Somewhere in Time

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  • Year: 1980
  • Director: Jeannot Szwarc
  • Starring: Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour, Christopher Plummer

Well, it’s finally time to talk about the longest episode of The Twilight Zone ever. No, you haven’t clicked on the wrong review—I consider Somewhere in Time to be a 100-minute episode of The Twilight Zone. Don’t get me wrong, because I like The Twilight Zone, but you could easily compress this story into 25 minutes, add some Rod Serling narration around it, and you’d have an episode.

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Richard Collier, a playwright trapped in the wrong time. He’s fallen in love with an image of a woman and will stop at nothing to be with her. He will embark on a journey out of his own time, and into The Twilight Zone.

Sure, Somewhere in Time doesn’t have aliens, monsters, or supernatural beings, but we forget that only a percentage of The Twilight Zone did. Episodes like “Miniature” dealt with taboo love and featured fantasy themes. Oh, and Richard Matheson, the author of the book that became Somewhere in Time, wrote 16 episodes of The Twilight Zone.

The film starts with college student Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) being given a watch by a mysterious old woman, who tells him “Come back to me.” Unlike any other college student, who would sell the thing, he holds onto it. Eight years later, he checks into the Grand Hotel in Chicago to hopefully write his next play. While there, he falls in love becomes obsessed with a portrait, which he later finds out is of turn-of-the-century actress Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour).

Of course, it was an aged McKenna who gave him the watch back in 1972, before dying that very night. Collier does some research into time travel with his old professor Dr. Finney. The way time travel is approached is one of the best things about this film, because it’s not in a time machine, but rather through the power of one’s mind. Dr. Finney suggests Richard take away any affects from the current time, so he buys older clothes and money, lies down, focuses, and eventually does end up in the Grand Hotel in 1912.

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He is very lucky no one was on this bed.

Honestly, the scenes up until this point are very well done. Sure, it seems a little silly that Richard falls in love with a portrait, even with the whole watch thing, but the intrigue grows as he delves more and more into Elise’s past and the possibility of time travel. This film really makes us feel that if time travel was possible in the real world, it would be something cerebral like this.

When Richard arrives in 1912, he tries to find Elise and somehow explain everything, knowing that leading with “I stared at your picture for hours” might not be the best pick-up line. He eventually does meet up with her, but he discovers she is constantly followed around by her agent, William Fawcett Robinson. Robinson is played by a ventriloquist doll done up to look like Christopher Plummer.

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Way too much of Plummer’s performance consists of him standing still in one place, while his mouth moves up-and-down unnaturally. In addition, this is just a thinly-drawn character—the agent who has trained his protege from a young age and wants no one else to have any involvement in her life, while clearly being in love with her himself…Warning-light

Well that’s my warning light that any-and-all Celine Dion jokes are too soon, so I’m just gonna move on here. After constantly pursuing Elise to a level that some (you know, law enforcement officers and linguists) may call stalking, Richard finally convinces Elise to spend an afternoon with him, even if it is against the wish of Captain Von Charlie McCarthy. He’s convinced that his actress falling in love may interfere with her career, because 1910s and old standards of gender… you get the picture.

After one whole afternoon together, Richard and Elise decide they’re in love. She gives Richard a ticket to her play that night… where she changes an entire monologue just to show her love. Look, Disney movies get criticized a lot for showing romances that happen too quickly, and while that’s a discussion for another time, this is allegedly a movie for adults. I could maybe understand Elise being crazy for the first man she meets, because her agent is so controlling, but Richard has had at least one long-term relationship in the past. He knows how these things work. Neither one of our romantic leads is mentally stable, and I don’t think that’s what this movie was going for… or maybe it is and this is even more like an episode of The Twilight Zone than I originally thought.

How hard would it have been to show two or three dates? I’m not saying they have to be together for a long time, because Elise’s play is only in town for a short while, but the director could have at least respected the audience enough to show them a week’s worth of dates. Anyway, Robinson locks Richard in a stable overnight and tries to convince Elise that he’s gone, but of course she stays behind and finds him. They then participate in 1912 sex, which I think involves the Titanic somehow… I’m not really sure.

