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Film / The Time Machine (1978)

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It's a Setting Update this time, so no Steampunk vibe for this Time Machine.
The Time Machine is a Made-for-TV Movie based on the H. G. Wells novel by the same name. It originally aired on NBC in 1978 as part of the Classics Illustrated series.

This time, the story has been given a Setting Update. Rather than a Victorian gentleman, the Time Traveler is now an American scientist of the contemporary 1970s. His name is Dr. Neil Perry. The Government wants him to invent some wacky superweapons like a "laser death ray" and an "antimatter bomb." You know, for the Cold War. Instead, he builds a working Time Machine. Naturally, his superiors are aghast that he wasted their money building something that doesn't even kill commies. What is he, some kind of pinko idealist?

Anyway, Neil tests out his invention with trips to Puritan times and The Wild West. He then heads for the future, hoping to prove that the weapons the government wants him to build will ultimately doom humanity. Lo and behold, it turns out World War III leads to the world of the Eloi and Morlocks, just like in the 1960 version. And as in the later 2002 version, the Eloi's passive complacency is eliminated for the most part, rendering them more heroic. Also, Weena now has a brother named Ariel. No surprise, it ends with Neil and the Eloi teaming up to defeat the Morlocks.


Tropes from the 1978 film version which weren't in the book:

  • Adaptation Expansion: It's not until halfway through the film that it gets into the original story about the Time Traveler's voyage to the year 802701.
  • Arms Dealer: Neil works for a tech company that primarily builds weapons for the U.S. government.
  • Artistic License – History: Neil is convicted of witchcraft at the Salem witch trials on April 10, 1692 and is sentenced to burn at the stake. In reality, none of the 19 people convicted of witchcraft in Salem received this sentence; they were all hanged. Giles Corey was crushed to death for refusing to enter a plea.
  • Bank Robbery: One of these is committed in the Old West town. By coincidence, it provides a distraction that allows Neil to escape.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: Neil and the Eloi use the weapons from a museum to defeat the Morlocks.
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  • Broken Aesop: Inventing weapons is bad. The Eloi using those same weapons to defeat the Morlocks is good.
  • Burn the Witch!: The Puritans decide to burn Neil and his machine together. Would you believe that he escapes by traveling to a different year?
  • Changed My Jumper: Neil's modern clothes cause him some problems on his trips to the past.
  • Colony Drop: The film kicks off with a nuclear-armed Soviet satellite falling out of orbit and heading for Los Angeles. Neil manages to save the day, providing his Establishing Character Moment.
  • Creator Provincialism: Neil ends up in two different historical eras, and both are periods from American history. And, as noted below, it's not the case that he doesn't travel in space.
  • Cultural Translation: The setting is moved from Victorian England to 1970s America.
  • Eternal English: As usual, the Eloi speak English.
  • Forty-Niner: Apparently, Neil's arrival in the Old West coincides with "the middle of the Gold Rush." His machine gives the year as 1871, which is actually some twenty years after the height of the Gold Rush.
  • Lost in Imitation: This film clearly took a lot of inspiration from the 1960 film. It uses the same nuclear Back Story for the Eloi and Morlocks, leading to the same anti-war message. In turn, some elements introduced in this 1978 version recur in the 2002 version, such as the Eloi being less passive and Weena/Mara having a brother.
  • Mistaken for Thief: Immediately happens to Neil after he arrives in the Old West.
  • Named by the Adaptation: This time, the Time Traveler is named Dr. Neil Perry. Also, a male Eloi (Weena's brother) is named Ariel. In the novel, Weena was the only Eloi to be given a name.
  • Our Time Travel Is Different: Starts off as Videocassette Time Travel, but then converts to Wormhole Time Travel for some reason.
  • Plunger Detonator: In the Old West segment, the miners use one of these to blow up the mine where Neil hid the Time Machine. Fortunately, the machine is undamaged, but he has to dig through some rubble to get to it.
  • Remake Cameo: This version features Whit Bissell, who was also in the 1960 version.
  • Setting Update: Unlike the 1960 and 2002 films, which kept the original period, this version updates the Time Traveler's era to the Present Day, i.e. The '70s. As a result, the Time Machine has a decided Space Age design rather than the usual Steampunk design.
  • Techno Babble: How does the Time Machine work? "In principle, it utilizes an electromagnetic force field to molecularly reconstruct the spacetime continuum." In other words, it's basically magic.
  • Time and Relative Dimensions in Space: Neil visits Puritan New England and the Old West. There is no explanation for why he ended up in two different geographic locations.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Neil stops off in the year 2025, discovering that it's a post-nuclear wasteland.
  • The Wild West: The second era that Neil visits. The film spends over ten minutes here, all of it inconsequential to the main plot.
  • Witch Hunt: Neil's first trip takes him to New England in 1692. Guess what he's accused of being.
  • World War III: Occurred in the early 21st century, starting in 2004.