With Rod Taylor’s passing this week, I felt it only appropriate that the next film I looked at was his 1960 sci-fi classic The Time Machine. Taylor plays H. George Wells, an inventor, that creates a time machine which he uses to travel from 1900, 1917, 1944, 1966 and final 802701. While not the first film about time travel, this is the first (of four*) adaptations of HG Wells’ book The Time Machine, and probably the first, best example of time travel in cinema.
The director, George Pal – no stranger to fantasy and science fiction films – works to make the complexities of time travel as clear as possible for the audience, including a 5 minute discussion on the four dimensions, of which time is the fourth, as well as the prodigious use of time lapse filming to indicate the quick passage of the seasons from George’s perspective.
It’s difficult to say how audiences reacted to this film at the time, but even in 2015, this 55 year-old film still holds up as entertaining. While the special effects may seem incredibly dated to the eyes of a modern filmgoer, the ideas and story are still fresh. The protagonists feeling that he was born to early, or his desire to seek out other times to visit are still themes that modern time travel films explore.
Good time travel films entertain, but great time travel films attempt to pose a central philosophic question to the audience. In this case, the desire and possibility for a utopian society. What keeps man from being able to attain the perfection of harmonized and unified society. Let’s also ignore that the future of 802701 is homogenous in it’s portrayal of the Eloi, as all white, aryan youth. The Time Machine also leaves it’s audience with a question at the end, another hallmark of great time travel films. Pal’s version shows that George took three books with him to help rebuild the future when he returned to his love, Weena. But we are never told what three books those were. George’s friend, Filby, basically asks the audience which books they’d take with them.
I may not have a time machine, but thru the wonders of modern media, I can take a 55 year trip into the past, and experience a film by an amazing actor who just passed away. His legacy will live for ages after him, and that is time travel, for sure.
*The other filmed adaptations include a 1949 UK TV version that was performed live; a 1978 television version that aired on NBC; and finally the 2002 theatrical re-make directed by HG Wells’ great grandson, Simon Wells.