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Early in the morning, they begin to plan their lives together, because at the rate they’re going, why not. The breakneck pace of their romance aside, the chemistry between Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour is very good. I was actually enjoying this scene, until it had to be an episode of The Twilight Zone and not give us a happy ending.

Richard is showing Elise his suit and all of the pockets… oh this is so stupid. I almost can’t talk about this, because it’s so stupid.

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Richard is showing Elise his suit and all of the pockets, including one that holds his change. He takes out a penny from 1979 and is pulled back into 1980 as she screams his name.

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Richard Collier never felt at home in his own time, but he soon found out the sad truth that even the invention of time travel could not stop that great god, money… You know what, I never wrote anything this stupid. If I wrote a twist ending, at least it made good sense. 

It would appear I have been far too kind to Somewhere in Time. It is not an episode of The Twilight Zone at all, but rather an episode of The Outer Limits. Basically a lesser Twilight ZoneThe Outer Limits (the reboot in particular), relied heavily on twist endings that existed just to be dark and make the audience feel like crap.

Oh but this movie takes it one step farther. Arriving back in 1980, Richard tries to go back to 1912, but he cannot. He then sits in his room, refuses to eat anything, and dies of a broken heart. Hey, at your next class reunion, check-up on that pretentious kid from your 12th grade writing class, because I think he’s written a screenplay.

In the famous final scene, Richard and Elise are reunited in heaven, Richard at the age he died and Elise at the age she knew Richard, because apparently nothing else important ever happened to her. This scene would be much better if they showed Elise’s agent in the background, still trying to prevent Richard from talking to her, but perhaps they weren’t going for comedy here.

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Well, I’ve talked about cult classics before, but this is such a cult classic that I’m pretty sure you can register your religion as Somewhere in Time Fan. This movie has its own fan club that meets in the Grand Hotel in Chicago every year to watch the movie and presumably burn all pennies from after 1912. So why do people like this movie so much?

First of all, the music is outstanding. John Barry’s hauntingly beautiful score sounds like something out of the era, and it fits the lush landscapes of the film perfectly. As I mentioned above, the chemistry between Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour works when they actually get the chance to show it off. There’s also a nice little nod to how we look at the past with Richard thinking his suit is fine as it’s early 20th century, but people keep telling him it’s 10 years too old. The costumes and set pieces really do make you feel like you’re in 1912, but unfortunately this leads to that old complaint of style over substance. When you get down to it, there just isn’t much substance here. Let’s look at the final score.

Story (10/30 Points)

Before Richard arrives in 1912, the story is pretty engaging. After he does, however, it’s really predictable and unsatisfying. The ending is frustrating, not because our lovers don’t get a happily ever after (There are endless romantic classics that end with couples not being together), but because of the terribly shoehorned way it’s done.

Cast (17/30 Points)

Reeve and Seymour do alright with what they’re given, but they barely have anything to work with. Christopher Plummer must have gotten some bad direction here or something, because his performance is really bizarre and wooden. He’ll make up for it in an upcoming time travel movie though, so don’t worry.

Experience (22/25 Points)

The film’s theme is the best part, by far. Heck, I would argue it tells a better love story than the film itself. Somewhere in Time is beautiful to look at and listen to, so I completely understand the love it gets in this category.

Originality (7/15 Points)

The way time travel is approached is very original. I actually like that there’s no time machine beyond one’s own mind. Everything else is something we’ve seen before.

FINAL SCORE: 56%

I’m glad I saw it, but I can’t imagine it being one I’ll be dying to see again anytime soon, although I may pull up the soundtrack every now and then. If Somewhere In Time is a guilty pleasure, or you think it’s just a good movie people don’t give a fair shake, I get it, but it’s just not for me. The twist ending followed by death from a broken heart is so dark and stupid all at once that it loses credibility in my book.

Next week, I’ll be back (sorry, had to) with my review of The Terminator.

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Time After Time

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  • Year: 1979
  • Director: Nicholas Meyer
  • Starring: Malcolm McDowell, David Warner, Mary Steenburgen

After ten versions of A Christmas CarolAnd Then  There Were None, and last week’s The Time Machine, I am finally writing about a film that is not based on classic literature… sort of. 1979’s Time After Time is actually about H.G. Wells, but it imagines him in a world where he has actually discovered time travel.

