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Film / The Time Machine (1960)

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The Time Machine is a 1960 film adaptation by George Pal of H. G. Wells' science fiction novel The Time Machine.

There are many changes from the novel, with Wells's socialist critique reimagined as an anti-war parable. After the Time-Traveler, who in this version is called "George" (Rod Taylor), demonstrates his invention, most of his colleagues criticize him for inventing something which they consider to have no practical value and wonder why a man of his genius isn't inventing weapons for Britain to use in The Second Boer War like a good patriotic citizen should be. Only David Filby (Alan Young) shares George's idealism, though he warns him to destroy the time machine before it destroys him.

George sets off for the future, stopping to see the effects of World War I, the Blitz of World War II, and finally the nuclear holocaust of World War III. George's arrival in the year 802701 plays out similarly to the original, though with the Eloi speaking English and Weena (Yvette Mimieux) being Promoted to Love Interest. The Back Story of the Eloi and the Morlocks is altered, with both being the descendants of people who survived in bunkers during World War III. When the war ended after three centuries, some people chose to remain underground, becoming the Morlocks, while others chose to take their chances on the surface, becoming the Eloi. The Morlocks are, of course, portrayed in the typical 1950s monster movie fashion.

The film concludes with a climax in which a group of Eloi, including Weena, are captured in the Morlocks' underground lair. George rescues them and teaches them to stand up for themselves. After briefly returning to his own time, George heads back to 802701, bringing three books with which to begin rebuilding civilization. The audience is left to wonder which three books he chose.

Tropes from the 1960 film version which weren't in the book:

