The Time Machine (1960)

Article #749 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-3-2003
Posting Date: 8-31-2003
Directed by George Pal
Featuring Rod Taylor, Alan Young, Yvette Mimieux

A man invents a time machine at the end of the nineteenth century, and takes a journey into the far future.

This adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel is much more faithful to the source story than Pal’s earlier WAR OF THE WORLDS was to its source. It has one of the all-time great props; the time machine itself is a wonderful and memorable creation, and the time travel sequences are breathtaking indeed. However, I usually emerge from the movie with an odd sense of disappointment, and it’s a little hard at times to say why. I had read the original story of Wells several times when I was young, long before I ever actually got to see the movie, and though I haven’t read the story closely in quite a while (I have a collection of H.G. Wells novels that I will be rereading in the near future), I always get the sense that the story has been “dumbed down” in subtle ways; just as an example, the scene where Weena asks the time traveller how women wear their hair in his time seems overly cute, false, and out of tenor with the story, and I don’t believe that would be a question Weena would actually ask.

This may sound like nit-picking, and perhaps it is, but it does seriously hamper my enjoyment of the movie. I also miss the omission of chapter 11 from the story, in which the time traveller goes even farther into the future into a time where Earth is nearing its last days, and this has always been the one chapter of the book that has most embedded itself into my memory; it’s omission from the movie tends to leave a fairly big emotional hole for me.

Still, even if I feel that the ultimate version of the story has yet to be made, I applaud George Pal’s attempt. I also really loved one final touch in the movie, and that is that it leaves it to the viewer’s own imagination as to which three books are missing at the end of the movie. It’s a subtle, effective touch that is entirely unexpected and thought-provoking, and I have to smile when we reach that point.


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