Does anyone remember H. G. Wells science fiction novel, The Time Machine? Does anyone remember the 1960 movie version, as well as the 2002 adaptation? I guess only if you’re cultured like myself. Ha! Not really. The movies did what they thought they could to bring one of the first attempts at science fiction to life and yet still fell short of the mark the writer had set. Now, let me explain why.
H. G. Wells (along with Jules Verne) was the first to create the concept of ‘science fiction’. That term is loosely used today (because there’s so much of it) but back in their time during the late 1890’s, it was an idea that was brand new. Authors wrote books about practical science, history, and fiction; stories based in more or less a semblance of reality. So, the thought of a world in the future was not something normal to them. Thanks to Wells, we now have the ‘time machine’. Before his book, the phrase to describe moving through time had not been invented, much less the apparatus to carry it out.
The book itself is told from two perspectives: the best friend of the main character; Filby; and the Time Traveler himself. Using the Time Traveler as his mouthpiece, Wells began to postulate how mankind would evolve or devolve over the centuries. His approach was to separate man into two classes: the privileged class and the working class. Obviously back in Wells’ time, those were really the only two classes that existed. Wells goes even further in the book to discuss how the Eloi (above ground dwellers) came to be; in comparison to the Morlocks (below ground dwellers). The Eloi were previously the upper classes, who never had to work in order to survive. The Morlocks were the workings classes, who toiled and labored all day, every day. The separation between the two is stark in the book and in the 1960 movie version.
I just watched the 2002 version with Guy Pierce and while I thought the adventure was interesting, I immediately felt disappointed that it missed the important differences that were exaggerated in the book. The Eloi have rather superior jungle dwellings. They work for their food and built what looked like wind mills. That was the whole point in the book! The Eloi had forgotten the concept of work. They did not know what it was like to toil and break a sweat. That was why the Time Traveler asks where everything comes from: their food and their clothes. The Morlocks harvested the food and clothed the beings that were to be their own source of nutrition.
Another aspect of the movie that was wrong was Jeremy Irons’ character. Obviously, there is no fault with Jeremy Irons himself, but the idea that there was a Morlock who wore clothes and could speak intelligently is totally against the book. That was another point that Wells was making was that the Morlocks had become like animals. You had the Eloi: unintelligent beings, just existing day to day. And then you had the Morlocks: creatures of machines and metal, falling from their humanity. It takes a special kind of monster to tend to then eat another human.
A question I wish had more of an answer to was how did humanity get to that point? In the movie, the Time Traveler finds out it was because the moon broke and humanity went underground for protection. Eventually, some people went back to the surface and others remained below. That was how the Morlocks and the Eloi came to be; and then they eventually forgot about their shared ancestry. How did Wells imagine the division to have occurred? He existed before the atom bomb and anything like that which could have caused a cataclysmic event. The worst thing that could have happened in his time would have been a plague, or the First World War to take place starting in 1914. I myself can almost see the division being a social experiment gone horribly wrong. Wouldn’t that be nice to have answered? That was what made the Time Traveler’s story so far fetched to his friends when he told it. The idea that mankind could over time become so disjointed and separated was hard for them to believe. In a way, it is happening today. You’ve got snowflakes and liberals, who believe in rainbows and butterflies (sounds like the Eloi) and who really don’t know how to work. And then you have conservatives, who work very hard and frequently drive themselves into an early grave (sort of like the Morlocks, but without the cannibalism).
Was Wells inadvertently predicting a future that was closer than the year 802,701?
And on that note, it’s been real!