Watching the most recent film version of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine tells a much different story about why humans study the world and why we invent.
The original book is about a man of science inventing a time machine, and the adventure he has testing and then using the device. The protagonist discovers how to travel in time, creating a machine with spinning wheels and big levers that allows him to go into the future. At first, he relatively slowly advances through time, finally getting to a future Earth that has suffered some sort of apocalypse, or perhaps steady decline, and is populated by a simple people with no technology, living off the land, and trying to survive under the thumb of the underground dwelling “morlocks,” a vicious species who apparently feed on the above-ground living folk.
In the late 70s, Malcolm McDowell played H.G. Wells, as a writer/inventor, who travels to the future in pursuit of his friend, who turns out to be Jack the Ripper, who has used the invention to get to modern times. This trip gives “Jack” a brand new hunting ground, where he quickly targets Wells’ new 20th century girlfriend. Rather than use the original title, this movie version is called Time After Time.
The most recent telling of the story, starring Guy Pierce (The Hurt Locker, and the excellent Count of Monte Cristo) reverts to H.G. Wells’ title, and the protagonist’s construction of the time machine, but inserts as motivation, the untimely death of his fiancee, the device’s purpose now to change history and restore her to life. He’s depressed over her loss, and seeks to use science to correct the tragedy.
More dramatic for today’s audiences? Absolutely. And herein lies the sad truth that discovery for its own sake is no longer that interesting to us. In H.G. Wells day, inventing a machine that allowed the scientist to travel through time was its own reward, the adventure that results a bit of added drama. We’re sadly, no longer thrilled by exploration and scientific advancement, and need a personal stake in the pursuit to make it worth doing. In today’s world, the individual is all that’s important, and something that doesn’t necessarily derive some personal gain, whether it be a huge payday or keeping our girlfriend alive isn’t worth accomplishing. Why can’t Pierce’s character’s development of this amazing step forward in scientific study of our universe be its own reward? I think the filmmakers correctly understood that today’s film-going public wouldn’t care, unless there was something in it for the character they’re being asked to identify with. It’s unfortunate that we’re so self-centered that we have to have more skin in the game than pure scientific advancement to spend our time and money and potentially risk our life on.
I understand that in order for a story to be embraced, the audience must want to do what the protagonist does, and am disheartened that not enough of us would believe in the purity of the motivations of a character who didn’t stand to gain something other than discovery in their endeavors. I think that’s one of the reasons we haven’t been back to the moon, or pushing to travel to the stars. When proponents of space travel have to talk about all the everyday products that we wouldn’t have, if not for the space program, we’re on the wrong track. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want to live in a world without Tang and the Space Pen, but scientific advancement and the opportunity to travel to the stars should be enough to keep going, shouldn’t it?
My grandmother loved movies, and taking me, her first grandchild, to them. I know, you’re thinking Mary Poppins or Lassie..
Wrong. I remember her taking me to two films in particular, and the memory of each are reduced to one scene per movie. I turned the TV on this morning, and playing on one of the classic film channels was the Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway classic Bonnie and Clyde.
Grandma took me to the Paramount Theatre in Anderson, Indiana to see the gangster flick when I was 8 years old. Seeing it again on the flat screen in my home office this morning, I wondered what she was thinking as we watched it. The subtle (by today’s standards) sexual overtones (which I have no memory of at all, not surprisingly) were decidedly PG today. What I remember vividly, is the violence, particularly in the gun battles, and most shockingly, in the final scene where Bonnie and Clyde are gunned down in their car, several law enforcement officers cutting them to pieces with automatic gunfire. Reports of the incident that ended the pair’s crime spree said they were each hit at least 50 times, with several head shots. The mortician had trouble embalming them because of all the bullet holes in their bodies.
This particular film was groundbreaking in a number of ways, including the first use of “squibs,” small packets of red liquid that are used to simulate being shot. Previously in the movies, death by bullet was portrayed by the actor’s hand clutching his abdomen, a grimace, and line something like “he got me!” Bonnie and Clyde changed all that. S&t got real.*
That scene with bullets perforating Bonnie and Clyde is the one that lives in my memory to this day.
But the first film-going memory I have, is my grandmother taking me to see the Bette Davis classic Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte. I was five years old that time, and honest to God, that movie creeped me the F&*k out, especially the scene with Bette Davis standing, covered in the blood of the guy everyone thought she had just stabbed to death. Then, that head rolling down the stairs…Jeesh.
Again, I was five years old. I think the reason there was a three year gap in between movies my grandmother took me to probably corresponded to how long it took my mom and dad to forget about Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte and let her take me to the theatre again.
It was years later when I realized why the Baldwin sisters on The Waltons creeped me out so much. They simply reminded me of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford from that movie. Two spinster sisters with southern accents…
I’m glad we have a movie rating system today, even if it seems to be getting really lax these days. Movies that to me, are clear “R” films seem to routinely get “PG-13” ratings, if not “PG.” I’m sad that our kids have to grow up so fast, but I’m sure parents have been saying that for hundreds, if not thousands of years. There were probably Roman parents talking, two thousand years ago, one saying “I can’t believe that Marcus and Octavia took little Julius to the Coliseum! He’s only 10. I didn’t get to watch the gladiators until I was 13! These kids are growing up so fast!”
The other day, I let my 12 year old watch a few minutes of what in 1976 was the most violent show on television, Starsky and Hutch. He thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen. I remember the controversy over Starsky and Hutch, how it was too violent for television, too realistic, etc…Today though? There are episodes of iCarly that have more violence than Starsky could unleash in an hour. Times do change.
My kid is 12, is pretty good at Call of Duty and Watchdogs *(though I don’t let him play *Grand Theft Auto). No way I’d let him watch Hush Hush, Sweet Charlotte. No way.