The Time Machine

Year: 1960
Production Co: George Pal Productions
Studio: MGM
Director: George Pal
Writer: David Duncan/H G Wells
Cast: Rod Taylor, Yvette Mimieux

Born far too late to see this in cinemas, it was a staple late Friday or Saturday night TV movie for me and (I'll bet) untold millions more sci-fi fans. Given a fairly toothless retool in 2002, nothing can compare to the original story of Dr Wells (Taylor) and his efforts to break the final barrier of science.

Put alongside anything made in today's CGI era it looks cheap and schlocky, but it's the strength of the idea long before we'd seen a flux capacitor in a DeLorean or a T-800 appear in a black bubble surrounded by static that counts. From the instant Wells demonstrates his small prototype for his visitors (where a cigarette bent into the shape of a man and the machine disappear into thin air) I was hooked, on the edge of my proverbial seat.

From that moment the thrills, visuals and excitement build beautifully. From a candle racing down to nothing to Wells sitting in a mountain waiting for it to erode over eons to the underground battle with the Morlocks, the themes, excitement and action get exponentially bigger and more expansive.

Whether Wells was commenting on the conditions of industrial-era England or not has probably been exhaustively debated, but when he stops 800,000 years in the future after an accident knocks him out in the chair, he awakens in a seemingly perfect society. The Eloi are young, beautiful and healthy and nobody wants for anything.

There are just two problems. In a society so perfect, there's nothing to strive for, and the lazy young population lay around stagnant, unable even to read, and devoid of compassion for anything including each other, which they reveal when Weena (Mimieux) is screaming for help in the river and her contemporaries ignore her.

The other problem is that humanity has split, and the other subspecies are a bestial underclass called the Morlocks who live underground. Their industry supports the Elois' tropical playground and they survive by occasionally sneaking to the surface and stealing one for food.

The Morlocks are people painted green in extremely silly masks and neatly combed blonde hair, and as a kid they frightened me more than a whole festival of torture porn ever could. The covered wells in the fields affected me like the howl out of An American Werewolf in London for years afterward. Classic science fiction in every sense no matter how dated it looks fifty years later.

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