  • Adaptational Backstory Change: Whereas in the book, the division of humanity into Eloi and Morlocks was the result of class divisions dividing society into separate species, in this story, humanity was divided after a centuries-long nuclear war forced some humans underground while others took their chances above ground.
  • Adaptational Badass: While nowhere near as powerful as the Morlocks from the 2002 movie, the Morlocks are nevertheless considerably tougher here than their novel counterparts.
  • Adaptational Intelligence: The Eloi are far more intelligent here than in the novel, being able to speak perfect English and having slightly more awareness of their surroundings than their book counterparts.
  • Adaptation Expansion: In the book, the traveller doesn't make any stop and goes directly to the very far future without learning about the World Wars. Of course, the World Wars hadn't happened yet when the book was written. Additionally, the film invents a World War III, which becomes a new backstory for the Eloi and Morlocks.
  • Apathetic Citizens: The Eloi are this to a T, ignoring one of their own drowning, plus their cannibalization by the Morlocks. George helps them learn to fight back again.
  • Apocalyptic Log: The "talking rings", which dictate news broadcasts when spun upon a dais. The two heard in the film relay information about war, and the separation of the Eloi and the Morlocks to the Time Traveler.
  • Artistic License – Cars: All the cars seen in 1966 London are either American models not sold in the UK or US import variants of British cars with left-hand steering.
  • Artistic License – Geography: In London on August 19, 1966, an atomic explosion causes a volcanic eruption, a natural disaster that could never occur in reality due to a) there being no active volcanoes in the United Kingdom and b) the British Isles being nowhere near a tectonic plate boundary.note 
  • Artistic License – Physics: If the protagonist were really so close to a nuclear blast, he'd likely be vaporized. Even aside from that, the radiation sickness would soon kill him. The EMP the blast had also would burn out his time machine. Though to be fair, much of these effects were probably unknown to the public at the time and it's not clear if the time machine runs on electricity.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: George despises the barbarism from his own time and desires to journey to a future where mankind no longer wages war. Sadly, he gets his wish after learning that the Eloi of 802,701 are peaceful to the point of indolence, possessing barely any sense of self-preservation whatsoever.
  • Brown Note: The Air-Raid Sirens. Over 800,000 years in the future, the Eloi have been subconsciously conditioned to react to the noise by seeking refuge underground. So much so that they will blindly walk into the Morlocks' lair in a hypnotic trance.
  • Cassandra Truth: Understandably, none of George's associates, except for Filby, believe he built a time machine nor that he traveled back in time.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The box of matches George carries with him to the future. At first, they're used sparingly, namely during his time travel to 802701 AD, to light his surroundings. Late in the film, they prove to be useful in fighting the Morlocks, who are Blinded by the Light due to mainly living underground and only emerging at night.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Most of the Eloi are dressed in pale colours, but Weena wears bright coral pink so you can pick her out in a crowd.
  • Companion Cube: In the first part of his journey, George views a mannequin at a nearby shop as a fellow traveler since it is one of the few things that doesn't change in 66 years.
  • Composite Character: In the book, the Time Traveller has a group of friends he tells about the Time Machine, including the unnamed narrator and a young man named Filby.
  • Convection, Schmonvection: After London gets nuked in 1966, everything around catches on fire, except for the protagonist of course. Oh, and the grass he's standing on.
  • Crapsaccharine World: George initially sees the Eloi and their society as a natural paradise... until he finds they're too docile to want to rescue one of their own from drowning. And that's not even getting into the Morlocks, who hide underground until it gets dark...
  • Culturally Sensitive Adaptation: A socialist parable likely wouldn't have gone down well in America in 1960, given the Cold War attitudes of the day but a shift to an anti war message with a heavy dose of nuclear anxiety was right on the money.
  • Dark Is Evil: The Morlocks are creatures of the dark and partial to cannibalism.
  • Emergency Temporal Shift:
    • The Time Traveller stops in the 1960s and finds himself in the middle of a nuclear attack, during which the detonation of an "atomic satellite" causes a volcanic eruption — prompting the Time Traveller to hurry back to his machine and travel forward in time, narrowly avoiding death by lava flow.
    • Near the end of the movie, the hero enters the Morlock lair to retrieve his time machine, and ends up having to board it right as the Morlocks attack him.
  • Eternal English: In the book the Eloi had their own language which the Time Traveler didn't understand, here they speak English over 800,000 years later. Presumably the talking rings have something to do with this, plus the Eloi's inability to innovate.
  • Exact Words: George agrees to Filby's promise that he "Won't go out of the house tonight", adding that he won't even "Walk out of the door." Instead, he only leaves the house after landing in 1917, to remove a few of the planks on his boarded-up windows.
  • Failed Future Forecast:
    Talking ring: The war between East and West, which is now in its three hundred and twenty-sixth year...*
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: George is entirely out of place in the future society. They're nearly all apathetic, such that one of his first sights is several placidly watching while another drowns (whom he then rescues). Since in their time everything is given to them by the Morlocks, they spend all of their time just relaxing and eating. He's disgusted at first, feeling they've given up everything inventors like him worked to build, but then realized it's not their fault as they're kept this way by the Morlocks. After he finally realizes what the Morlocks use the Eloi for, George fights against this and resolves to change their ways for the better.
  • Forever War: The Cold War degenerated into a three-centuries-long war that brought humanity to the brink of extinction.
  • Frazetta Man: If you take the fact they evolved from humans in the distant future out of the account, then the Morlocks fit this trope to a T.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Sort of. The Eloi are blonde, every single one of them. This underlines their gentleness and innocence—except unfortunately that innocence has grown into the passivity and stupidity of oxen.
