The Time Machine (1960)
Main Menu Audio
Listing-Cast & Crew
Featurette-Time Machine: The Journey Back
|Year Of Production||1960|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (61:50)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4||Directed By||George Pal|
Warner Home Video
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.78:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.66:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
|Smoking||Yes, Limited to some cigar smoking|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
The Time Machine has become a classic sci-fi film of the classic book by H.G.Wells. Although made over 40 years ago, when filmmakers' abilities and visions differed incredibly from those of modern sci-fi productions, it nevertheless reproduces the feel of the book (which I admit I haven't read for a long, long time). Most of the Academy Award winning special effects tend to be cringe-inducing today, and you've got to wonder why the young women 800,000 years from now behave and dress exactly like 1950s Suzie Homemakers, but that's just one of the characteristics that contributes to this being a part of film history.
The story starts on the evening of 5 January 1900 in London at the height of the Victorian era, and coincidentally at the time of the Boer War. Four gentlemen are sharing drinks in the fine home of the absent inventor H. George Wells (Rod Taylor). They move into the dining room for dinner when George stumbles in, badly beaten, bloodied and clearly having just survived something horrific. He begins to relate the story of what had happened to him during the five days since the friends had last met. The rest of the film is essentially that story.
The five men had previously met on New Year's Eve to celebrate the passing of the old century (a year early, as it happens). This was an ideal date for the time-obsessed George to demonstrate his latest invention - a working miniature of a time machine. He wished to demonstrate his ability to travel through time and to bring knowledge from the past and the future back to his own time. His quest to improve the lot of the human race in this way contrasts with the apparent constant that is the horror of war, a concept that forms part of the backbone of the story. He successfully sends his model into the future, but fails to convince his friends of the reality of the machine. Even his best friend David Filby (Alan Young) doesn't know what to think, but urges George to abandon his dreams of time travel.
Of course, this only strengthens George's resolve to leave his own time, which he sees as corrupted by greed and war, and to travel into the future. Now we get to see the full size time machine, a wonder of Victorian brasswork and leather upholstery. Unfortunately, all we really learn about how the machine works is that you push the crystal level forward to travel forward through time, and pull it back to go backwards. At first George is a little cautious, and travels slowly forward, keeping an eye on the mannequin in the shop window opposite his home to monitor human progress. His first stop is 1917, when his home is boarded up, and he finds that the whole world is at war. He meets the son of his friend, James Filby (also played by Alan Young), but the unhappiness of war and the feeling of loneliness when he learns of the death of old friends pushes him further into the future. 1940 finds the world once more at war, and a further stop in 1966 (six years after the film's production) sees London again under attack, this time being destroyed in a nuclear war.
Fast forward to the year 802701 when what was London has become an idyllic tropical forest. George stops the machine to explore this new wonderland. He discovers a population of beautiful, peaceful people who, strangely, have lost all curiosity or knowledge of the world about them. This indifference extends so far that they simply ignore one of their number, a girl named Weena (Yvette Mimieux), as she is drowning in a river not 10 feet from them. George comes to her rescue, and learns what little he can from her of the world. It becomes clear that these people, the Eloi, were the descendants of simply one half of the human race. The other half hid in underground caverns to avoid the fallout from historic wars, and ultimately developed into the subterranean Morlocks. It is also clear that the Eloi are simply the kept livestock of the Morlocks who have retained a semi-industrial technology.
So George comes to realise that after the better part of a million years the human race is still to discover true peace. The redeeming characteristic of this world is the existence of Weena, who George comes to love. He ultimately enters the Morlocks' world to save Weena and many of the Eloi, but is forced to flee their time to return to his own.
Perhaps the moral of the story is that wherever or whenever one lives, absolute perfection remains an unobtainable dream, yet happiness can be had if one tries enough.
The disc cover proclaims (in small print hidden within the standard promotional blurb) that the film has been digitally restored and remastered, and doesn't it show!
