For best results, I recommend reading through these notes and then going to Canvas to watch the films clips from the 1960 and 2002 film adaptations of The Time Machine. On our class’s Canvas homepage, you’ll find a link to the “Time Machine Video Clips” page at the bottom under the heading Film Clips for Class. As long as my Adobe Premiere Pro skills keep up, I hope to have more clips for adaptations of our next sci-fi readings, Planet of the Apes and Frankenstein. Yes, you must watch The Time Machine clips because there will be questions about them on Test 2 and the Final Exam. Of course, you can’t substitute the clips (or the entire films) for reading. I’ll have questions to test whether or not you read or just watched the films.
Yes, I do expect that you have read The Time Machine before watching the film clips.
Products of the Culture from which They Come
One way to think about texts as products of the cultures from which they come, is to consider Wells’s original text alongside the 1960 and 2002 films. Establishing science seems to be the most important part of the 1960 film, but all of the texts–the novella, 1960 film, and 2002 film–try to show the Time Traveller’s motivation. His motivations are slightly different in each text, but each Time Traveller wants to transcend his place in time.
Questions to consider for the film clips:
- Representations of war or social collapse
- Preoccupation with death
- Problems with attempting to change the past
- Role of women in the world(s) of science
A Little More about H.G. Wells
Time permitting, I’d like to read you a bit more from the author bio introduction of my copy of The Time Machine. Wells was naughty and had an affair with another writer, Dame Rebecca West. In 1912, Rebecca West wrote a scathing critique of H.G. Wells’s novel Marriage. Wells invited her to his home to discuss her review, and they hit it off…
Timeline of Wells’s “formal” relationships:
- 1891–Married Isabel Mary Wells; divorced/separated 1894
- Just three years of marriage…interesting
- 1895–Married Amy Catherine Robbins; she died in 1927
- Fathered two sons, George and Frank
- Notice no divorce date…
- 1909–Fathered Anna-Jane, with the writer Amber Reeves
- 1914–Fathered Anthony with novelist Rebecca West
- 1920–Affair with Margaret Sangar…not surprisingly, fathered no children with her
As mentioned in the previous class notes, the editor of my version of The Time Machine mentions that Wells had a lifelong pursuit for the “ideal woman” with whom he could have “a perfect relationship.” Although we can’t claim an author’s personal life is THE answer to what a text means, we can interpret a work to some extent using a psychoanalytic lens. Artists–painters, musician, writers, etc.–often portray their unconscious feelings and anxieties through their works. Again, their personal lives aren’t the only place to find meaning, but it is obviously a source of inspiration. If you watch the full 2002 film adaptation, you’ll notice that pursuing love is a major theme, but the other texts still have love as a component of the Time Traveller’s motivation.
What Drives the Future?
The three different texts propose three different ways to get to the Eloi-Murlock split. Below, I have brief discussions on how to read the texts from different cultural contexts.
The 1895 Novella
In the original novella, The Eloi and Morlocks split on economic grounds. Wells was most likely commenting on the problems he saw with capitalism, specifically the growing gap between rich and poor–the haves and the have nots. By having a future with two distinct classes, represented as different species, Wells projects the common science fiction theme of “if this continues…” This theme projects the author’s time period into a different setting where they speculate on possible outcomes if the contemporary condition persists. In the novella, Wells basically claims that the economic divide will enslave workers who will one day turn out to feed off the leisure class. Although Wells was a socialist, he wasn’t promoting a Soviet-style authoritarian system; instead, like many American and British socialists at the time, he championed the cause of labor, a group he felt got a raw deal in the economy. Circa 1900, there were little to no worker protections, yet laborers were the backbone of industrialized nations who worked in factories, coal mines, steel plants, and infrastructure.
The 1960 Film
The 1960 film was ahead of it’s time–Ha! That’s a little time travel joke. Although the special effects look cheesy to us, consider the time. There was no CGI in 1960. In fact, most films weren’t even in color. Editors had to improvise in order to pull off the special effects they had, and the film won the 1961 Academy Award for Best Effects, Special Effects. In the scene where George meets Filby’s son as an old man in 1966, the town is destroyed by an earthquake and volcano that were caused by a nuclear weapon. This reflects the growing anxieties of nuclear holocaust during the height of the Cold War. The United States and the Soviet Union were the two superpowers locked in a struggle for dominance. The Space Race was a rivalry to see which nation could develop technologies to explore beyond the atmosphere, technologies that could be weapons, too. While watching the film clips, notice how George reacts to newspaper headlines about war and what he thinks about the wars he encounters on his journey. The fears of nuclear annihilation were very much on the minds of Western culture during the Cold War. The 1960 film adaptation of The Time Machine reflects those fears.
The 2002 Film
A surface discussion of the 2002 film would focus on the obvious special effects differences…but we’re not interested in a “surface reading,” so let’s go deeper. When the new time traveler, Dr. Alexander Hartdegen, played by Guy Pierce, makes it to 2037, something goes wrong. You’ll have to watch to see exactly what goes wrong, but–unlike the original novella and previous film adaptation that have the Eloi-Morlock split happen because of economics and nuclear war, respectively–this adaptation comments on human destruction of the environment. While there have been environment concerns for several decades, it wasn’t until the 1990s before global environmental catastrophes (unrelated to nuclear war) became commonly reflected in popular culture entertainment (there were texts before 1990, but they became quite common post-1990). Global warming, now referred to as climate change, moved further onto the political scene by 2000. Although terrorism would take center stage as a cultural anxiety after 9/11, human-induced environmental destruction became talked about more. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was something climatologists pointed to as a possible future problem: more and more severe hurricanes would come unless we slow the rate of greenhouse gas emissions that warm the planet. This film reflects the growing awareness of future environmental catastrophes caused by humans wreaking the environment.
By the way, there is a 1978 made-for-TV movie on the Time Machine, but it’s nearly unwatchable. I found it on YouTube but can’t recommend it.
Whatever you do for Halloween, be safe. In the spirit of Halloween, check out the most adorable black kitty on the planet!
Test 2 is live! The test only covers material since the Midterm Exam. Next week, we’re going to continue with the science fiction theme and cover Planet of the Apes; then, we’ll discuss Frankenstein the week after. Perhaps I should have planned better and had Frankenstein before Halloween.