The Time Machine Book vs Movie Review

written by Laura J.

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1895)

The Time Machine directed by George Pal (1960)

This is the story of a man in the late 1800’s who time travels to the year 802,701.

Setting the stage

The book is interesting because most of the characters don’t have names. They are referred to as the Time Traveler, the Medical Man, the Journalist, ect. I thought this was pretty cool and reminded me of Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer (I wonder if he was inspired by Wells…). In the movie though they all have names and the Time Traveler is named George so whether talking about the book or movie, in most cases I will refer to him as such. In each we have a man who seems closer to the time traveler, and in the book, this is the man who is telling the story.

In both he talks to a group of men and tells them about his machine and shows them a mini version he has created.

A few days later they are together again but George is late. He shows up eventually and is in tatters. In the book most of the group makes fun of his time traveling as he is getting changed. The narrater even makes a remark about these newer journalists saying, “The Journalist too, would not believe at any price, and joined the Editor in the easy work of heaping ridicule on the whole thing. They were both the new kind of journalist—very joyous, irreverent young men.”

In the movie though he sits down right away and begins to tell his tale.

In the book, it is written from the perspective of the narrator, but then as the time traveler tells his story, it is written as the time traveler tells it in past tense. I just wasn’t a fan of this framing device. Rather than have the narrator be writing what the time traveler was saying, I wish we just fully switched perspectives or something. But I think doing things in this manner was common for the time, and this was Wells first book.

Stopping through time

In both George tells them of using his machine for the first time and in the book, he goes like three hours into the future, but from there he goes into the distant future.

In the movie, George goes more slowly at first and we see a store mannequin’s clothing change as the styles change which I thought was a fun touch. However, when he is over 60 years in the future, that store is still using that same mannequin! They would not be using the same mannequin for that long lol.

Anyway, he stops in 1917 and meets the son of his friend who is all grown up and in military uniform. The son tells George that his father was killed in the war the year prior. He also tells him that his father was executor of George’s will (the son doesn’t know he is talking to George) and that his father never let anyone buy George’s property because the father had always thought George would return some day.

From here he stops in the ‘40’s when his machine is shaking from the bombs overhead from World War 2, he doesn’t get out though and just continues on to 1966. He gets out here and once again sees the friend’s son, and this time the son is an old man. There is a siren going off, telling people to go into the bomb shelters and the son is wear this chrome jumpsuit. (If I had some kind of metalic top I would have worn it for this video lol I love how old movies thought everyone would be in chrome jumpsuits in the future). He talks with him again, and the man is like, hey I think we spoke before, many years ago. Honestly though, who would remember what someone looked like from 40 years prior, someone you only met that one time and spoke to for like 5 minutes??

Anyway, George is feeling depressed at the wars and the state the world is in, so he speeds up the travel to see what the distant future is like.

Year 802,701

In the book he is in this time for about a week, whereas in the movie he is there for like two days. In both, the time machine stops just a few feet from a building that has a giant sphinx statue on top. In the movie he sees the people which are called the Eloi, who are a carefree lackadaisical group. Right away he sees one of them drowning in a river, yet no one is helping so he jumps in a saves her. She isn’t expressive though and simply walks off. From there they all go towards the dining hall type area and he follows. He tries to talk to them, but they aren’t very conversational and they just don’t care about the past or the future. He asks about books and one of them takes him to their books, all of which haven’t been touched in centuries if not longer, and wither away when he touches them. He is incredibly disappointed when he sees the Eloi have no interest in learning.

The book does have a scene when he sees old books that are falling apart, but it is when he is in The Palace of Green Porcelain which we will get to. But of the books, the book reads, “I presently recognised as the decaying vestiges of books. They had long since dropped to pieces, and every semblance of print had left them… Had I been a literary man I might, perhaps, have moralised upon the futility of all ambition. But as it was, the thing that struck me with keenest force was the enormous waste of labour to which this sombre wilderness of rotting paper testified. At the time I will confess that I thought chiefly of the Philosophical Transactions and my own seventeen papers upon physical optics.” I thought it was funny that it seems he is thinking of his own work he put into a book. But also, interesting that in the book he thinks how if he were a different man he may have been upset about their lack of ambition in learning-and then that is the way the movie did have him react.

Anyway, this with the books upsets him and he yells at them about how the people of the past have died for nothing because they are not doing anything to learn and grow the way the people of his time did. He storms off to his time machine, but this is when he sees it is no longer there and must have been dragged into the building shaped like a sphinx. Weena is the name of the woman he saved, and she follows him because she is worried about him.

In the book, he sees the Eloi and describes them as “humanoid”, being smaller and frailer looking, “He struck me as being a very beautiful and graceful creature, but indescribably frail. His flushed face reminded me of the more beautiful kind of consumptive—that hectic beauty of which we used to hear so much.”

He finds that they are pretty dumb, and as we see in the movie, take no interest in him the way he expected.