Before the disc arrived, I was hoping that at least the film would be 16x9 enhanced. I would live with the many imperfections I expected of a 40 year old print. In reality, not only do we get a 16x9 enhanced 1.85:1 aspect ratio picture but the quality of the video transfer is impeccable. The restoration team can be rightly proud of the result they've achieved here. While we're on the topic of aspect ratios, I understand that the original picture was filmed in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. However, the vertical framing of the picture on this DVD appears right, which would suggest that there was additional room to open up the matte on the sides of the picture. Yet it doesn't make sense to me that the director would film in a wider aspect ratio but matte it down for its release.
The picture can't claim quite the same level of absolute crispness that is possible in modern films, but it's not far short. Every detail is clear, especially during the first 25 minutes when all the Victorian fineness of George's home is on display. Detail of a different type becomes evident in the land of the Eloi as the richness of the natural jungle-like environment is on display. Film grain is rarely visible but, strangely, several head shots show considerable amounts of it (see 10:23 and 74:46). I suspect that these might well have been filmed after principal photography had wrapped, and probably even on different film stock, because they certainly don't resemble the quality of the rest of the film. Grain also shows up on many of the special effects shots, but this would have to be par for the course for a film of this age. Shadow detail is excellent and there is never any hint of low level noise.
Colours are rendered with excellent clarity and frequently high levels of saturation. This is especially the case once the setting leaves the generally subdued Victorian interiors of George's home. Colour stability is high, and I'm sure this is one of the legacies of the restoration process.
Artefacts are limited to minor scratching that in the main are entirely unobtrusive. Some of these show up most clearly in the opening credits which is set against a black background. Some sort of persistent film marks are also quite evident at 45:07 in what is a generally rather grainy scene that could well be a matte shot. There are no other MPEG artefacts or film to video artefacts to mention.
The disc is RSDL formatted with what I think is the most remarkably proficient layer change of any I've ever seen. Unless I'm badly mistaken, it occurs right in the middle of a scene at 71:50 and produced barely a moment's stutter.
It should be remembered that the film's soundtrack is remastered off a 1960 original. While the result is very good, it doesn't attempt to greatly alter the director's vision.
The disc features three audio tracks. Fortunately for us, the English track has been remastered in 5.1 Dolby Digital. This was the one I listened to. The remastering process has done to the sound what I've already described for the picture. I discerned no clicks, pops or dropouts throughout the entire film. Dialogue is perfectly clear with no sync problems. In spite of this being a science fiction story, it is largely a dialogue-driven film. Most of this dialogue is driven through the centre speaker, but good use is still made of quite a wide soundstage to create a general ambience.
The music is pleasant and often forceful, although its application is often a little corny by modern standards. It isn't a soundtrack I'd be rushing out to buy on CD.
Surround speaker activity is minimal, consistent with what would have been either an original stereo or mono presentation. Similarly, the subwoofer didn't get much attention, although it lit up emphatically (maybe even inappropriately, given its silence during much of the rest of the film) during the 42nd minute to enhance the nuclear attack on London.
|Surround Channel Use|
This video featurette is largely centred around the actual Time Machine prop built for the film. It is narrated by Rod Taylor and has some excruciatingly cheesy lines (most of which are addressed by Rod, with upturned eyes, to the film's late director, George Pal). Frankly, in spite of the undoubted importance of the prop for film history, I would have far more enjoyed more information than they give regarding the making of the film. The featurette finishes with an apparently recently produced new "sequel scene" in which George returns in his time machine to a date several years after he left at the conclusion of the film in 1900. Meeting up with Filby once more he tries to convince his old friend to return with him in his machine to the future. The style is more like that of modern soap opera and lacks consistency with the film. I would rather they hadn't bothered.
The R4 disc appears to be identical in virtually all respects to the R1 version. I have no hesitation in recommending the R4 PAL version.
The Time Machine is a veritable classic and following its wonderful restoration is now looking absolutely pristine. It doesn't serve up the type of extravagant action of modern blockbusters, but is an excellent example of H.G. Wells' Victorian story telling.
|DVD||Toshiba SD-K310, using S-Video output|
|Display||Pioneer SD-T43W1 (125cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Richter Wizard (front), Jamo SAT150 (rear), Yamaha YST-SW120 (subwoofer)|