Daily Archives: Monday, 19 April 2010

The Time Machine (1960)

Rod Taylor as 'George'
George in The Time Machine

I just got through watching The Time Machine (wiki) with my family last night. My dad got this “sci-fi classics” DVD set for Christmas and we’ve been going through it at about one every couple of weeks. (We also watched Forbidden Planet and Soylent Green, the latter of which I did not review for this site.) This movie is based on the H.G. Wells’ novel of the same name about a man in Victorian England (named George in the movie) who builds a time machine and travels to the future, where he meets a woman named Weena and learns that humankind has divided into two “warring” species, Eloi and Morlock. (I use quotation marks for warring because the two species aren’t really warring; they’re just… interacting in the only way they’ve ever known how.)

The Rundown
The movie begins and ends on January 5, 1900, with Filby, one of the main character’s friends. He seems to be the most open-minded of the four friends who are regaled of George’s tales of the future, and the only one who even slightly believes him. First, on December 31, 1899, George shows the friends a working model of what he calls a “time machine” and, with them as witnesses, proceeds to turn it on and press the lever forward to the future. When the time machine disappears, the friends believe it’s a trick and leave for the night (to “celebrate the new century”), but not before George invites them to dinner the following Friday evening. Filby stays behind for a few moments to tell George that if the life-size version of his time machine can do what he thinks it can, he should destroy it.

George immediately goes into his laboratory and tests his life-size time machine with amazing results. He shoots forward in time to 1917, where he gets out and meets Filby’s son, James, who’s in a military uniform. George learns that Filby died in the war (World War I) but that, since he was the executor of George’s estate after George disappeared, he refused to change anything about his house or let anyone buy it lest the original owner someday return. James seems to think that idea is funny, but then gets around to asking who George actually is. George declines to tell him and runs back to the time machine to go further ahead in time. He stops briefly in 1940 to witness London being bombed from the sky and wonders how the war has lasted so long. Then, he thinks to himself, “This is a new war”—World War II.

Moving forward again, he stops in 1966 (six years, incidentally, after the movie was made) and discovers that his town is about to experience a nuclear attack and the air raid sirens (more here)—something he’s never heard before and is rightly concerned about—are warning residents to head for the underground shelter (conveniently located within a block of his time machine). He meets James Filby again, this time as an old man, and asks him what’s going on. James tell him that they have to get underground to wait for the “All Clear” before realising that he’s talking to the exact same man he met in 1917—right down to the same clothes he wore the first time. James seems to be more worried about the impending attack, however, and leaves George above ground for the safety of the shelter.

George rushes back to his time machine and presses the lever as far forward as it will go. In a voiceover, he explains to his friends (he’s been telling this story in retrospect the entire time so far) that Earth felt what the humans were doing to it and rebelled with volcanic eruptions. He and his time machine are trapped in solid rock for thousands and thousands of years before he is finally able to stop again in the far future, year 802701. He exits the time machine (this time taking the lever with him—“the only smart thing he did the entire movie,” my dad says) and discovers a world covered in fruit trees with no winter and no war. He finds a group of young people playing near and swimming in a river and is, at first, pleased to see the seeming lack of hardship. But, when one young woman begins to drown and no one else tries to save her, he dives into the water to pull her out, furious that no one else “even lifted a finger” to help her.

The Time Machine floors
Notice the floor; I’ll mention it in a minute.

He goes with them to the ruins of an old building where the young woman asks him why he saved her since she doesn’t seem to care even about her own life. He learns her name, Weena, and that her people are called the Eloi. Inside the old building, the Eloi sit on pillows and eat various fruits from white porcelain plates and drink water(?) from white goblets. He tries to engage them in conversation, but they lack curiosity and/or discipline. He learns that they have no government, laws, or civilization to speak of but is excited when one of the young men agrees to show him their collection of books. When he finds the books covered in dust and mold-eaten, however, he’s outraged. He tells the Eloi angrily, “I’m going back to my own time. I won’t even bother to tell of the useless struggle for a hopeless future. But at least I can die among men!”

When he returns to his time machine, he finds that it’s been moved. He tries to get it back to no avail. Night begins to fall, and Weena comes after him to tell him that they should go inside or the Morlock will get them. True to her word, she’s attacked while he’s talking and he has to beat them back to save her. He builds a fire (something she’s never seen before) and discovers that the Morlock hate light. After Weena shows him the “talking rings” which explain more about the Eloi/Morlock history, he decides to go underground to get his time machine back but as he descends into the hole, he hears air raid sirens again and runs after Weena, who—along with the other Eloi—is entranced by the sound. They all begin walking towards the underground doors until the sirens stop, but not before the doors close—with Weena on the inside. George is angry at the Eloi for not trying to resist or otherwise stop the people from going underground, and he asks one of the young men why they stopped when the siren stopped. The man says, “There is nothing wrong. It is all clear.” Frustrated, George tries to explain that they don’t have to go underground anymore since the “flying machines” and bombings don’t exist anymore, but the Eloi seem uninterested.

