The Time Machine

The Time Machine (1960)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Rod Taylor, Alan Young, Yvette Mimieux
Extras: Documentary, Theatrical Trailer, Talent Files

’The Time Machine’ is producer/director George Pal’s cinematic interpretation of H.G. Wells’s classic tale of time travel. While Pal’s production departs from Wells’s storyline in many places, it remains true in spirit to the original and has become something of a classic in its own right. With this stunning DVD release, Warner Home Video has given fans of the film, and science fiction in general, something truly special.

’The Time Machine’ opens with guests arriving on the final eve of 1899 for a dinner party at the London home of inventor George Wells (Rod Taylor). He has invited them there to witness the unveiling of a small prototype of his newest creation — the time machine.

As he demonstrates the device, George becomes increasingly agitated by the seeming indifference of his friends who are unable to comprehend why a man would ever wish to travel through time. But Wells, whose pacifist nature has been strained by the ongoing Boer War, has hopes for a brighter future for mankind and, after bidding farewell to his guests, he secretly decides to take his full-scale time machine for a test drive.

As George slowly moves forward through time he becomes increasingly bold and jumps ahead ever further. With brief stops in 1918 and 1940, he bears witness to a Great Britain once again at war. With another stop in 1966, George sees the end of civilization as nuclear satellites rain out of the sky.
Convinced that it will take man a good long time to evolve beyond his war making ways, he jams the time travel lever to all ahead full.

Coming to a stop in the year 802,701 George stumbles upon what at first appears to be a perfect Eden populated by the gentle Eloi — whose every want and need is mysteriously and magically fulfilled. Thinking that he has found the true apex of man’s evolution, he becomes smitten with Weena (Yvette Mimieux), a young Eloi he saved from drowning, and begins to make himself at home.

But this Eden is only a mirage that conceals the darker secret of mankind’s development. For the real power rests with the hideous Morlocks, who come up out of their underground lair at night to feast upon their flock of placid Eloi. Faced with this harsh reality, the pacifist in George is forced to make some hard decisions. Escaping back to his own time, he relates this harrowing tale over a prearranged dinner with his friends which takes place a mere five days after their previous engagement. George must come to grips with all he has experienced and, whether his friends believe him or not, he must decide if mankind is really worth saving.

’The Time Machine’ is presented in its original 1.78:1 format and is <$16x9,anamorphic>ally enhanced. In a word, this transfer is exquisite. Colors are incredibly deep, never shifting or wavering, and display the full glory of the late 1950s/early 1960s color processes (in this case Metrocolor). Blacks are solid as well with even the finest gradations remaining separate. The image is very sharp, without resorting to edge enhancement, and all the smallest details, from the texture of a man’s suit to the individual petals of a flower, really stand out. A few close-up scenes display a bit of softness but it never lasts for long. In rare instances, some small imperfections in the source elements pop up as small white specks but this is never terribly distracting. I personally could not stop marvelling at how good the video looked and Warner Home Video has followed up their great transfer work on ’North by Northwest’ with yet another solid catalog offering.

The audio on the disc is a <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 remix of the film’s stereo soundtrack. Although originally released in mono, stereo recordings of Russell Garcia’s wonderful score were later found and reincorporated into the soundtrack. As far as 5.1 remixes go, this one is fairly good. Dialogue is always clear and anchored firmly to the center channel. The score has very nice range and spreads to envelop the entire front soundstage. In only a few instances do the rear speakers come alive with the sounds of aircraft and bombs overhead. All in all the audio is very good and the new mix doesn’t try to stretch the original materials too far beyond their means.

As for extras, ’The Time Machine’ contains a documentary entitled ’The Time Machine: The Journey Back,’ which is hosted by Rod Taylor and features appearances by Alan Young and Whit Bissell, among others. This 50-minute feature covers many aspects of the film’s production from the wonderful special effects (done on a very small budget but quite impressive nonetheless) to an exploration of the theme of time travel in the movies. Rod Taylor obviously has a soft spot for ’The Time Machine’ and his enthusiasm is infectious.

Rounding out the extras is the very entertaining original theatrical trailer and talent files on the major stars and George Pal. And now we get to the only real complaint I have with this DVD. The packaging lists a music-only track as a bonus feature but, unfortunately, said track is nowhere to be found. I don’t mind the fact that a feature had to be left out, for whatever reason, but it is incumbent upon the studio to make sure that the packaging reflects any last-minute changes. We see errors like this slip by far too often and it is grossly unfair that consumers are mislead in such a manner. For this reason alone, Warner gets a slap on the wrist. Bad studio, bad.

’The Time Machine’ is classic science fiction at its very best. The film is not afraid to take its time in presenting the story and, as a result, the themes it explores are well thought out and amply illustrated by George Pal’s signature miniature and effects work. From the lush matte paintings to the stop-motion construction and destruction of entire new worlds, the special effects are perfectly integrated into the story and never seem out of place — even though you will never once mistake them for real. If only many of the latest CGI-fests could say the same.

Strong performances by all involved ensure that even the slightest bit of campiness doesn’t creep into a movie that isn’t afraid to take itself seriously. Sure, it can seem a bit earnest at times but that’s half the charm of this 40-year-old film.
’The Time Machine’ is a classic that can be enjoyed by all but the youngest members of the family (The Morlocks and some scenes of decomposition may be a bit extreme for the wee ones). Warner Home Video has really delivered the goods with this DVD release and given this gem of a movie the care it so richly deserves (missing isolated score not withstanding).