Saturday, May 21, 2005

One percent

I've just been watching The Time Machine, 2002 version[^]. Actually I prefer the 1960 version[^]. I have both on DVD.

I first saw the 1960 version in 1963 at the drive-in and as a 9 year old it stirred my imagination but I didn't understand or even realise it's cultural resonances. What it did do was confirm my interest in science fiction and I became a voracious reader of the classics (and some not so classic). When you're 9 years old all you really need on the cover is a picture of a ray gun and away you go! It takes a few years to realise that much of what is described as science fiction could just as easily have been set in Tombstone Arizona or Transalpine Gaul. This might possibly explain why I detest the Star Wars movies with such a passion! Nope, I'm not going to go see the latest in the series; the rest of the family are going on Sunday but I'm going to wallow in War and Peace in protest! :-)

The screenwriter and the director of the first version did a great job of translating a late 19th century novel into a mid 20th century film. The film refers to many many things that Herbert George Wells could not have known when he wrote the book - but does it without in any way ruining the book. The way they incorporated the air raid sirens of London during WW2 is masterful. References to wars that had not yet been fought and not even anticipated in the mid 1890's... Narrative (the talking rings) that has strong echoes of Orwells 1984... Oh and I like the soundtrack too :-)

Being a contrary bastard (or, alternatively, a stick in the mud) I didn't plan to go see the remake when it was first mooted. But I saw the trailers in the lead up and was particularly struck by the way they both used the device of skirt length on mannequins in a shop window to convey the passage of time. It wasn't an exact copy; it came over more as homage to the first movie. So I gave it a go.

The later version, whilst having much to commend it, doesn't move me in the same way that a viewing of the first version still can. It deviates a considerable distance from the book but in ways that weren't really necessary. If I were to take a pessimistic view of human nature I might be tempted to believe that the director and writer of the later version were unable to imagine someone undertaking the work of creating and using a time machine for the sheer adventure of it. Maybe that's why they felt it necessary to introduce a dead fiance as a motive?

There's one detail I did like. There is one actor who appears in both movies, Alan Young[^]. In the earlier movie he plays a major character. In the later one he has a cameo role. But he gets 5th place billing in the opening credits.

The one percent? When you're watching a movie that encompasses 800,000 years or so one naturally starts thinking of the vastness of time. Most of us would, I expect, accept the idea of the planet being billions of years old and that thought leads to an appreciation of the fleeting nature of human life. A scary thought. So one starts to scope things down a trifle. The pyramids for example, at 5,000 or so years of age. Still almost unimaginable and yet one can comfort oneself with the thought that in evolutionary terms that's nothing and so those people must have been somewhat like us. And then comes the shocking thought; I'm 50 - that's one percent of the age of those incredibly old, to us, monuments. Yikes!

It can only go downhill from here!

No comments: