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The Time Machine Novel and Movie Adaptations

The Time Machine Novel and Movie Adaptations

This article contains spoilers for The Time Machine novel and motion pictures. H.G. Wells wrote The Time Machine, published in 1895. There have been numerous movies and television series with time travel as the premise. Many television series have had episodes involving time travel in one form or another. The movie plot to Time After Time had H.G. Wells travelling in his time machine. There was the 1978 television movie The Time Machine. There were two major motion pictures, titled “The Time Machine”, based on the Wells novel. These were the 1960 movie directed by George Pal and the 2002 movie directed by Simon Wells the great-grandson of H.G. Wells.

The Novel

Unlike most movies involving time travel the H.G. Wells novel doesn’t involve altering the past. The protagonist, simply named “The Time Traveler”, has no interest in the past. The Time Traveler is an observer. All the information and speculation about the events in the future are from him. He doesn’t do anything to change the course of future events. His first stop is the distant future. He gets to see the evolution of man and a world where man is extinct. The reason for the time traveler and machine is apparently the need to have someone who can tell the tale of the human race. This is reminiscent of the character Ishmael in the Herman Melville novel Moby Dick whose purpose was to tell the tale of the Pequod.

In the distant future the human race divided into two distinct species, the Morlock and the Eloi. These humanoid species had less intelligence than homo sapiens. The Morlock were ground dwelling nocturnal beasts who had proficiency in mechanical skills. Their food staple was the Eloi. The Eloi were baldheaded and had little muscle development. The only physical difference between Eloi children and adults was size. There appearance was unisex. The Time Traveler rescues and befriends a woman, Weena. Their friendship was an adult-child like friendship. She is taken and presumed killed by the Morlocks. The book ends with The Time Traveler leaving in his time machine, better equipped for time travel. He never returns so it falls to his friend Filby to relay The Time Traveler’s tale.

The Time Traveler’s theory of the evolution of the Morlock and Eloi was consistent with the popular Use and Misuse theory of evolution, which was popular in 1898. The Time Traveler believed the cause of this evolution was the social disparity between the worker and the privileged class. Ironically some aspects of the novel seem more at home in the movies. When The Time Traveler saw how there were no private dwellings his first thought was “Communism”. In 1960, the height of The Cold War, “Communism” was the quick answer for society’s problems. Also in 1960 the belief people would evolve into puny and hairless beings was popular in both science and science fiction. The Time Traveler also told of the Earth’s warming. This would be at home with the 2002 movie since Global Warming is a popular theme in 21st century movies.

Past or Future

The 1960 George Pal Movie

The 1960 movie begins on January 5, 1900. After the main protagonist, H. George Wells played by Rod Taylor, makes his appearance the setting flashes back to the evening of December 31, 1899. As in the novel H. George Wells has no interest in the past. His time machine has an analogue clock that shows the month, day, and year. He travels through time slowly as first. Then he gradually picks up speed as he gets more experience with the control lever. He makes his first stop on September 13, 1917 because the border of his property is boarded up. It is here he learns from Filby’s adult son that his friend Filby was killed in a war, World War I.[I] His next stop is June 19, 1940. He sees flying machines fighting and dropping bombs. His house is destroyed in The London Blitz. He then stops in the near future, from the audience’s point of view, 1966. Here he sees a wonderful modern city. It is not the paradise it seems. World War III is beginning and there is soon pandemonium and destruction from atomic explosions. He escapes through time but is trapped under tons of rock. It is over 800,000 years before he is free. There he sees a luscious landscape. He stops on October 12, 802701. As in the book he saves Weena played by an 18 year-old Yvete Mimieux, from drowning. The Eloi are humans who look the same as today’s humans. They seem devoid of emotion and curiosity. The Morlocks are the unintelligent but mechanically inclined brutes of the book. The Morlocks raise the humans as livestock. They use air raid siren noises to herd in the Eloi. The one external input, besides the protagonist’s observations, is the talking rings. From listening to the rings H. George Wells concludes the human race separated when some humans went into underground shelters for safety while others decided to take their chances on the surface. Humanity never learned to live in peace and destroyed itself by war.

H. George Wells is a heroic character. He single handedly takes on the Morlocks. While the Morlocks look fearsome they aren’t good fighters. George’s fighting inspires some Eloi to join in the fray. He rescues Weena and the other Eloi and then leads them in the destruction of the Morlock dwelling. His relationship with Weena is a romantic one. The story ends with Filby using deductive reasoning to conclude H. George Wells went back to 802701 to join Weena and start a new world. The audience is left with the question; if you were to start a new world and had to choose three books to aide you, which books would you choose?

