H.G. Wells' classic 1895 novel, The Time machine, tells of a young, ideological
inventor who creates the ultimate device, a machine that allows him to break the
confines of the universe and travel in the fourth dimension. With this device,
the inventor (who remains unnamed and is only called the Time Traveler) narrates
his voyage to the year 802,701, a time in which humanity has degenerated into
two species sculpted not by God but by nature's indifferent efficiency.
This setting in the far future is
populated by the delicate and placid Eloi, descendants of the wealthy and
privileged, who live in Edenic bounty and "feeble prettiness" on Earth's surface,
and by the savage Morlocks, descendants of the working class who have devolved into
cannibalistic subterranean brutes feeding off the lazy, illiterate "Upper-world
people." Near the novel's end is a beautifully rendered scene set eons later
still. Here the final, gasping breath of evolution, human and otherwise, is
embodied in a single tentacled creature on a beach beneath a bloated red sun at
the twilight of the world. It is a scene lit by loneliness and failure and
Wells intentionally fashioned his
novel to be a commentary on the social imbalances of the time. His bleak vision
was a direct attack on the ever-growing, capitalist state emerging at the end of
the 1800s. In his commentaries, H.G. Wells described himself as a self-made
social reformer who climbed from the brutal working-class life of poverty. With
this experience, he sought to criticize the growing gaps between the nation's
rich and poor. More than 100 years later, we read a tale of great imagination
and great adventure.
Recognizing the superb premise laid
out in Well's novel, Director George Pal translated the story into the 1960
screen classic, The Time Machine. Fortunately, he opted to maintain
the Victorian setting of the film rather than attempting to update it to a
contemporary setting. He started his film on New Year's Eve in 1899, with a
gathering of friends awaiting their host, George (Named after Wells, not George
Pal), who is overdue. George (Rod Taylor) stumbles in, dirty and beaten, to tell
a fantastic story of his journey to the far flung future, where he changed the
course of a long standing struggle between two divergent races of man.
Where the novel stood directly against the growing
industrial society of 19th Century America, George Pal's film version stood
directly against the horrors of nuclear war. Continuing the social protests of
films like Rocketship X-M, the 1960 version of The Time
Machine focuses on the damage and loss inflicted through warfare. Even the basic
conflict of between the Eloi and the Morlocks is shown as an offspring of
mindless war to the end.
This is most dramatically
illustrated through the interactions between George and Jamie, the son of his
friend who he meets during WWI and WWII. Through these contacts we learn that
George's friend, David Filby (Alan Young) followed his sense of patriotism and
nationalism and dutifully marched to his death.
Soon afterwards, we are completely
removed from the world as we know it and hurled into the pure fantasy
environment of Wells' 1895 vision. Nuclear weapons rain down on George's London
property, blasting away the entire city as George races away into the future.
The blasts rupture the geologic structure encasing the Time Traveler in lava.
When he is free, he is in a world
unlike any he has seen. It seems to be a quiet paradise, populated by beautiful
and simple people, foremost of which is Weena (Yvette Mimieux), a future love
interest that binds George to this new strange time. H.G. Wells didn't have a
female companion for the Time Traveler, it being unnecessary for the
social-political story he was telling. George Pal knew that a successful film at
that time had to have one. Since its premiere, audiences have wholeheartedly
agreed with Pal.
After some initial exploration,
George the Time Traveler believes that he may have finally found his Utopia, a
world where ambitions and conflicts have been replaced with a life of luxury and
leisure. He quickly learns that the illusion is very frail. The Eloi are a
people totally apathetic to the world around them, uncaring to their past and
seemingly ignorant of any way to influence their future.
Disgusted, George intends to leave,
and return to his own time. When he seeks to leave, he learns that the a race of
underground dwellers called the Morlocks have stolen his machine. He seeks to
get it back only to learn that there are more sinister aspects to the Morlocks.
They are maintaining the Eloi as a ready food supply, having trained them to
walk into their lair at the sound of blasting sirens. George discovers this
danger when Weena is taken by the humanoids.
The Morlocks prove to be the descendants of that part of humanity who fled
underground to survive the nuclear war. They never returned to the surface.
