Saturday, August 16, 2008

Movie of the Week: The Time Machine!


This week, it's time for my favorite George Pal movie of all time to be featured, "The Time Machine"!

Thanks, as always, go to Wikipedia for the plot summary!

In 1899 London, George (Rod Taylor) discusses the subject of time as the fourth dimension with some of his friends, among them David Filby (Alan Young) and Dr. Philip Hillyer (Sebastian Cabot). He then shows them a tiny machine that he claims can travel in time. When activated, the device first blurs, then disappears. The others are incredulous, but dismiss what they have witnessed as a parlour trick and leave. Before he departs, Filby warns George that it is not for them "to tempt the laws of providence." They agree to meet again next Friday.


Unbeknownst to the others, George has constructed a full-scale model of his time machine, one capable of transporting a man. He sits in it, the dial reading "December 31, 1899", pushes the lever forward, and watches time pass at an accelerated rate around him. To his amusement, he sees the changing of women's fashion on a mannequin in the window of a dress shop across the street.


Eventually, he stops the machine at September 13, 1917 to see what has become of the world. He meets a man in uniform whom he mistakes for his old friend, David Filby; it turns out to be his son James. He informs George that his father had died recently in the "Great War". George returns to the machine and travels to June 19, 1940. There are barrage balloons in the sky and sounds of bombing, leading him to believe, "It must be the new war." His next stop is August 18, 1966.


He is puzzled to see several people hurrying past him into a fallout shelter amidst the blare of air raid sirens. An older, grey-haired James Filby tries to get him to enter the shelter as "the mushrooms will be sprouting" before fleeing. There is an explosion, the sky turns red, and hot lava begins to ooze down the street. George restarts the machine, just in time to avoid being incinerated. The lava covers the machine, cools and hardens, forcing George to travel far into the future before it erodes away.

He stops the machine abruptly on October 12, in the year 802,701, next to a low building with a large, grotesque sphinx on top of it. George explores the idyllic pastoral paradise. He spots some young adults by a river. A young woman is drowning, but the others are strangely indifferent to her plight. George rescues her himself. She calls herself Weena (Yvette Mimieux) and her people the Eloi. She is very interested in him.



George is outraged to find out that the Eloi have no government, no laws, and little curiosity. Their books lay mouldering on a few shelves. He shouts, "A million years of sensitive men dying for their dreams, for what? So you can... dance and play." He decides to return to his own time, but tracks indicate that the time machine has been dragged into the building, behind a pair of locked metal doors.

Weena takes George to a small museum, where talking rings tell of a centuries-long East-West nuclear war. One group of survivors chose to remain in the shelters, while the rest decided to "take their chances in the sunlight, slim as those chances might be." Later, Weena tells George that the Morlocks live in the building.


At night,Weena insists that George and her go back inside, for fear of the Morlocks. While they stay outside, he shows her a fire, and tells her a little about the past. As George tries to recover his machine, one of the Morlocks grabs Weena, but George saves her again. The next day, Weena shows George openings in the ground which look like air-shafts. George starts climbing down one of them, but then a siren sounds and he climbs back up. Weena and rest of the Eloi start walking towards the front of the building as if in a trance, seeking refuge from a non-existent attack. Before George can find her, the sirens stop and the doors close, trapping Weena and several others inside.



George climbs down an air-shaft, reaching a big artificial cave. In one chamber he sees a number of human skeletons strewn carelessly about and learns the horrifying truth: the Morlocks eat the Eloi. The Morlocks are finally shown to be hideous hominid, ape-like creatures.



George finds that they are sensitive to light; he uses matches to keep them at bay, before lighting an improvised torch. At one point, a Morlock knocks it away, but one of the male Eloi summons up enough courage to punch the Morlock.


Weena pitches in as well. They set fire to the flammable material in the cave, driving off the Morlocks. Then the Eloi escape through the air-shafts. Under George's guidance, they drop tree branches into the shafts to feed the fire. There is an explosion, and the entire area caves in.



Finding the metal doors now open, George goes in to get his machine, but the doors close behind him. A Morlock attacks, but George activates his machine and travels into the future, watching the Morlock die and turn to dust. Then George travels back to January 5th, 1900. He tells his story to his friends, but only Filby believes him. After George's friends leave, Filby returns, but by the time he reaches the laboratory, it is too late: George has left again. The housekeeper, Mrs. Watchett (Doris Lloyd) notes that he took three books with him. Filby asks her which three she would take with her to restart a civilization. She asks Filby if they will ever see George again; Filby replies, "One cannot choose but wonder, You see, he has all the time in the world."


A short film, included on the DVD, was made that serves as kind of an epilog to the movie... here's part of it:

As I said at the beginning, this is my favorite George Pal movie of all time. What is it about this that makes it my favorite? Well, part has to do with the time travel aspect -- I'm a sucker for a good time travel story. But I think just as much, it's George, the Time Traveller... a man possessed with a dream, and willing to do whatever it takes to see that dream fulfilled.

In some ways, he's kind of like Taylor, in "Planet of the Apes," in that they both go through a hero's journey... travelling into the future to find humanity enslaved, they meet and fall in love with a woman of the future... but then they diverge, as George manages to overthrow the Morlocks, and leaves us with hope that he'll be able to return humanity to its proper place on Earth!

Of course, Yvette Mimieux is also beautiful!

Next week... well, I think it'll be time for a giant creature movie!



  1. The thing I always delight in pointing out about this movie is the scene with the talking rings. A disc-shaped object spinning around, struck by a beam of light that causes the disc to play back prerecorded information -- isn't that also a description of a CD or DVD? The way they get it wrong in the film is more visually interesting to watch than the real thing...but I've always thought it looked the way it would if someone from the future had given George Pal that same verbal description of our futuristic technology, and he tried to depict as best he could what he was told.

    Okay, I'll go and take my sedatives now...

  2. Actually, I agree with you... but it's always interesting to see how, when predicting future technology, sometimes they could get sooooo close, and yet sooooo far.

    Some of Heinlein's novels are the same way... when I first read some of them (like Door into Summer) in the 1970s, they seemed to really tell the future... nowadays, some of the ideas are laughable, if only because technology took leaps unimaginable back then.

  3. Wells was pretty good at knowing the nature of humans. He wasn't the only guy that could tell a war was going to happen (WW1) and guess that things might lead to a second (WW2) but he was the most famous.. The only problem his WW3 didn't really happen unless you count the cold war and of course, he was a little out via dates..

    if you want laughtable ideas, look for Clark... not really a fan of his stuff at all ¬_¬

  4. It's interesting to compare this film to 1956's World Without End. In this film, the nuclear war survivors who stayed on the surface became food for the ones who took shelter underground. In World Without End, the surface-dwellers regressed to barbarism and hunted the effete subterraneans.

    Have you seen the 2002 version? It's not too bad, but I still prefer George Pal's.

    1. Have not seen that one!


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