The 59 Sci Fi Challenge: #4 The Time Machine (1960)

Dave is partaking in a death-defying one man high-stakes challenge that involves him watching movies. This is it.

Time Machine 1960 Rod Taylor

"I can't believe I travelled 800,000 years into the future and forgot my toothbrush"

H.G. Wells’ classic novel, brought to life with all the panash and hi-tech wizardry that 1960 has to offer. What’s not to love? Not much really. Double negatives aside, what I’m trying to say is, I liked it.

The Time Machine is the story of an inventor who invents a time machine. He then uses it to travel through time. Plot summary: check.

The Time Machine has some genuinely cool stuff in it. I like that the machine demands the user to sit in one spot and watch time move around him, rather than just quantum leaping from start to finish as we’ve come to expect. Watching time go past at the speed of a Benny Hill sketch is sort of hilarious, and with the use of stop-motion, an impressive and time-staking effect. Pun, of course, intended.

Speaking of effects, there are a lot of cool visuals going on in The Time Machine, clearly earning it its Visual Effects Oscar. The stop motion and model work is great for the most part, but a lot has dated, and dated badly. The volcanic magma streaming past London streetcars looks more like a kid spilling jam on his favourite toy car than anything. And don’t you dare question why there’s a volcano in London. But it’s all so kitsch and charming, you can’t help but admire the work that must have gone into it.

The film uses its knowledge of the 60+ years after the book was written to explore the horrors of humanity, through George’s central hope that humans would abandon wars in the future. Spoiler Alert: they don’t. He finds that things only get worse until he visits the apparent paradise of the year eight hundred and twenty one thousand and something something.

time machine 1960 morlocks

When the morlocks live. They're evil smurfs, basically.

Here he meets a group of braindead blondies and some grey-haired bluies. It’s all slightly reminiscent of Planet of the Apes, but with worse costume design. Then there’s some talk of revolution and him teaching them to be human again, but it’s all a bit ho-hum and even sexist. George keeps talking of someone who has to rise up and take action and lead the way. Naturally you would think it would be the female lead, Weena, the only person who shows any sort of initiative or curiosity in the film. But no, she’s just a woman and some random guy is left to throw the first punch. Not only that, but in the last conversation George and Weena have, all she talks about is her hair and how pretty she is while George smiles and and shakes his head knowingly. I mean, I know it was 1960, but come on.

I’ve got to mention the time machine itself. The thing is so ridiculous looking that it’s no wonder it became iconic. I’ve never seen another time machine like it on screen. It is incredibly cool in a steam-punk, Victorian kind of way, but nevertheless, it is ridiculous. Even a Delorean makes more sense than this contraption. Firstly, George makes no attempt to explain how it works. We are simply told that he built a time machine and that’s it, and it works. So shut up, that’s how! I know Back to the Future hid behind the mysterious flux capacitor, but at least they gave us plutonium and 1.2 gigawatts and some semblance of science. We are left to presume that George is travelling through time powered solely by the smugness of his own hairdo. Nevertheless, I’ve had a look at the original specs again and I think I’ve figured out how it all works:

Time Machine 1960 Rod Taylor blueprints miniature

Ya, that makes sense.

But who cares? It works, right? He proved it with his miniature model of the time machine that sent a cigar hurtling into the future. Which begs the question, if he could make a working time machine to that scale, why didn’t he make the actual model a little more portable? The thing is monstrously cumbersome. He could have at least stuck some wheels on it.

The Time Machine is a great watch. It’s got everything you could want in a 50s/60s sci fi: Victorian gadgets, threat of nuclear war, bad english accents, guys dressed up in creature costumes, blonde 60s hotties. It deserves its place in time.


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3 responses to “The 59 Sci Fi Challenge: #4 The Time Machine (1960)

  1. “Please excuse the crudity of this model. I didn’t have time to build it to scale or paint it.”

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