We meet our hero, a heavily fictionalized H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell), who is apparently holding the annual mustache and beard competition at his home.

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Seriously, this guy has a mustache on his face and another on his forehead.

Wells shows his friends the time machine he has invented, as well the Deus Ex Machina Vaporizing Equalizer, that if pulled out of the machine will override lazy writing to reach a happy ending  send the traveler hurling through limbo for eternity. This raises so many questions. Why would an inventor put this in his machine? If it was somehow inevitable, why would he put it in plain view where anyone can just pull it out? Why isn’t it taped off or something? Didn’t someone tell the screenwriter that this should have been just a little more subtle? The only way this could have been more obvious would be if Anton Chekov was at the dinner, held up a gun, and said “Hey, they’re gonna use this in the third act.”

The party is interrupted by two Scotland yard policemen, who are afraid Jack the Ripper has struck again. While investigating the house, they discover an incriminating medical bag, but the owner has already escaped. Dr. Stevenson, played by The Great One, David Warner, has of course gotten into the time machine and taken off. Since he didn’t have the key, the machine returns and Wells follows him into the future.

After a long and very trippy acid sequence, featuring a lot of audio clips from the early 20th century, Wells arrives at an exhibit dedicated to himself in 1979 San Francisco. There is never an explanation given why he ends up in San Francisco instead of London, and while Wells is very confused at first, he just kind of accepts it. I don’t usually like trying to break down the science of time travel fiction, as it’s all theory anyway, but in-universe this should have been explained.

Wells tries to track down Stevenson, going to various banks to see if he had been exchanging any money. Unfortunately, along the way, he has to participate in every single fish-out-of-water cliche imaginable.

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Legendary writer H.G. Wells pondering a french fry

At one of these banks, he meets Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen), who is instantly smitten with him. Between H.G. Wells, Doc Brown and Ted Danson, what is it with Mary Steenburgen falling in love with men born in a different century? Their romance goes exactly as you’d expect—awkward attraction, quickly falling in love, he debates when to tell her the truth, she doesn’t believe him until he gives her physical evidence, Jack the Ripper tries to kill her…

There are a lot of predictable, run-of-the-mill tropes in Time After Time, but there is one thing that is exceptional—David Warner as Jack the Ripper. In my book, if you can convincingly portray Bob Cratchit and Jack the Ripper, your range as an actor is practically limitless.

Unlike Wells, Jack the Ripper aka John Leslie Stevenson fits into 1979 wonderfully. The scene in his hotel room where he and Wells are discussing modern society is probably the best in the film. Wells tries to make his former friend come with him, saying they don’t belong in this time period. Stevenson agrees that Wells is in the wrong time period, but sits him down to prove that he is in the right one. Flipping through channels of war movies, cartoon violence, and news footage, Stevenson declares, “I’m home,” and even notes he’s an amateur in comparison to other criminals in 1979.

Warner’s performance is terrifyingly chilling, and most of all subtle. This is a bit of a lighthearted movie, so you might expect the villain to be a scenery-chewing stock character, but he’s quite the opposite. His scenes are genuinely creepy, with most of his lines being spoken in an almost whisper. Heck, even when he doesn’t speak, his brilliant acting comes through. There’s a scene where he’s walking through the nightlife of San Francisco, getting ready for his next attack. Just by his expressions, we see all the sick sexual pleasure he gets out of his killing.

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Even the brooding theme that plays when Stevenson is on screen is the best music in the movie. The cat-and-mouse game between Wells and Stevenson is enthralling, but that brings me to a big issue—it’s a romantic comedy where the antagonist is Jack the Ripper. If you want a charming fish-out-water love story, that’s fine, but when you mix in one of the most threatening villains in human history, it’s a tough feat to pull off. The scene pictured above, where Stevenson prowls for his next victim, is inexplicably spliced with scenes of Wells and Amy on their date.

