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Set in the Victorian era, George Pal's production of The Time Machine (1960) is a faithful adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel in most respects except one - it omits the author's cynical observations about the British class system. Yet it's the main premise that has captivated audiences for years: A scientist (Rod Taylor) creates a time-traveling machine that carries him forward into the year 802,701 where he finds a strange new world populated by the Elois, a passive, peace-loving race, and their predators, the Morlocks, a cannibalistic tribe that lives underground and is light sensitive.
H. G. Wells always thought The Time Machine would make a compelling film but he never lived to see it become a motion picture; he died in 1946. However, his son, Frank, saw The War of the Worlds, a film version of his father's novel which was directed by George Pal in 1953. That convinced him that Pal was the man to bring The Time Machine to the screen. Unfortunately, Paramount Studios, which had produced The War of the Worlds, had no interest in the project. Undaunted, Pal and science fiction writer David Duncan shopped their screenplay around to various Hollywood studios without success until Pal journeyed to England to film tom thumb in 1958. It was there that he forged a friendship with Matthew Raymond, the head of the British MGM studio, who helped Pal put together a budget for The Time Machine.
The project was soon given the green light by producer Sol Siegel; he had screened a rough cut of tom thumb and realized Pal's unique talent for creating film fantasies. Nevertheless, Pal still faced the challenge of working with a modest budget, which meant changing his casting plans. Originally, the director had envisioned Paul Scofield or Michael Rennie or James Mason as the Time Traveler, but he eventually settled on a relatively unknown actor from Australia - Rod Taylor. For the key role of Weena, the Eloi girl who becomes the Traveler's link to the future, Pal chose MGM contract player Yvette Mimieux, whose option had just been dropped by the studio. The success of The Time Machine soon changed all that, and Mimieux went on to become one of MGM's most popular ingenues of the early sixties (Where the Boys Are, 1960; The Light in the Piazza, 1962; Joy in the Morning, 1965).
Besides the casting, the biggest challenges facing Pal on The Time Machine were the art direction and the special effects. For example, what would the time machine look like? In The Films of George Pal by Gail Morgan Hickman, the director said, "The design all started with a barber chair. Bill Ferrari, the art director, thought that was a good way to begin. A turn-of-the-century barber chair. Then he came up with the idea of the sled-like design. He sketched that out, and I liked it. And then he put the controls on the front. I thought it was a good idea....And then Bill said we needed something behind it to indicate movement. So he came up with the big, radarlike wheel." Cinematographer Paul Vogel worked out a lighting scheme to indicate the advance of time as Rod Taylor travels into the future on his "barber's chair"; a clear gel was used for daylight scenes, a pink one for dawn, an amber one for dusk, and a blue one for night. These were synchronized on a seven-foot circular shutter rotating at varying speeds to simulate the movement of the sun through the roof of the Time Traveler's greenhouse as the machine advances into the future. Other time changes were represented by blue-backed traveling mattes (the sequence where Taylor is entombed in rock) and the use of numerous background sets which were double-printed with scenes of the traveler in the stationary time machine.
Other special effects tricks included the destruction of London by a volcanic eruption (the lava was made out of oatmeal dyed red) and the hideous appearance of the Morlocks (green latex skin and grotesque masks fitted with electrical eyes, courtesy of makeup artist William Tuttle). In the end, all of the hard work paid off because The Time Machine won the Oscar® for Best Special Effects. Pal later admitted that he "would have loved to make a sequel having the Time Traveler go back in time, or - there was a great sequence which (was cut), it just didn't fit into our plot - to go back to the same place and then go further into the future when the crabs took over. It was very beautiful - I can just see Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux, just the two of them...go in there where the crabs are and the ocean is flat and doesn't move anymore and the sun is hot all the time. I think we could have developed a very interesting story of the loneliness of these two people."
Producer/Director: George Pal
Screenplay: David Duncan
Art Direction: George W. Davis, William Ferrari
Cinematography: Nicolas Vogel, Paul Vogel
Makeup: Sydney Guilaroff, William Tuttle
Film Editing: George Tomasini
Special Effects: Wah Chang, Gene Warren
Visual Effects: Howard A. Anderson, Bill Brace
Original Music: Russell Garcia
Principal Cast: Rod Taylor (George, H.G. Wells), Alan Young (David Filby/James Filby), Yvette Mimieux (Weena), Sebastian Cabot (Dr. Phillip Hillyer), Tom Helmore (Anthony Bridewell), Whit Bissell (Walter Kemp).
C-103m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning. Descriptive video.
by Jeff Stafford