Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 43 min.
Release Date: August 3rd, 1960 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: George Pal Actors: Rod Taylor, Alan Young, Yvette Mimieux, Sebastian Cabot, Tom Helmore, Whit Bissell, Doris Lloyd
avid Filby (Alan Young), along with three other stuffy gentlemen, wait impatiently in a room full of noisy clocks, musing over when dinner will be served. Their host, H. George Wells (Rod Taylor), suddenly bursts into the room, clothes tattered and covered in dirt and so exhausted that he can barely speak. Filby insists that George has all the time in the world, which amuses the fatigued man, prompting him to feebly begin his strange tale of scientific wonderment.
On the last day of 1899, he meets his same four friends: Filby, Dr. Philip Hillyer (Sebastian Cabot), Anthony Bridewell (Tom Helmore), and Walter Kemp (Whit Bissell), to unveil his latest invention, which fully realizes the mysterious fourth dimension. Inside an ornamented box sits a miniature model of an operational time machine – one that can travel only forward or backward in time, but not space. As the device is only large enough for a cigar to sit in the driver’s seat, George activates the contraption in the center of a table, sending it into the future. When it vanishes right before his witnesses’ eyes, they’re immediately skeptical, not fully understanding the craft’s journey through time. As he explains, a million years in the past, that table’s location could have been at the bottom of the sea – or in another million years, in the middle of a mountain.
As his colleagues want nothing to do with his creation, Wells retires to his nearby laboratory, where a full-size time machine awaits a momentous expedition. Unable to be completely precise about a stopping point, George toys with the throttle to gradually, then briskly, lurch onward through time, watching his house, his city, and the world morph around him – affected by age, war, the atomic bomb, natural disasters, and finally unimaginable futuristic civilizations. Paralleling his comment about the scaled-down model’s potential whereabouts inside a mountain, he finds himself surrounded by rock formations for centuries, before being freed in the grassy, paradisiacal field of the year 802701 – where he jarringly stops the carriage to inspect the era and determine whether he’s the last man on earth.
One of the most fascinating concepts in “The Time Machine” is the focus not on altering the past to manipulate the future – though George ponders whether or not man can change the shape of things to come – but the transitioning of individuals from one exact spot in the present to that same spot at another point in time. The machine cannot locomote through space, like a spaceship, but rather remains in the same position as it exists years in the past or future. Through the use of spectacular special effects, George sits in his machine while the environment outside rapidly changes, people and animals speed past, and the sun rises and sets like a flickering light. Exhilaratingly, George’s first venture into the future finds the walls of his London home boarded up, Filby’s son all grown up (also played by Young), and England involved in World War I. Another astoundingly unique element is George’s trip going so far into the future that concern over altering the future, in reference to the butterfly effect, is negligible.
“The Time Machine” is an unforgettable, breathtaking adventure and a staple of the science-fiction genre. Countless fascinating notions and impressive imagery appear even before George encounters a subculture of frolicking, blonde, youthful, primitive, entirely disinterested humans, gaily feasting on oversized fruit and blindly obedient to a race of mysterious beings. This is also before the introduction of Yvette Mimieux, as the slender, pink-skirted beauty, Weena. Aggravatingly, this curious society isn’t interested in the newcomer or in educating him on the functioning of their social organization. Horror elements also thrillingly present themselves, in the form of scurrying creatures obscured by undergrowth, and the effectively designed Morlock cannibals (a particularly memorable sequence involves the speedy putrefaction of a hunchbacked corpse).
There’s also keen commentary on letting the world decay, giving in to leisure, learning from past mistakes, and the cleverly cruel twist of fate in which the seemingly most feral entities are the ones that operate machinery and hypnotically command subservient organisms. But thanks to a romanticized and idealized approach to the potential history lessons and lecturing, “The Time Machine” is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking. Following quite closely to the source material novel by renowned author H.G. Wells, though ending on a distinctly cheerier note, this 1960 adaptation garnered its own level of fame with Oscar-winning special effects. And director George Pal was himself no stranger to pioneering animation techniques, having been previously at the helm of “Tom Thumb” and earning numerous nominations for his Puppetoon works throughout the ‘40s.
– Mike Massie