Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser
Take the Time to enjoy slice of history-making cinema
The success of Tom Thumb had impressed the MGM executives sufficiently to offer George Pal a contract to produce more films.
The Time Machine is a classic work of literature, written by H.G. Wells and published in 1895.
Wells had always considered the story, his first published novel, among his favourite candidates for filming. Despite Wells’ interest in a cinematic adaptation of The Time Machine, no studio ever showed interest in it during his lifetime.
In 1953, after the release of War of the Worlds, the H.G. Wells estate, impressed with Paramount Pictures’ adaptation of the Martian invasion of earth, contacted Pal and offered him an inexpensive option on any other Wells stories that he might be interested in.
Pal looked through all of the Wells books before deciding that The Time Machine had the best possibilities.
“The production department at MGM realised they had been wrong about their Tom Thumb budget,” Pal recalls, “and they accepted my figure of $850,000 for The Time Machine.”
The film opens at the turn of the century, on New Year’s Eve 1899 in England, at the home of inventor George (Rod Taylor).
He announces to his four companions that he has created a machine capable of travelling through time, to the past or the future.
The others laugh at the idea, even when George produces a model of the machine, and successfully demonstrates it.
The group leave and George goes to his laboratory, where a full-scale machine sits. He puts it to the test there and then and travels to the future.
Of all Pal’s movies, The Time Machine presented the most production problems; no one had the vaguest idea how to film a trip through time.
This was resolved by using time-lapse photography, a process that shows events within seconds that would normally take a long time.
Another problem was the time machine itself – what should it look like? H. G. Wells’ description in the novel was very vague.
The design all started with a turn-of-the-century barber chair then art director Bill Ferrari came up with the idea of a sled-like creation with the controls at the front and the big, radar-like wheel to indicate movement.
The completed product is
fabulous, imaginative and so convincing that the viewer believes the machine could travel through time.
Once again Pal approached Gene Warren and Wah Chang to design most of the film’s impressive special effects.
For the scene in which London is destroyed by a volcanic eruption, the crew built a detailed
miniature of a London street and then proceeded to destroy it.
Warren and Chang also provided the numerous matte paintings used to show the changing of the seasons as Taylor journeyed into the future.
Another plus for the movie was that Pal was supplied with the services of veteran MGM makeup expert William Tuttle. Working
from Pal’s sketches, Tuttle created the fantastic Morlock masks and costumes for the actors who were to portray the monsters.
Neither MGM nor Pal could have expected that The Time Machine would take off at the box office the way it did. Supported by a well-handled promotional campaign, it became one of the studio’s top grossers of 1959, Pal’s
most financially successful film and scooped a well-deserved Oscar for special effects.
The Time Machine was showcased at the cinema in Coatbridge located opposite where the Time Capsule now stands and played to full houses during the Christmas holidays.
If Tom Thumb thrilled me, this masterpiece captivated and held me spellbound for its 103-minute running time. The Time Machine caught the fancy of young audiences, particularly those interested in science fiction. It proved there was indeed an audience for good fantasy films.
George Pal was a genius, a showman, and an entrepreneur; the film industry could do with someone like him today.