A group of four friends assemble in a Victorian house five days after New Year's Day 1900, as requested by their other friend George (Rod Taylor), and wonder as they sit and wait what has become of him, as he seems to have disappeared into his lab. An amateur scientist, they know he has been obsessed with moving into the fourth dimension of time to find out if the world which so dismays him will ever improve, but when he crashes into the drawing room with torn clothing, bruised and battered, they are dumbfounded. After offering him a drink, they sit and listen to the story of where he claims to have been: the future.
After his big success with his adaptation of War of the Worlds, George Pal decided to adapt another H.G. Wells science fiction classic, with entertaining results. As with the previous film, this Wellsian fantasy was expensively produced but retained more of the philosophical themes of its source, yet remained far more simplified, some would say simplistic, in its approach which has left many Wells fans grumbling when they saw how the material was treated. The opening scene of genteel society being disrupted is echoed throughout the film, even if the source's concerns over class were rather fantastically replaced with straightforward adventuring; rest assured, the doom predictions were still intact.
The traveller is dissatisfied with modern life with its constant wars, and is forlorn to find that, as he goes into the future, the wars not only continue, but get worse - there's a nuclear war in 1966 that devastates the world. Funny how visions of the future always involve massive wars, isn't it? Still, it offers the opportunity for some decent special effects sequences as Pal spared no expense in creating his futurescapes, whether it was in set design or stop motion animation to denote the speeding through the decades, then the centuries. This marked his work as one of the most colourful of cinema's dystopias, which has often left it regarded as best as a introduction to Wells for children.
When George reaches the Eloi, he discovers a people who are not only childlike themselves, but entirely apathetic and caring nothing for history or culture. Even worse, they are being terrorised by the Morlocks, a subterranean race who are violent and brutish, just the sort of nightmare material for 1960 audiences, especially when the big reveal is that they are cannibals hungry for Eloi flesh. So the future doesn't look too bright, especially as the after-effects of wars are felt far after the event. As the traveller, Rod Taylor is a curious mix of intellectual and man of action, but he makes a solid hero for the purposes of this telling, if a little too easily exasperated.
On the other hand, Yvette Mimieux as the gentle Weena must surely be one of the most wimpy heroines in science fiction, all the more frustrating for not being able to be woken up from her mild stupor by George giving her a good shake. Interestingly, evil is not vanquished by the finale of The Time Machine, yet the mood is optimistic: all the future needs is some education, though the familiar theme of science fiction as mapped out by the nineteen-fifties was plain to see. That being, this was not about how the future was shot to hell if we did not take care to look after our world and the people on it, but the fears for the present day, as not for nothing did Pal offer a nuclear armageddon so soon after his film was produced. Call it a warning; while The Time Machine had more brains than the Eloi, it was basically a rip-roaring adventure movie, and is fondly remembered by many. Music by Russell Garcia. Watch for: the glowing eyes on the Morlocks. Remade to unimpressive effect in 2002.