[I] Alan Young played both characters.

The 2002 Simon Wells Movie

The 2002 movie’s initial setting is 1899 New York. Unlike the novel and the 1960 movie the protagonist, Alexander Hartdegen played by Guy Pearce, builds his time machine so he can alter the past and save, Emma, the woman he loves (Sienna Guillory). He saves Emma only to see her die the same night. He believes there is some cosmic reason why he can’t significantly alter the past so he travels into the future in the hope someone there will have the answer. He stops in the near future, from the audience’s point of view. Excavation on the moon causes the moon to break apart and a worldwide catastrophe. Alexander is trapped under the earth for 800,000 years. Humanity destroyed itself by being careless with the environment. The Eloi are humans who lack technology. They are familiar with English but speak their own language. They are hunted by the Morlock who are stronger and faster. Morlocks are mostly brutes but some Morlocks are highly intelligent. The head Morlock (Jeremy Irons) answers Alexander’s question about altering the past.

Alexander meets an Eloi, Mara (Samantha Mumba). This gives the story the formula of a man’s love dying leaving him heartbroken and him finding another woman and learning to love again. Alexander is a heroic character who rescues Mara and defeats the Morlock.

When Alexander is time traveling the audience gets an overall view of what is happening on the outside. The audience sees the march of industrial progress and later the changes in the landscape. The movie ends with Alexander and Mara walking on the same ground as David Philby (Mark Addy) and Mrs. Watchit (Phyllida Law) 800,000 years apart.

Unlike the novel and the 1960 movie the 2002 movie addresses the time paradox. In the 2002 movie's universe the past can be changed but not the overall outcome. This is a fiction rather than a science explanation of the paradox.


The novel and the two major motion pictures are products of their times. They bring the concerns of their time and take them to a horrific conclusion. The 1960 movie shows a popular romance theme of its time. A mature and intelligent man who is a stranger meets a sweet and beautiful local woman who knows little of the outside world and they fall in love. The 2002 movie shows a popular current romance theme. A man who tragically loses the woman he loves meets another woman by happenstance and they fall in love. A common theme of the novel and its screen adaptations is human intelligence allows the human race to advance and thrive but it is the same intelligence that will be the undoing of the human race.

Which Adaptation is Best?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Robert Sacchi

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Robert Sacchi (author) on September 24, 2020:

Yes, it is one of the true science fiction classics. Including WWI, WWII, & WWIII in the story was a great idea.

Dale Anderson from The High Seas on September 24, 2020:

I turned on the television as a young boy and the screen light up with George Pal's The Time Machine. I was caught fast. Till this day Rod Taylor's dramatic adventure keeps my interest. It really stands firm as a testament to good story telling.

Robert Sacchi (author) on February 02, 2020:

Hello Daniela.

Robert Sacchi (author) on August 05, 2018:

Interestingly enough traveling forward in time is theoretically possible with time dilation. The catch is it's a one way trip. The technology to get humans to do it is unlikely to be here anytime soon. It is, and has been, an interesting science fiction topic. A while ago someone posted a video taken from a San Francisco street car taken about a week before the great earthquake. Watching it was an interesting experience. It did give a sensation of going back in time.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 05, 2018:

As for your last comment, it did give me something to think about. I would have enjoyed going back in time to see how some of my relatives lived. It would also be fun to see what the future holds. Will we have to abandon this planet and live elsewhere due to our polluting the earth? What would living conditions be like in another place? How would medicine change in the years ahead? Would things like cancer be eliminated? There is much to ponder.

Robert Sacchi (author) on August 03, 2018:

Thank you for reading and commenting. The reason I avoid giving "both" choices is it's too easy for a reader to answer "both". This way someone taking the poll has to make a choice. Those that can't make a choice have something to think about.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 03, 2018:

I enjoyed reading your observations of this book and the movies made from it. Time travel seems to be a popular theme for books and movies. I could not choose which I would like to do in your poll of seeking to go back or forward. Both would be interesting and I would have chosen that if given a third choice.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on April 04, 2015:

I read the book a long time ago and you hub is a good review as I don't t remember it that well. I saw a production of the story on TV which was also some time ago. I have always liked time stories .

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