In the book he saves Weena from drowning, but this happens on like his second day. Having been around the other Eloi, he doesn’t expect any gratitude from him but later in the day she approaches him with a garland of flowers she has made for him. He says her personality and adoration of him affected him the way the friendliness of a child would. She continues to follow him around and give him flowers, placing them in his pockets. She remains with him over the course of his following days there.

In the book, before saving Weena, he discovered that his time machine is missing, having been dragged into the sphinx building. In both, he had taken the lever used to work the machine to ensure no one could use it. But he is very distressed on the possibility of never being able to leave this time.

The Morlocks

In the book, he notices these wells that go underground, and during the night he sees white creatures that come out and then scramble down these wells. The Eloi are also very apathetic in regard to basically everything, aside from nighttime. They are scared of night and sleep inside all together. He later realizes they are scared of the Morlocks, who are the people that live underground.

In book he goes down one of these wells and sees the industrial workings of the Morlocks. He gathers that a class separation so great has happened, as to cause the upper world and lower world people to basically become two difference species.

“It seemed clear as daylight to me that the gradual widening of the present merely temporary and social difference between the Capitalist and the Labourer was the key to the whole position…

Evidently, I thought, this tendency had increased till Industry had gradually lost its birthright in the sky. I mean that it had gone deeper and deeper into larger and ever larger underground factories, spending a still-increasing amount of its time therein, till, in the end—! Even now, does not an East-end worker live in such artificial conditions as practically to be cut off from the natural surface of the earth?…

So, in the end, above ground you must have the Haves, pursuing pleasure and comfort and beauty, and below ground the Have-nots, the Workers getting continually adapted to the conditions of their labour. Once they were there, they would no doubt have to pay rent, and not a little of it, for the ventilation of their caverns; and if they refused, they would starve or be suffocated…The great triumph of Humanity I had dreamed of took a different shape in my mind. It had been no such triumph of moral education and general co-operation as I had imagined. Instead, I saw a real aristocracy, armed with a perfected science and working to a logical conclusion the industrial system of today. Its triumph had not been simply a triumph over Nature, but a triumph over Nature and the fellow-man.”

In the book they go a different route. Weena shows him these rings that talk when you spin them, and they tell different stories of history. We learn that some people chose to live above ground, and others chose to live below ground when there was fear of nuclear war basically.

In the movie the Morlocks have this siren that puts the Eloi in a trance and causes them to blindly enter the open doors of the sphinx. When the siren stops, George asks them what is happening and what becomes of those who walked into the sphinx. The Eloi tells him “all clear”, and just keep saying that. George remembers his stint in the 1960’s and how the bomb siren went off, warning people to go to their underground bomb shelters. When the bomb threat was done, they would say all clear. This isn’t in the book.

But in both, George realizes that the Morlocks eat the Eloi meat and that is why the Eloi are so scared of them. The Eloi are almost like cattle, being bred to be happy and carefree, so that when the time is right, they can be brought in and eaten.

Battling the Morlocks

In the book there is this whole section where George and Weena go to this building called The Palace of Green Porcelain, there he finds matches and camphor, a substance that can be used to burn. The Morlocks are scared of light, so matches and fire are the best protection. In the book he is surprised to find good matches and I thought we would later find out that another version of him had gone into the future and placed them there, knowing he would need them, or some cool time travel twist like that. But that wasn’t the case, it was just a helpful coincidence I guess.

After this, he and Weena are leaving to head back to the sphinx and travel through a forest. Long story short-Morlocks come after them, the forest catches fire which saves George and he is able to get away while the Morlocks are blinded by the blaze however poor Weena dies in the forest.

In the movie none of this happens, rather after the group, which included Weena, go into the sphinx, George is determined to go underground using the wells to save her. Once down there, he fights off the Morlocks and eventually some of the Eloi begin helping him as well.

Using fire, they are able to get out of the underground area and set it on fire. George and the Eloi think all is well, aside from the fact that he still wasn’t able to get the time machine. However, a romantic moment between he and Weena is interrupted with Eloi say the sphinx is on fire and George sees the doors open.

He runs to the time machine and the doors close on him, but he is able to time travel to get away. He briefly goes into the future, then realizes he pulled the lever the wrong way and returns to his time.

Book ending

In the book, after the fire, and Weena dies (whom he said he wanted to bring back with him), the Morlocks then open the sphinx hoping to lure George in, not realizing of course that he can use the machine to escape. He gets on the time machine and travels into the future. He goes through thousands of years and sees time with huge crabs and sees the earth through time get colder and colder to the point it begins to be unhabitable by any life and the air is harder to breathe. He then returns to his own time, where his friends are waiting for him, which is where the story had picked up.

Back in the 1800’s

Even though he has the strange flowers, most of the men do not believe him. There is one friend in both book and movie though that wonders if it is true. In both versions the time traveler goes back in time yet again, and in the book the narrator tells us he has been gone three years with no return.

In the movie, they see that he moved the time machine before leaving, so that he would appear outside of the sphinx, where Weena had been standing. He and the housekeeper believe he has gone back in time to be reunited with her. He also takes with him three books, to help the Eloi build a better future.

