Directed By: George Pal
Starring: Rod Taylor, Alan Young, Yvette Mimieux
Tag line: "You Will Orbit into the Fantastic Future!"
Trivia: The "lava" that hits downtown was actually oatmeal with orange & red food coloring, which was then spilled onto a platform of miniatures to give the effect that it was slowly moving forward
No list of great sci-fi movies is complete without George Pal’s excellent 1960 adventure, The Time Machine. Based on a story by H.G. Wells, The Time Machine is, if you’ll pardon the pun, a timeless classic.
New Year’s Eve, 1899. While hosting a dinner party, George (Rod Taylor), an inventor, unveils his newest creation: a machine he claims can travel through time. That night, after his guests have gone, George tests his machine and is shuttled into the future, where he witnesses the effects of two world wars and a nuclear holocaust, coming to a stop in the far-off year of 802,701. There, he encounters the Eloi, a peaceful race living in what seems like paradise. He falls in love with the beautiful Weena (Yvette Mimieux), but soon after discovers the Eloi are the slaves of an underground species known as the Morlocks, who are using the Eloi as a food supply!
Rod Taylor delivers what is arguably his best performance as our hero, George, whose unbridled enthusiasm for traveling through time eventually gives way to despair, brought on by the realization that mankind’s future is every bit as war-ravaged as its past. Even a leap of over 800,000 years can’t escape a world torn apart by conflict, with the Eloi preyed upon by the savage Morlocks. To make matters worse, when George attempts to learn more about the Eloi through their written history, he finds every book still in existence is hundreds of thousands of years old, some dating back to the 19th century, the era in which his journey originated. For the well-educated George, a man driven by a thirst for knowledge, this discovery is the most devastating of all. The Eloi, man’s direct descendants, not only face a questionable future, but have absolutely no past of their own. Taylor perfectly conveys all of his character’s highs and lows, and is equally as strong when the role becomes more physically demanding (his fight against the Morlocks is one of the film’s more exciting sequences).
What I found truly fascinating about George’s expedition was that neither he nor his machine ever actually moved from the spot where his journey began; regardless of how far into the future he goes, George remains, at all times, in the space his house once occupied. We even learn what happened to the structure when he makes a brief stop in 1966. Wandering out to the street, he meets the elderly James Filby (Alan Young), son of his good friend David (also played by Young), who warns him the city is about to be destroyed by a nuclear blast. Sure enough, George witnesses the horrific event, which causes a freak volcanic eruption, sending lava flowing his way. Rushing back to his machine, George again moves forward through time, and within moments his house is fully engulfed. When the lava hardens, it traps George and his machine in a darkness that lasts for several millennia. All of this is brought to life by way of some remarkable stop-motion photography, which, in essence, “speeds up” the world around George, allowing him to view future events in quick succession as he races through the centuries.
With movies like 1951’s When Worlds Collide and The War of the Worlds in 1953 , George Pal left an indelible mark on the science fiction genre, yet of all the films he either produced or directed, The Time Machine, in my opinion, stands as his single greatest achievement.