When Wells takes Amy a few days into the future to prove the machine is real, they discover she will be Stevenson’s fifth victim. They go back in time to try to prevent the fourth, which they can’t do on their own due to a flat tire. Amy gives Wells a dime to call the police, even though payphones have never charged for a 911 call, and of course the police don’t believe him. They take him in for knowing so much about the murder and withhold his valuables in a scene that exists just to say “Hey remember when this happened to Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange?”. These police scenes contain yet another run of cliches that happen in every story where the lead knows something that no one will believe. Oh, but there’s one big whopper of a cliche left, and it’s one of the worst in all of cinema.

In case you can’t tell from this review, I love smart villains. Stevenson is shown to at least be Wells’ intellectual equal, and is actually shown to have much more street smarts than him, blending into a new society wonderfully. So why on earth in the third act does he suddenly lose IQ points? This final act should follow his brilliant evil plan, but it really doesn’t seem like something he’s mapped out well.

Wells tells the police to get officers to Amy’s apartment, and when they get there too late, they let Wells go. Stevenson has actually killed Amy’s friend, and lures Wells to him, so he can trade her for the time machine key. Haven’t movie villains learned that taking hostages never ends well? Stevenson has been built up as someone who could get the key anytime he wanted, just based on his wits, and now he’s resorting to something only a man who is out of options would do.

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Wells takes on an extra heap of stupidity too, as he gives Stevenson the key. Stevenson doesn’t keep his word, and forces Amy to drive him to the museum where the machine is located. Again, in the time it would have taken for Amy and Wells to get to the police and explain everything, Stevenson could have easily hailed a cab and gone into the future. Does he really have to kill this one woman? He has the machine that will let him commit endless murders throughout history and never get caught, and he insists on killing a lone San Franciscan in 1979. I would get it if he held some kind of grudge against Wells, but that is never even hinted at.

Wells gets in Amy’s car (the key is conveniently in the ignition) and poorly chases Stevenson through the streets of San Francisco. Arriving at the museum, Stevenson is still insistent on killing her, but as he gets out his musical pocket watch (a trademark of all his killings), Amy runs away from him and towards Wells. As Stevenson starts the machine, Wells pulls out the plot contrivance Vaporizing Equalizer and sends Stevenson into limbo.

Alright, even if Stevenson insists on taking Amy as far as the museum, why does he take her inside? He has no sexual interest in her, saying he doesn’t find her “particularly attractive—his only intent is to kill her. If he really wants to do that, why doesn’t he slice her throat the second she parks the car, and then quickly run inside to the machine? Wells would be grief-stricken and probably wouldn’t get to the machine in time.

I’m not saying that the villain should win in this movie, because that’s not what the audience wants. I’m just saying that the way the villain is defeated is obviously a last-minute addition. Sorry, but there’s no way the Vaporizing Equalizer was in the first draft of this thing. Someone just said “Hmm, our villain’s too smart. How do we defeat him?” and the response was “Magical off-switch.” Even worse, in-story it was H.G. Wells, one of the greatest writers of all time, who created this plot device. Is this some kind of meta joke I’m missing? I take notes while I watch these movies, mostly observations or things I may forget while writing, but all I could write here was “This ending is awful, just awful.” My thoughts remain the same.

Wells takes about 10 seconds to convince Amy to come back with him, because you know, love I guess. Amy Robbins was the name of H.G. Wells second wife… whom he openly cheated on, and who died twenty years before him, so yay happy endings all around.

Oh, this premise had so much potential. H.G. Wells invents a time machine and chases Jack the Ripper into the future. Think about how cool that sounds, but unfortunately it relies on too many “observing the future” jokes. H.G. Wells wrote the work of time travel fiction, so wouldn’t he understand the future might not be at all what he is expecting? There are still a few jokes that work, like when Wells finds the books he will one day write and calls them “Fiction, I hope.” This is funny enough in its own right, but is even funnier when viewed as a reference to the infamous Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast. Beyond this one, however, a lot of the jokes are tired, and there is even the occasional one that doesn’t make sense.

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Um, this film is set in 1979, the same year in which it was made. There had not been an Exorcist III made yet, and it wouldn’t be until 1990. It would make sense to have this joke if the movie was set a few years in the future, but it’s set in the present day. Plus, it’s not like Exorcist films were coming at a rapid pace—the first came out in 1973 and the second in 1977. That was it. Well I’ve had enough of that tangent, so let’s take a look at the final score.