Over 800,000 years they mutated into cannibalistic monsters who raise the Eloi
like cattle, providing them food, fixing their buildings in secret, then
slaughtering them. Like Well's blue-collar workers, they are the machine
George crawls into their lair, battles them in physical combat, and rescues the
imprisoned Eloi. During the escape, he sets fire to the Morlock's cave,
incinerating the mass of the humanoids. As the lair begins to burst apart from
heat, he locates his machine but is then trapped and separated from Weena. Faced
with death at the hands of the surviving Morlocks, he uses his machine to return
to his own time.
The film ends shortly after George has explained his story. He wishes Filby
well, and returns to his machine. After dragging it back to the spot where he
last saw Weena, he again travels to the future, taking only three books with
him. The film ends asking the question, "Which three books?"
Yet, that isn't the end of the George Pal story. The DVD release of the George
Pal classic includes the 1993 featurette The Time Machine: The Journey Back,
which reunites George and Filby (again played by Rod Taylor and Alan Young).
This extension to the original movie shows George's second return, just prior to
Filby's departure to fight in WWI. George explains that he lived a good, happy
life with Weena before returning back to his own time. He also explains that he
returned to to talk Filby out of going off to war. Frustrated, insisting that he
won't shy away from his duty, Filby leaves. George lets him go, planning to head
forward in time, the day before Filby's known death, and save his friend.
It's a nice scene and a pleasure to see the characters reunited after so many
George Pal's vision was remade in
2002. Integrating a drastically different story, with its own unique themes,
this remake retained all of the key elements of both the original H.G. Wells
novel and the 1960 classic film.
This remake is visually impressive and clever, centering on the Time Traveler's
inability to change tragic events of the past. Faced with this delima, he speeds
away into the future, intent on learning the secrets of this supermythical
In this version, Well's nameless
Time Traveler is identified as Prof.
Alexander Hartdegen (Guy Pearce), an absent-minded young scientist and professor
at Columbia University in the late 19th century. His future is shattered when
his beautiful fiancee, Emma (Sienna Guillory), is killed by a mugger in Central
Park. Devastated by this loss, he invents a time machine in order to travel back
in time and stop the tragedy. His machine works, but his scheme doesn't. He
saves her from the gunshot only to loose her on the same night to another
He realizes that there is some
fundamental law of the universe that prevents him from altering the past. Unable
to comprehend this barrier with his 19th century knowledge, he forward, into the
21st century, to gain knowledge of time travel. He arrives at the New York
Public Library in the year 2037.
He meets a holographic librarian, Vox (Orlando Jones), who provides a very nice
tribute to H.G. Wells and the 1960 film. The encounter is entertaining for the
audience but not much helpful to the professor.
Just as he returns to his time
machine, Alexander is caught in a horrific tragedy when the moon, overmined and
fractured by the misuse of powerful explosives, fractures. Debris rains upon the
Earth, causing catastrophic loss and setting the foundations for the rise of the
Eloi and the fall of the Morlocks. The mayhem jolts the professor as he escapes
in his machine, knocking him unconscious.
He awakens 800,000 years in the
future where he is rescued and healed by a peaceful, dark-skinned human species
called the Eloi, a few of which have preserved the English language, represented
by Mara (Samantha Mumba) who serves as the replacement for the 1960 film's love
Alexander remains with the Eloi for a short time, before they are ambushed by
Morlocks, underground dwellers who hunt and feed on the Eloi.
Alexander learns that the Eloi and
Morlocks are two branches of mankind that split while the race was fighting for
survival after fragments of the moon devastated the surface of the planet. The
Morlocks were forever forced underground and branched into three distinct
variants, each serving their own purpose. One version, serving as the scouts,
were the eyes and ears of the Morlocks that identified Eloi to be harvested. A
second, the brutish hunters, were the pure form of the Morlocks, and the last, a
single leader, held powerful psychic abilities and controlled the rest.
Alexander decides to rescue Mara and
journeys into the Morlock's lair. He is almost immediately captured and taken
before the colonies leader, (Jeremy
Irons) who engages him in some philosophical conversation. During this, the
professor learns that the Morlocks have taken his time machine and it in the
hands of their leader. Alexander pleads the plight of the Eloi to no avail.
