wonderful.

Don’t you make fun of matte paintings. Matte paintings are awesome.

See that lava? Oatmeal. Brilliant.

I love this movie.

OTHER (SPOILERY) STUFF:

  • Huge plot hole: the Eloi speak perfect English. George just waltzes up to them, asks questions, and they answer. Not a solitary second is spent on trying to make sense of this. In the book, the time traveler had to devote some effort to learning the Eloi language.
  • Ending spoiler. Paradoxes were not even a thing in the early days of time travel stories, so your brain won’t hurt too much. However, there’s a scene early on that suggests George’s house is permanently abandoned after the events of the film, so we might be dealing with immutability in this case.

THE “NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE!” MOMENT:
Although none of them accompany George on his journey, when he tries to explain that the machine remains in the same location in space but not in time, his colleagues are utterly confused. Dr. Philip Hillyer (Sebastian Cabot) is very insistent upon his stance in the matter. Angrily so, in fact.

“Ohhh… space is space! It doesn’t change! The same space that’s here now
should be here in a hundred or even a thousand years!

INFLUENCE ON BACK TO THE FUTURE:
You can’t make it too far into this movie without realizing just how inspirational it was to the makers of Back to the Future.

Interesting color scheme.

Interesting obsession with clocks.

Also, the DVD includes a… strange part-documentary, part-sequel called Time Machine: The Journey Back. Rod Taylor and Alan Young reprise their roles and act out a cutesy scene where George and Filby have a little chat about what’s been going on in their lives, which feels kind of cheap, frankly, but hey, there you go. Also, Michael J. Fox is in it, talking about the most powerful time machine of all: imagination.

Whoa, did my childhood memories get drunk again?

FINAL THOUGHTS:
This is the movie that made me love movies.

As I’ve mentioned before, this is the second time travel movie I ever saw, after Back to the Future Part III. It was on TNT one night, when I was six or seven, and my dad said possibly the most important thing you could ever tell a developing cinephile: “Hey, you liked that time machine movie, right? Here’s one that’s even older. I’ll let you stay up late.” It was my first “old” movie. And he saw how amazed I was. And then he made sure I watched This Island Earth and When Worlds Collide and Forbidden Planet and anything else TNT was running on Sci-Fi Sunday.

I guess I’m saying I can’t review this movie without making it deeply personal. Watching it again, yes, there are some silly parts, but I was just as engaged now as I remember being back in my childhood living room. Even if it’s not quite the book, believe me, it could be worse, and it’s still pretty smart for what’s basically a popcorn adventure movie.

Check it out. Especially if you have kids.

LATER THIS WEEK (IT GETS WORSE):
The Time Machine (2002)

Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.