Friday, 30 April 2010

Films: The Time Machine, and Timeline

Two films with a central theme in common - time travel.

I re-read H G Wells' novel The Time Machine only last year (see review list on the left) and vaguely recall watching the 1960 film version, so when the 2002 film appeared on TV I naturally had to watch it. My first reaction was one of puzzlement; not only was the setting changed from London to New York (par for the course for Hollywood, which seems to find it hard to imagine that anything of interest could ever happen outside the USA) but the first quarter of an hour or so is entirely new, concerning a doomed love affair. It transpires that this is what drives the central character (a physics professor) to develop a time machine, and after some more diversions the story duly arrives 800,000 years in the future, into the world of the Eloi and the Morlocks. Sadly, the devolution of humanity is glossed over, the Eloi shown as normally intelligent rather than stupid, with the cause of humanity's lost civilisation being put down to a man-made physical disaster (the break-up of the Moon) rather than natural evolutionary forces. Also the evocative final section of the book, in which the time traveller visits a dying Earth from which humanity has disappeared, is omitted, to be replaced by a tacked-on and totally nonsensical destroy-the-bad-guys-and-live-happily-ever-after ending. A dumbed-down sketch of a classic novel; Hollywood doing its worst.

I had never heard of Michael Crichton's 1999 novel Timeline and didn't realise that the 2003 film I had just watched was based on this until the credits rolled. So I can't comment on how faithful (or otherwise) the film was to the book. This is probably just as well, otherwise I might have found far more fault with it. As it was, I enjoyed the tale of the team of modern archaeologists using a time-travel machine to visit medieval France at a crucial point in history, in order to rescue one of their colleagues. Much scheming and fighting result as the archaeologists desperately try to return to the present day. Far from serious, but enjoyably entertaining.

If there's one lesson to learn from these two films, it's this: if at all possible, try to see the film before you read the book. You are then more likely to enjoy the film.

7 comments:

Fred said...

I have to agree with your last comment. I too have to see the film first and then read the novel if I'm to give the film a fair viewing.

If I read the work first, then I find I'm not judging the film as film but as to its faithfulness to the written work.

Jim Harris said...

Tony, I experienced the book-film problem just last night. I read Fairwell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler this week and then watched Murder, My Sweet on DVD. Don't know why they changed the name, but then they changed most of the story too. I remember seeing this film years ago and being very impressed. But seeing it right after reading the book I was horrified by the adaptation.

Fred said...

Jim,

I also saw _Murder, My Sweet_, and was very disappointed by the adaptation.

From what I read, the studio or somebody was afraid that the audience would not understand this was a murder mystery because Dick Powell, up to that point, had been primarily known for song and dance roles in films. It supposedly was his first non-singing starring role. By putting "Murder" in the title they thought that the audience would get a clearer picture of the type of film it was.

M Pax said...

That is true. The films are better if you read the book second.

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Budd said...

Strangely the first half of The Time Machine which is not like the book at all is the best part of the movie.

Another example of the movie getting it wrong would be "The Time Traveler's Wife."

Anthony G Williams said...

Budd, I agree with you that if I put aside my comparison with the book, the first part of the film was actually better than the rest. of course, that wasn't difficult...