Thursday, February 20, 2014

Time Travel Time #1: The Time Machine (1960)

With my posts, I’ve been dancing around the more obvious, established movies, assuming most folks know them inside-out, and (give or take) focusing instead on obscure cinematic offshoots. In this regard, there seemed little reason to acknowledge one of the biggest science-fiction film adaptations ever made, and yet I was shocked to learn recently that some of my younger acquaintances have never seen “The Time Machine” (’60 version), let alone were even aware of its monumental existence.

In fact, the first big-screen adaptation of “Time Machine” proved such a sensation that its director, George Pal (one of the most significant forces in the science-fiction/fantasy genre—and please, please don’t dare utter you've never heard his name, because damn it, that's just plain absurd), even considered producing a sequel to his hit. (A novel follow-up to such eventually emerged, as well as a making-of documentary/sequel epilogue, featuring its stars, Rod Taylor, Whit Bissell and Alan Young, in ’93.)

Now, I certainly don’t think I need to rehash H.G. Well’s novella here, for it's what Pal spiritually captured, with of course, certain modifications that strongly persuaded pop-culture perceptions of the text for a very long duration (arguably even up to present). 

For example, as most (hopefully) know, Pal’s version of the Eloi are blond, not hairless, and the white-haired, green-skinned Morlocks are what in-the-know folks generally conjure when the term is referenced.

Also, there’s an amorous spark between Taylor’s Time Traveler (in this instance, named George, in honor of Wells) and pretty, little Eloi, Weena (Yvette Mimieux), whereas in the novella, their relationship is like that of father and daughter, and even that's stretching it some; nonetheless, the movie’s love element evidently more than achieved its goal, for other “Time Machine” filmmakers have made it a point to reinstate such in their own adaptations.

Perhaps the most currently visible remnant of Pal’s vision can be found in the steampunk movement. Just take one look at Taylor’s refurbished, barber chair, and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Pal’s “Time Machine” is touching, exciting, adventurous, and though normally I don’t give two hoots about such things, it even won an Oscar for best special effects—and most deservedly so. When you watch the movie, you’ll certainly understand why—and keep in mind, all the razzmatazz was done for a fraction of the budget that modern (less effective) visuals cost.

Though other versions of Wells' tale also prove engaging (that is, the ’02 edition, directed by Well’s great grandson, Simon, and I dare say, the sadly maligned Classics Illustrated ’78 pilot), this adaptation is the one that set the standard, its influence being so profound that it even led Ib Melchoir to write/direct “Time Travelers”, which in turn influenced "Journey to the Center of Time", but prior to such, triggered Irwin Allen's ever popular “Time Tunnel” series. ("Time Machine'"s opening segment also inspired “Twilight Zone’”s most popular intro.)

Please, please, please, do me a favor—hell, do yourself a favor—and give this one a keen look if you’ve not already done so. It’s one you need to know, need to see, need to care about, and after you watch it, you'll surely become one of its greatest defenders.

PS: A word to the wise…Wells’ novella is also worth experiencing. Don’t deprive yourself of it. It’s a classic for good reason, as you’ll undoubtedly realize as soon as you absorb its pages.

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