After pleading unsuccessfully with the Eloi to at least try to save their comrades, George decides to save Weena himself and climbs down a hole (same one as before). Below, he discovers the Morlocks run machinery and have become (horror of horrors) cannibals. He lights his torch on fire and begins fighting the Morlocks off. One of the Morlocks gets him in a stranglehold and he nearly dies before one of the Eloi men realises his power and hits the Morlock away, saving George. They all escape safely and watch from a short distance as the ground caves in and (presumably) kills all the Morlocks. George is relieved, but sad that he has to stay in the future when he could’ve gone back and told his friends quite a tale or two. Weena sits with him while he reminiscences, gives him a flower (which he puts in his breast pocket), and then asks, “How do they wear their hair—the women of your time?” and then, “Would I be pretty?” They almost kiss but are interrupted when an Eloi man yells for them to “Look!”

They discover the time machine and George runs to it, urging Weena to come with him. She follows too slowly, however, and they realise it’s a trap too late. They’re separated and George must fend off the attacking Morlocks and get away. He presses the lever as far forward as it will go, realises he’s going “in the wrong direction” (into the future), and pushes it down so that he’s heading back to his time period. When he returns to January 5, 1900, he bursts into the dining room to his waiting friends and relates to them everything that has just happened. His friends don’t believe his “preposterous” story, even after he gives Filby the flower from his pocket and challenges him to identify it (something Filby is unable to do). The three unbelievers (of which Filby is not one) go out to a waiting coach and ask, “What do you think, Filby?” He answers, “One thing is certain: that flower couldn’t possibly have bloomed in the wintertime.”

Filby rushes back inside after George’s other friends have left, only to find George has once again left in his time machine—presumably back (forward, really) to Weena. Filby and the housekeeper look around the house for anything that might be missing and discover that George has taken three books with him. The Time Machine poster“Which three books?” Filby asks the housekeeper. “I don’t know,” she responds, “Is it important?” Filby answers, “Oh, I suppose not. Only… which three books would you have taken?”

A few things jumped out at me. First, the far-future is apparently extremely Aryan. Not only are there no dark-skinned people in the year 802701, there aren’t even any dark-haired people. Second, the science that relates to time travel is so convoluted and paradoxical that my father had a hard time even explaining to my mother and me how it’s supposed to work, much less what’s wrong with it—and he’s smart. (Though, he did mention that H.G. Wells was writing under the assumption of Newtonian physics, before Einstein figured out relativity and all that.) Even though this movie is “science fiction” it’s really more like fantasy because the science wasn’t really explained further than “Oh, time is the fourth dimension and with this device I can move backward and forward in time.” Third, I’ve come to understand that some things are pre-feminist (as opposed to anti-feminist) and, since this movie was produced in 1960, before the Second Wave, it can be considered pre-feminist. That said, when someone is asking about another person’s time period, as Weena did with George, is the first thing on her mind really what the women’s hair looked like back then? Really?

Also, as a side note, scroll back up for a minute to the picture of George and the Eloi eating. When he first enters the building, I noticed the floor and said to my dad, “That looks like a parking lot.” (You can see some of the painted lines in the picture above.) Afterward, I did some research for this entry and found out that

In the great hall whenever George is inside, you see parallel and perpendicular white lines painted on the floor. The table arrangements do not conform to any arrangement that fits these lines. This is because the set was constructed over a studio parking lot and they did not put down a floor covering. The revealing parking lines are simply ignored. This info came from a special effects veteran who was on the set during the filming of these scenes.

I read that aloud to my dad and said, “Remember I said it looked like a parking lot? That’s because it was a parking lot!” We all laughed. Dad also noted (with irritation) that the new century began January 1, 1901, not January 1, 1900, as George and his friends said it did, just like the new millennium didn’t begin on January 1, 2000.

Now I want to see The Journey Back (wiki). I’ve been advised to stay away from the 2002 film starring Guy Pearce, though one critic did mention that the 2002 version had a better motive for the main character to build the time machine in the first place. (In the 1960 film, George’s reason for building the it is “…if you want to know the truth: I don’t much care for the time I was born into…” Like I haven’t heard that before.)