Story (14/30 Points)

Time After Time has such a great concept, and the back-and-forth between Wells and Stevenson is exciting. The romance between Wells and Amy is fairly dull and predictable, but it’s still sweet. The third act is just plain embarrassing, and that’s the major reason for this score.

Cast (24/30 Points)

David Warner is perfect as Jack the Ripper, making the most of every scene he’s in. His facial expressions before and during his killings say so much, and even in the poorly-written third act, he elevates the material. I’m fine with McDowell and Steenburgen, as they’re both great actors. They just have so little to work with here, that they can only be charming and not stellar.

Experience (13/25 Points)

The score is pretty nice, the last in the legendary career of composer Miklós Rózsa (Ben Hur). His Jack the Ripper theme is especially memorable. The time travel effects do not hold up, and while the shots of San Francisco are nice, there isn’t really much spectacular to see here.

Originality (9/15 Points)

Great concept, bad execution. Beyond that, the design of the machine is nowhere near as lavish as the one in 1960’s The Time Machine, and a lot of this is just stuff we’ve seen before.

FINAL SCORE: 60%

If you don’t mind a predictable but good-natured romantic comedy, you’ll be entertained. For me, it’s worth seeing for the performance of David Warner alone, who commands the picture with a creepiness that belongs in a dark thriller. Maybe Time After Time was trying to have something for everyone, and I suppose you’ll probably find something you like in it. It’s just a bit inconsistent.

Next week, it’s another romantic time-travel movie when I review 1980’s Somewhere in Time.

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The Time Machine (1960)

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  • Year: 1960
  • Director: George Pal
  • Starring: Rod Taylor, Alan Young, Yvette Mimieux

I thought it would be only appropriate if we began the Movie Match-Up of time travel movies with an adaptation of the very first time travel story ever written… but since it is excruciatingly hard to find a film about King Revaita of Hindu folklore, I’ve settled on this.

Of course time travel stories are nearly as old as fiction itself, and even Rip van Winkle and A Christmas Carol fall into the genre. However, our modern concepts of time travel and a time machine proper come from H.G. Wells’ 1895 novella The Time Machine, where an unnamed time traveler goes to the year 802,701 and discovers some unsettling truths about future society.

George Pal’s The Time Machine was made in 1960, and it does show in places. Just look at the film’s opening.

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It is an area which we call The Homage Zone.

The time traveler is given more character than in the book, although a lot of this simply comes from the fact that he’s played by Rod Taylor. Taylor may never have been a major movie star, but he always commanded the room he was in, bringing his resonant voice and signature charm to every scene. If I merely read the script of this film, I would probably criticize the over-narration of the lead, but when Rod Taylor’s narrating, I let it go.  The time traveler is also named George here, but a look at the actual time machine reveals his full name to be H. George Wells, which is a nice little Easter egg.

On New Years’ Eve 1899, George has four friends over to show off his newest invention. The most skeptical and outspoken of these is played by Sebastian Cabot, who brings a lot to his few scenes. Like Taylor, Cabot was an actor who exuded charisma simply by being on screen. George’s best friend, David Filby, is played by Alan Young, who portrays him as a better friend than anyone has ever deserved.

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For Disney fans keeping track, that’s Pongo, Bagheera, and Scrooge McDuck in the same room.

He also has two other friends, who I think are just happy to be there.

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One of these actors is named Whit Bissell, make of that what you will.

George shows them a miniature display of his time machine, which of course all of them except Filby scoff at, even when it disappears into the future. Thankfully, these scenes are not rushed, and we get a lot of atmosphere and build-up before we see the actual time machine around the 25-minute mark.

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Now is there any practical reason for the machine to look like this? Of course not, but it has such a colorful, unique look to it that it’s become iconic. Plus, George is shown to be an inventor of clocks, which similarly only share one purpose, but come in all colors and designs.

