Friday, January 2, 2015

Time Travel Time #9: The Time Machine (1978)

"The Time Machine (1978)" is a television retelling of H.G. Wells' classic: a remake, if one will, of the 1960 George Pal production, playing upon its modified elements and supporting characters. It's part of the Sunn Classics "Classics Illustrated" movie series, which included "Fall of the House of Usher", "Last of the Mohicans" and "The Donner Pass".

The television version, directed by Henning Schellerup and adapted by Wallace C. Bennett, stars John ("Rollerball") Beck as Dr. Neil Perry, whose secret Mega Corp project is jeopardized in favor of new weaponry. Perry receives support from a colleague, played by Whit Bissell (of Pal's movie and Irwin Allen's "Time Tunnel") and fashions a full-scale time machine reminiscent of the '60 version, though without the Victorian attributes. (In truth, this design looks a trifle Egyptian, but with NASA streamlining and the capability to move beyond its fixed station to random locations.)

Initially, our hero ventures back to points in American history, including the Salem witch hunts and the Old West (covering both the Gold Rush and the Younger Gang), before jaunting into the future to meet the Eloi and Morlocks. 

The Eloi, in this instance, resemble Pal's: fair-haired and gentle, with Weena again the focus. As portrayed by Priscilla Barnes, however, this Weena is more sophisticated than Yvette Mimieux's, but then so are the rest of her kind, who come across more bohemian than child-like. 

The Morlocks, as in Pal's version, are brutal and hideous. These particular mutants are hairless, pale and glowing eyed, sporting uniforms instead of loincloths. (In some respects, they look like modified versions of James Arness' "Thing from Another World".)

Much as Rod Taylor's George champions the Eloi against the Morlocks, so does Beck's Perry, who does his utmost to keep the Eloi from being devoured. Nonetheless, due to the Eloi's higher intellectual capacity, one must wonder why they never rebelled prior to Perry's arrival. 

Like Pal's version, Schellerup's touches upon the long-term effects of war. For example, Perry's futuristic sojourn is really a means to find "proof" that Mega Corp's activities will lead to cataclysmic consequences. A derelict museum supplies such proof, and Perry travels back to confront his employers with what he's learned, only to be told they wish to use his time-travel accomplishments for questionable purposes.

This prompts Perry to zoom back to Weena and the Eloi, but of course, the insinuation of additional time-tripping stories prevails; implying that this "Time Machine" may have launched a series beyond the "Classics Illustrated" franchise. (Further evidence of such can be found in the earlier time-travel segments, where the potential for ongoing adventures is dealt.)

Unfortunately, this adaptation fared poorly in the ratings and gained few accolades among critics and fans, who were more inclined to embrace the Pal Oscar winner.

Still, the '78 remake is superior to the televised competition of its time, and with the passing of years has earned its supporters. Though it may not be the most acclaimed film version of Well's tale, it still captures its spirit, and if only for that, is worthy of reverence.

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