Simple Reflections on Film, Entertainment, and culture

H.G. Wells (Cubed)

Recently, I discussed the theory of time travel with a co-worker and debated which ones work best in cinema. Is time linear? Can we change the future by meddling in the past or is everything pre-ordained to work out as it should? Great questions, but hardly solvable in our present time. My pet theory is that linear time began with the creation of the universe (the big bang to secularists). When I do part these mortal coils and ascend to heaven, I believe all of us will arrive at judgment day together at the same time. Our linear view of time won’t matter once eternity sets it. But, I digress.

I want to recommend three classic time travel films that all have their roots in the original Victorian science fiction novel, The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. I am a fan of period films, particularly ones set in Victorian times, and each of these films takes place in the late 1800s. The 1960 version of The Time Machine is the classic film by George Pal starring Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux. Pal’s version is the best of the bunch, tying in the atomic bomb scare prevalent in so many films of the period. The film remains faithful to the original novel and only surmises that nuclear holocaust was the primary reason for the destruction of society and the rise of the Eloi and Morlocks. I watched this film religiously every year it appeared on television (Family Classics with Frasier Thomas on WGN). Sebastian Cabot of “Family Affair” fame has a small role as one of Rod Taylor’s dinner guests. Pal’s version of the Sphinx’s (the entryway into the world of the Morlocks) is very haunting. After seeing the film so many times, I still have a sense of fear and foreboding when I see it.

Time after Time is an excellent takeoff of the original film and novel. Directed by Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek II and Star Trek VI), the film stars Malcolm McDowell as H. G. Wells and Mary Steenburgen as Amy Robbins (Wells’ love interest). The film begins in Victorian London in much the same setting as the Pal version—with Wells inviting his friends to dinner to discuss his new invention. One of his friends, Dr. Stevenson (played wonderfully by David Warner), is none other than Jack the Ripper, who escapes in the time machine to 1979 San Francisco. In this time travel story, the time machine is not the focus of the film, but merely a prop that our protagonist uses as the story unfolds. More of a crime thriller than a science fiction movie, Time After Time expands on the original story in a very compelling manner.

Our third entry in this pantheon of time travel tales is Simon Wells’ 2002 remake starring Guy Pearce. Wells is the actual great grandson of H.G. Wells. The Time Machine (2002) is set in Victorian-era New York, where Pearce plays Dr. Alexander Hartdegen, an absent-minded professor of sorts who is engaged to be married. When his fiancé is tragically murdered, Hartdegen becomes consumed with creating a machine that allows him to change the past. Of all of the films in this review, this is my least favorite, but it employs a time travel theory that aligns with my personal beliefs. After Hartdegen builds the time machine and travels back to rescue his fiancé, he watches her die a second time in another tragic accident shortly afterward. Hartdegen is forced to accept that he is powerless to change her fate. It is then the real adventure begins, and Hartdegen encounters the same Eloi and Morlocks from the original novel as he travels to the future in search of meaning and purpose for his life. The teaser trailer to this film is one of the best I have seen that uses text predominately (The studio might not have had enough finished footage at the time). You can view it here.

After watching a bad film, I have often lamented that “I can never get those two hours back.” Rest assured, any time spent watching these time-travel adventures will be worthwhile! 

The Time Machine (1960)

Time After Time

The Time Machine (2002)

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