As opposed to the book where the time traveler goes 800,000 years into the future without stopping in another year, the film takes its time, first going hours, then days, then years into the future. This mainly exists to show off some time-lapse photography, which was groundbreaking in 1960. While the book was written in 1895 and set presumably in the same time, the movie has the advantage of being written “in the future.” George starts in 1899, but gets to see World War I and World War II.

The first year he gets out is 1915, where he mistakes James Filby (also Alan Young) for his father David, and tragically discovers that David Filby died in the war. He skips right through World War II and stops in 1966 where World War III, a nuclear war of course, is taking place. George meets James Filby, now an old man, who tries to rush George into a bomb shelter.

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Thankfully not everyone in the near future is wearing these strange metallic clothes, but it’s kind of distracting, and it is only six years later. Even more distracting are the effects used in the bombing of London.

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Jimmy, stop playing with your toy cars while eating your oatmeal.

The bombing causes volcanoes to explode as well, because… reasons, and eventually (after way too long) George gets back into his time machine. For millennia, he is encased in a rock wall, until it erodes and civilization is finally rebuilt again. Just like in the book, he finally stops at 802,701 A.D.

Aside from a few obviously painted backgrounds, the future sets are really good. You immediately get taken in by the look and feel of these scenes.

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Although most of the future looks like a paradise, there is this closed-off building with a foreboding sphinx-like head, which has a very creative design. The sphinx does not really resemble the Eloi or the Morlocks, the two creatures that live in this future, but it perhaps shows something of this world’s past that once existed.

George first meets the Eloi, a youthful culture that he initially assumes have created this paradise. He is quite proud that this is what humanity has turned into, until he sees them ignore one of their own, Weena (Yvette Mimieux), when she is drowning. Yeah, I know they’re supposed to be gender-less but come on.

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The characterization of the Eloi and Morlcoks here is both very similar to the book and very different. On the surface, it appears to be about the same—the Eloi live above ground and reap the benefits of the Edenic world, while the Morlocks live underground and breed the Eloi like cattle.

In Wells’ novel, when the time traveler first arrives in the future, he believes that perfect Communism has been achieved, with no conflict whatsoever. However, he soon finds out that the Morlocks are the working class, forming an underground uprising (literally) against the upper-class Eloi. Now, to be fair, they are succeeding, but they are far from finished. For what it’s worth, Wells himself was a socialist, but not a Communist.

The film version is not making a statement on Communism though, but rather nuclear war. This dates it, yes, but I think it’s in the spirit of the book. Hear me out. The book was written in 1895, when Communism was all the buzz. Wells envisioned a far distant future where this was still being played out. In the 1950s and ’60s, everyone was talking about nuclear war and how it was going to wipe out mankind. This film envisions a future in which nuclear war has shaped every aspect of life.

When George inquires about history, Weena shows him rings that play recordings of how mankind de-evolved into the Eloi and Morlocks.

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Sure, this is a way for the film to quickly explain the history up until this point, but it’s such a unique idea that it makes you forget that. It also helps that they’re voiced by Paul Frees, who makes the dark subject matter sound even more ominous. What could have been a scene of pure exposition turns into one of the most memorable scenes of the whole film.

George learns that after the nuclear war, some remained underground while others went above. Presumably, the hundreds of thousands of years turned each into the creatures they now are. He calls it a “quirk of fate” that the Morlocks are the ones in control.

The implications of a post-nuclear world are taken even further in one of the film’s best images. At night, the Morlocks call the Eloi underground to eat them with an air raid siren. I have to admit this is pretty ingenious. After years and years of nuclear war and paranoia, the human mind has developed an instinct to automatically go underground when it hears the air raid siren. One of the Eloi who survives even says, “It is all clear.”

Just like Wells, director George Pal and screenwriter David Duncan are taking something from their own time, and creating a future based on that. It’s like if today, someone did an adaptation where the time traveler goes into the distant future and discovers that every movie, TV show, and book is a remake or adaptation.

Due to the changes from the book, and the fact that this a movie from 1960, the lines of good and evil are much clearer. The Morlocks are clearly the bad guys, and the Eloi are the sympathetic ones who just need a helping hand at restarting civilization. While the Eloi are shown here as the “more human” of the two, I give the film credit for giving the Morlocks some human qualities.

