Starring: Rod Taylor, Alan Young, Yvette Mimieux
Director: George Pal
Running Time: 103 mins
The Time Machine is an American film about a Victorian-era inventor who develops a time machine, prompting him to travel into the future to discover what will become of his home and the human race.
Based on the classic story written by the father of science fiction, H.G. Wells, The Time Machine isn’t just an entertaining voyage into the future, but a sharp, imaginative and in many ways prophetic vision of life ahead for humanity, complete with an enjoyable sense of wonder, good visual effects and a wonderful lead performance from Rod Taylor.
Of course, time travel is perfectly familiar to us in fiction nowadays, and it was too back in 1960 when this film was made. However, The Time Machine offers a slightly different, perhaps more grounded take on classic science fiction tropes as, after all, it is one of the stories that created most of those tropes in the first place.
Arguably simplistic on the surface, following an inventor as he journeys into the future, the film plays with riveting ideas and theories about the physical dimension of time, as well as societal changes over the course of human history, some of which have even been proved right already.
Wells’ predictive talents in his novels are well-known, and while this film adaptation, made 65 years after the original novel was written, takes the benefit of historical hindsight in a few cases, there are also elements to this story which hadn’t happened yet, and have still come to fruition.
Admittedly, some also haven’t, but it’s a testament to the fact that The Time Machine is more than just a light-hearted sci-fi adventure, but a story with real thought and rational imagination. Its ability to imagine and push the bounds of reality are entertaining, but the way that the film keeps that side of the story connected with real physical theory and fact is what makes it such a sharp, interesting watch.
As we follow our inventor even further into the future, eventually landing in the 8028th century, the movie begins to open up some equally riveting comments on the development, or in some cases, devolution of human society over time.
I won’t spoil anything for you, but the film’s second half, which takes place almost entirely in the far future, has some fascinating and genuinely sobering ideas that really make you think, giving real depth to what at first might seem like a rather silly science fiction movie.
Saying that, however, the biggest weakness of The Time Machine does come in its final act, as we lose a lot of that thematic depth for a rather generic action finale. It’s perfectly fun, but it has little of the emotional resonance of the film’s slower, more thoughtful sequences, proving a largely disappointing conclusion to an otherwise excellent watch.
Rod Taylor is a delight in the lead role, with just the right balance of zany, inventor-esque enthusiasm for his ideas, and Bond-like charisma that makes him a thoroughly entertaining hero to support along the way, especially as his remit goes from scientist to full-blown action hero later on in the story.
The movie also has some rather good special effects, especially for its time. Though nothing to write home about today, The Time Machine represents a major step forward from many of the Hollywood sci-fi productions of the 1950s, with The War Of The Worlds producer George Pal helming this film as director.
Overall, there’s a lot to like about The Time Machine. It’s not perfect all the way through, and perhaps misses the mark with a disappointingly simplistic finale, but for the most part, it’s an intelligent, imaginative and thought-provoking take on the ultimate trope of science fiction. Utilising hindsight in comparison to its source material as well as all the predictive powers of H.G. Wells, it proves a riveting and entertaining watch throughout, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.5.