  • Humans Are White: In the future, all Eloi (one offshoot of modern humanity) are uniformly white and mostly blond. This might seem plausible as it's set in the former London (yet even then the blondness isn't) but they also are living in what looks like a pretty hot climate to judge from the lush jungle that sprung up. So you would expect the Eloi to have darker skin and hair eventually as a result (granted, it isn't clear how long the climate's been that way).
  • Identical Grandson: Filby's son is likewise played by Alan Young, minus the moustache and Scottish accent. The Time Traveller naturally mistakes him for his father during his jaunt 20 years into the future.
  • Industrialized Evil: The creepy machinery of the Morlocks underscores their villainous, oppressive society.
  • Interspecies Romance: The beginnings of romance between George and Weena might suggest this in light of some interpretations which posit the Eloi as being just as much an evolved post-human species as the Morlocks, in spite of the fact that only the Morlocks look visibly non-human.
  • The Lava Caves of New York: Somehow, the nuclear war of 1966 causes a volcano to erupt in... London. George winds up buried under the lava, and he has to zoom through 800,000 years before erosion wears it away.
    • This was a pragmatic adaptation as the stop-motion scenes of him passing through time in the machine were very difficult to do at the time, and having to do that for what amounted to hundreds of thousands of years would’ve been extremely expensive and time-consuming. This was a practical way to allow so much time to pass.
  • Man on Fire: A Morlock gets set on fire when George is fending them off with a torch at the end.
  • The Morlocks: Being an adaptation of the original 1895 novel, the Trope Namer are ever-present here.
  • Named by the Adaptation: The Time Traveller is addressed as "George," and his full name is visible on a plaque on the machine (H. George Wells).note 
  • Next Sunday A.D.: The Time Traveler witnesses a nuclear holocaust... in 1966. This could even border on 20 Minutes into the Future, with 1966 London full of skyscrapers and having a shiny monorail, not to mention "tubeless TV" on window display.
  • No New Fashions in the Future:
    • The Eloi women love their '50s Hair. Weena, whose attitude and interests are akin to a child, even calls attention to it by asking George how the women of his time wear their hair.
    • Even in 1966, the fashions don't seem to be too far removed from 1960 or have a somewhat Fifties look... which considering what we know about how Sixties fashion progressed is pretty hilarious.
    • Both examples seem curious in light of the ever-changing mannequin in the store, concerning the changes in by-then-historical fashion, inverting this trope from the Time-Traveller's perspective.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Until he finds the Eloi bathing in the river, George spends a lot of time wandering around an overgrown wilderness among abandoned relics set to an increasingly shrill soundtrack. The movie also very effectively sells the Morlocks' danger by having him return to his time machine and discover it's been dragged into their temple.
  • Nubile Savage: Weena is a futuristic variety. Though she doesn't dress in the stereotypical clothing, her society is far more primitive socially and technologically than George's, while she's also very beautiful.
  • One-Gender Race: The Morlocks here all seem to be males, or at least none shown look female. If any seen are female, they have no sexual dimorphism.
  • Promoted to Love Interest: Former Trope Namer, by way of both the 2002 film and this one. In the novel, the time traveler forms a bond with an Eloi woman named Weena, who, like all Eloi, is a child-sized androgynous-looking creature mentally on the level of an eight-year old. However, the film turns Weena into a human-looking, adult love interest.
  • Rage Breaking Point: George is exasperated with the infantile and clueless nature of the Eloi. But when he discovers their records have crumbled into dust, he explodes into a furious tirade and declares his desire to go back to his own time with real men. He does later regret his outburst.
  • Reunion Show: In 1993, a documentary was made about the film. While most of the documentary focused on the director George Pal and on the making of the movie props, there was a 15-minute segment where Rod Taylor and Alan Young reprise their roles as George and Filby. The action in the segment took place in George's house and—from George's point of view— 30 years after the events of the original story. George has come back to 1916 to try to prevent Filby from being killed in World War I. The documentary is included in some DVD versions of the movie.
  • No Sense of Time: The Time Traveler goes forward in time at the speed of thousands of years every second, yet he can still see the wall behind him being built, block by block. Travelling this fast, he should barely be able to see any building last, considering the lifespan of most structures humanity built.
  • Steampunk: The eponymous Time Machine looks exactly how a late-Victorian time machine should.
  • Stranded with Edison: Implied by the ending. When Wells leaves after telling his friend Filby about his adventures, he takes three books from his vast library. Filby asks Mrs. Watchett (and the audience), "Which three books would you have taken?" in order to restart civilization.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Weena survives in this film, thanks in part to George coming to her rescue in time.
  • These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: Filby is the only one who believes George about his machine, even before he leaves on his journey, refusing to even look at it as he feels this would "tempt providence" and begging him to destroy the machine before it destroys him.
  • To the Future, and Beyond: The protagonists visits the "future" years of 1917, 1940, and 1966 before stopping in 802,701. At the end of the movie he starts traveling farther into the future by mistake, but he corrects himself and gets back to his own time.
  • Training the Peaceful Villagers: Despite the film having a strong anti-war message, it narrowly avoids being a Broken Aesop as George's motivations are more about teaching the Eloi to regain a sense of self-preservation, rather than actively seek conflict with the Morlocks.
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance: George mistakes Filby's son James for his father in 1917, since they look exactly alike except for a mustache.
  • Undying Loyalty: Filby, executor of George's estate, firmly refuses to sell the house and has it shut even after his death, believing the traveller would return some day. His son similarly decides to honor his father's wishes and has the plot turned into a park after the house was destroyed in the Blitz, dedicating it to their friendship.
  • World War III: George arrives on the day it begins, August 19, 1966, and barely escapes being burned by lava. It is what creates the world of 802701, with Morlocks being the descendants of those who ended up in air raid shelters, and Eloi being the ones who ended up staying above ground.


Talking Rings

The talking rings reveal how humanity split into the Eloi and Morlocks.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / ApocalypticLog

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