Disinterested, the leader tells the Time Traveler to return to his machine and
return to his own time. Rather than follow the advice, Alexander grabs the
leader and races away in time. The two battle as they are hurled
further into the future. With luck rather than skill, Alexander wins the
conflict and returns to rescue Mara.
As the Morlocks begin to move in on
he and his companion, Alexander jams the mechanisms of his time machine and
activates it one last time. They he and his Eloi companion flee, evading Morlock
brutes, and escape their underground lair. Moments later, the time machine
explodes, sending a time wave hurling across the entire lair that disintegrates
the underground dwellers.
Forever trapped in this new time, Alexander plans out a new life with Mara.
In all, this remake is a very good film. Directed by Simon Wells, the
great-grandson of H.G. Wells, this movie gives only cursory attention to Well's
ideas of class warfare or the 1960s anti-war themes. This version is completely
devoid of any social messages and its ultimate question, "What if?" is so mystic
and arbitrary as to lack any real relevance.
The weakest part of this movie are
the Morlocks themselves. Visually, they are well done but within the context of
the story, they serve only a minor role. The film does a grand job of setting up
the conflict between the Eloi and the Morlocks, and specifically between
Alexander an their leader, but when it actually arrives, the conflict falls
flat. In some ways, it seems like the Morlocks were there because they had to be
there to complete the remake, not because they were the crucial focus of the
story. Their introduction scene is fairly well done but reminds you of the
introduction of the gorillas in Planet of the Apes. Like the opponents in the
remake of that classic, the Morlocks leap and run about overpowering humans. The
parallels are obvious.
The most disappointing element of
the Morlocks is the leader. These villains aren't on the screen long enough for
any viewer to be shocked or impressed that they have this leader, nor do his
explanations of how the Morlocks came to be three distinct races seem to make
any sense. Equally confusing are statements the leader makes indicating that
Alexander himself is somehow responsible for the conditions he finds. By
inference, you guess that when Alexander was first taken away by the Eloi, the
leader in another form took his time machine and traveled to the past, somehow
causing the damage done to the moon. This mystery is never explained, nor is
there enough information to even know what the mystery really is. You get the
sense that a half hour of the film was simply dropped onto the editing room
floor. There seems to be a whole missing story that is critical to the climax.
Consequently, Alexander's final battle with the leader is meaningless and a bit
Despite these flaws, the 2002 The
Time Machine is well worth watching. The Victorian sequences are very charming
as is Alexander's encounters in the library. The ending sequence is heartwarming
and stylish. Overall, the visuals throughout the film are fairly impressive,
especially the time traveling sequences.
Likewise, the time machine itself is
as impressive as the 1960 design. Its whirling glass blades look very Victorian
and the time bubble they create are very cool, although I wondered how a 19th
Century device managed to manufacture so much power and energy.
The Eloi's village and tributes to
their lost relatives are both unique and imaginative. They present a sense of
independence from previous convention that is worthy of the classic film the
remake is based upon. The dark lair
of the Morlocks is far less impressive but serves the purpose. Compared to
the other settings of the film, they are marginal.
The devastation of New York City by the moon fragments is far too short.
Most of this key sequence was chopped out of the movie because the studio
executives felt audiences would connect it with the terrorist events of
September 11, 2001.
Probably the greatest disappointment in the movie is the quick loss of Sienna
Guillory. She is absolutely superb as the ill-fated Emma. Orlando Jones also
provides a very strong performance. Likewise, Jeremy Irons is chilling as the
Morlock leader leaving you wondering what his character's story actually is. His
character is almost a direct copy of Michael Morcock's Elric of Melnibonea and
seems totally out of place in the movie.
Despite this hurdle, he plays the role, very, very well.
Equally impressive is the lush music by Klaus Badelt who provides his first full
musical score for this film. The soundtrack isn't as lively as his music for the
2003 "Pirates of the Caribbean", but does give the Eloi a subtle Garden of Eden
In all, the 2002 remake is well worth watching. Its seems to be an incomplete
story but the parts that are there are very well done. Although it retains all
of the key elements of both the 1895 novel and the 1960 classic film, the remake
tells an entirely new story that is wondrous and visually appealing.
- written by the Two-Brained Cylon