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Perhaps putting Phil Spector in charge of hair and make-up wasn’t the best idea.

The Morlocks are defeated with fire for the time, which is much more heroic than the book’s account of the traveler accidentally starting a forest fire and killing Weena. George’s machine re-appears, and although it is a trap set by the Morlocks, he escapes in time. Returning to the present, George recounts his story to his friends, but then takes off again with three books to help the Eloi rebuild society and defeat the Morlocks for good. The final scene between George and Filby, where both know they may not see the other again but won’t vocalize it, definitely leaves an impact.

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A direct adaptation of Wells’ novel would be both very short and probably pretty boring. It’s a great novel, but an accurate film version would not leave the viewer satisfied at all. I think this movie was trying to be what we today call a “popcorn movie,” while still going after some deeper themes. The nuclear war stuff is a bit heavy-handed, but there are still some clever things done with the material.

This is a film that clearly had a lot of love put into it, and it makes for some great escapist entertainment. Russell Garcia’s main theme is marvelous, and the music that plays when the audience first sees the time machine is both adventurous and ominous. The few bad special effects aside, the sets are well done, and even the time-lapse photography has its charms. I’ve actually gone back to this film many times through the years, and I’ve always enjoyed it for what it is. Let’s see the final score.

Story (20/30 Points)

The time traveler in the book was more of an observer, and actually had a negative impact on the events. George is more of a dashing hero here, and the very simple story is expanded just a bit. The added arc with David Filby’s death is rightfully heartbreaking.

Cast (26/30 Points)

Rod Taylor and Alan Young are both wonderful in their respective parts, bringing characters who may have been thin on paper to life. Yvette Mimieux also does well as the simple-minded Weena, and Sebastian Cabot is a good intellectual foil to George and Filby.

Experience (19/25 Points)

The London bombing scene is just awful, and some of the painted backgrounds stand out. That said, Pal does a good job of building atmosphere in both 1899 and 802,701, and the music is incredible.

Originality (13/15 Points)

It’s a bit tough to judge this category for an adaptation, but the steam-punk design of the time machine and the looming sphinx show a lot of creativity. I know the sphinx was in the book too, but the image just sticks with you here. The talking rings were completely original, and they fit right in.

Final Score: 78%

It is an imperfect film, but the charms far outweigh the flaws. If you’re not a fan of the Old Hollywood-style of film making, you might not agree, but for me it’s a perfectly enjoyable film. It says something that there wasn’t another theatrical film version until 2002, and… well I’ll withhold my feelings until we get there.

Next week, history and fiction blend with 1979’s Time After Time.

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Introduction: Time Travel Movies

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After reviewing ten versions of the exact same story, I wanted to do something with a little more variety. At first, time travel movies seem like a limited genre, but just look at the list above. We’ve got romance (Somewhere in Time), a classic action film (The Terminator), a psychological thriller (12 Monkeys), pure science fiction (Primer), a high school movie (Back to the Future) and everything in between. While we’re at it, I know three of these films have popular sequels, but I’ll only be taking a look at the original product. Sure, there are two versions of The Time Machine, but they are drastically different films.

I’ll be grading a bit differently for this match-up, seeing as how it is more of a general topic:

Story: 30 Points

Cast: 30 Points

Experience: 25 Points

Originality: 15 Points

time machine

I thought it would be only appropriate if we began the Movie Match-Up of time travel movies with an adaptation… (More)

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After ten versions of A Christmas CarolAnd Then  There Were None, and last week’s The Time Machine, I am finally writing… (More)

sit

Well, it’s finally time to talk about the longest episode of The Twilight Zone ever. No, you haven’t clicked on the wrong review… (More)

Terminator1984movieposter

Of all the time travel films in this Movie Match-Up, The Terminator is the one least associated with the genre. The conflict of the film… (More)