So the movie has a more romantic, happy ending whereas the book is more ambiguous. Plus, Weena had died in the book!

Born Sexy Yesterday

In the book the traveler finds comfort in Weena’s friendship, but often thinks of her as a child so I don’t think there was an undertone of romance.

Obviously that is a big change in the movie. Weena’s character in the movie made me think of the female trope, “born sexy yesterday” which is a female character who is sexy and beautiful, but also very dumb and innocent-like a child. The male lead gets to teach her basic things, and in teaching her, falls in love with her. While I did like this movie, this Born Sexy Yesterday trope is always kind of cringey. A man’s wishfullfilment in finding a beautiful, naive woman who doesn’t realize her sex appeal and is still “pure”, while also being really dumb therefore making the man smarter and therefore the leader between the two of them.

In the US, after WW2, men wanted to get women out of the workforce and back in the home which is why the qunitiessential 1950’s housewife has become so famous. Men didn’t want women to start thinking they could be in positions of power equal to them, or God forbid-work positions more powerful than men! Having this BSY trope, almost seems to be feeding into that, having the man be so smart and in charge and the woman being subservient.

I know I am often bringing up sexist things that I notice in books and movies a lot lately, but I have just become more and more aware of it all over the place in today’s world as well as in past media and history and can’t help but talk about it. (I think it all really started when I read The Godfather… so blame it on Mario Puzo.)

Social commentary

The book had really interesting social commentary on the class system. At the time, there were many industrial jobs that had lower class people below ground, and he took this and created a future where the prejudice of the lower class was so great, they were forced to stay underground. The rich become weak and stupid though and in fear of the “lower class” aka the Morlocks. Also, the Morlocks are the ones eating the Eloi, which makes me think of the phrase Eat the Rich. The origin of that phrase being from Jean Jacques Rousseau during the French revolution. The full quote being, “When the people shall have nothing more to eat, they will eat the rich.” (The rich being anyone in power.)

The movie removes this commentary, and instead makes the bomb shelters and the fear of nuclear war be the reason for the division. This makes since for the time since the movie is from 1960. One thing that wasn’t in the book that was in the movie, when he shows his friends the time machine the first time, they don’t believe him but they say he could use his work to help the military. George isn’t interested in that, and part of the reason he travels so far into time is because he wants to see a people who have learned their lesson in regard to war and have finally become peaceful. His friends thinking, he should use his inventions for war makes me think of the line from All Quiet on the Western Front when Paul thinks how wild it is that so much time, money, and intelligence is used to create things to kill.

Book vs Movie

I didn’t find the writing of this book very engaging, though I did like the commentary he was making. I would like to read some of Wells later work and see how his style changed. The movie is enjoyable and I had a lot of fun watching it and I thought the makeup and special effects were cool to see. It has the anti-war commentary but loses the classist commentary.

In the end, I kind of want to say the movie wins, but I fear book fans will be mad about that since the book is so beloved and was so ahead of its time (pun intended). I just didn’t have much enjoyment from the book to be honest and found the writing almost dry, despite liking the overall story.

2002 movie

I did watch the 2002 movie The Time Machine as well, so I thought I would touch on that briefly but I won’t be going in depth like I did for the 1960 movie.

This one is interesting because it is directed by H.G. Wells great grandson, Simon Wells! So crazy! There is also a scene when he travels from the 1800’s to 2030 and speaks to a library hologram guy and they reference the book and original movie, as well as say that in 2006 Andrew Lloyd Weber wrote a Broadway musical version which was funny.

But here, the main guy wants to time travel because right after he proposes, his fiancé is killed in a robbery. He then spends the next four years learning how to time travel so he can stop her death from happening. But when he does go into the past, she simply dies a different way. As the king Morlock tells him, there is no way to save her because the reason the time machine even exits is because she died. Since he is using the time machine to save her, it simply can’t be done. In the book and original movie, he doesn’t have a personal reason like this for wanting to time travel and I kind of preferred that. He’s just trying to figure out if he can do it just to be able to do it!

In this version though he again travels to 801,702 and the Eloi are very smart and ingenious which is a big change. The Morlocks reminded me of orcs from the 2000’s LotR movies, even their underground lair reminded me of orcs. But this was slated to be released in fall of 2001 but was moved to 2002 due to 9/11 due to the scene when asteroids are falling on New York City. So, I guess it was coincidence that they look so much like orcs? The king Morlock is pretty freaky though.

This movie was fine, like I didn’t hate it, certainly didn’t love it, but I didn’t enjoy it enough to see myself ever watching it again.

Edgar Rice Burroughs

A lot about this book reminded of of A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, so I am sure he was inflected by this one. John Carter doesn’t time travel, but he does travel somewhere different and the class system of the book was similar to the class system of the people on mars. In both too, one class of people see those they deem lesser than them and eat the lower class people. Overall, I prefer the book A Princess of Mars over The Time Machine.