Back_to_the_Future

Even if you’ve never seen Back to the Future, there’s a very high chance you’ve seen if referenced, homaged, or parodied in pop culture… (More)

bill

I need to make an apology. I really should have swapped this one out for Time Bandits. I left Time Bandits out… (More)

monkeys

Unlike every other entry in this Match-Up, there is a possibility that 12 Monkeys is not a time travel movie at all… (More)

time machine

Sure, George Pal’s 1960 The Time Machine is a lot of fun, but it isn’t a classic in the sense that another… (More)

primer

Primer is one of those movies where the director, screenwriter, producer, and lead actor are all the same person… (More)

looper

See if this sounds familiar. Bruce Willis goes back in time to prevent a disaster from happening… (More)

FINAL THOUGHTS

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And Then There Were None (2015)

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I’ll be back with the next Movie Match-Up soon, but I just saw something that’s worth a review. BBC recently aired a three-episode adaptation of one of the greatest mystery novels of all time, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (previously Ten Little Indians, previously something even worse.) Sure, this is a book that has been adapted many times before, but not usually like this. Before we continue, there will be spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book, read it and come back. It will be worth your time.

And Then There Were None tells the tale of ten people, all lured to a desolate island for different reasons, some are promised vacation or a reunion with old friends, another a job. When they arrive, they find out the similarity between them—they are all responsible for someone’s death, but for one reason or another have gotten off the hook. They then begin to be killed, one-by-one.

Sure, Agatha Christie did not invent the now-stock mystery plot that is the premise here. Some would argue that it originates from 1930’s The Invisible Host, later adapted into the film The Ninth Guest, but the idea of a closed-off crime with a small list of suspects has been around forever, and this just takes it a bit farther. The reason And Then There Were None is the one we remember is that it does it so well.

There have been plenty of film adaptations prior to this, but none of the English-language ones are faithful to the book’s bleak ending. Like in the play version (written by Christie herself), Vera Claythorne and Philip Lombard fall in love and leave the island together. Well, in some versions it’s not really Lombard, but some guy pretending to be Lombard… the point is it’s a really shoehorned twist that makes no sense.

Finally, finally we get an English version that does the story right. (By the way, there is a Russian version that also keeps the ending if that interests you.)  The 1945 film is probably the best of the changed adaptations, but even that was way too lighthearted. To be fair, it had to fit the Hays Code, but the final one-liner (Are the others ready too? You call them) really makes the plot out to be a bit of a joke.

Most of the characters in the 2015 series are even more unsympathetic than their book counterparts. When the novel’s General MacArthur discovered his wife was having an affair, he pulled a King David and sent her lover on a mission he would never survive. In the series, he kills him in cold blood. Similarly, Thomas and Ethel Rogers’ crime is upgraded from withholding medicine to smothering with a pillow. Thomas is also shown to be a domestic abuser, in addition to the emotional one he clearly is in the book. William Blore’s crime is changed from giving a false testimony to beating a homosexual criminal to death, with subtle hints being dropped that Blore himself is in the closet (Watch his interactions with both the perpetrator and Dr. Armstrong.).

The casting is spot-on, with every actor falling right into the character they are cast as. Most of these are actors you probably know from something, particularly the older ones. There’s Sam Neill from Jurassic Park as General MacArthur, Miranda Richardson as Emily Brent, and Charles Dance as Justice Wargrave. The lesser-known Maeve Dermody plays Vera Claythorne and Aidan Turner (Kili in The Hobbit trilogy) is Phillip Lombard. The one who manages to rise above the superb cast is Toby Stephens as Dr. Armstrong. Stephens, who while we’re at it is still the best Jay Gatsby ever on screen, plays Dr. Armstrong as a nervous man who is very remorseful for the intoxicated operation he performed that led to the death of a patient. While many of the other crimes have been upped, his remains the same, and this coupled with Stephens’ performance makes Armstrong the most sympathetic character.

While the 2015 series still shows more of Philip and Vera’s relationship than the book, it’s not sweet, but unsettling. Vera is clearly on the verge of insanity, seeing visions of the boy whose death she was responsible for, and Lombard clearly only cares about himself no matter the circumstance. Aidan Turner has a great gravelly voice that can be both charming and utterly evil at the same time.

I won’t give a blow-by-blow of how the story goes down, but if you like the dark and psychological elements of the original novel, you’ll be in for a treat. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I know I’ll be revisiting it multiple times in the future.