The Rise or Fall of Humanity: Comparing ‘The Time Machine’ in Fiction and Film
In The Time Machine, H. G. Wells takes on the impossible task of imagining the future of our world. The story features the Time Traveler (George), the main character of the story, and his many adventures in the year 802,701 A.D. Later in 1960 Wells’ crazy prophecy was transformed into a film. However, when the time came to adapt the book into a movie many changes had to be made to the plot of the story so that the audience could understand the chain of events that take place. Some of the plot discrepancies took place in Weena’s river scene, the talking rings scene, Weena’s death, and the Eloi rescue mission from the Morlocks. Each change was made with clear intent, and the most crucial of these differences depart from Wells’s pessimistic tone while preserving the key themes of the original text.
First, we see differences in the plot between Weena’s near drowning experience at the river, featured in the book and the movie. At this time in the movie, George (the time traveler) had just arrived in the future and he came across the Eloi at the river. This was the first time in the movie that George had ever seen the Eloi whereas in the book George had met some of the Eloi at the sphinx statue when he first arrived. Also in the movie, George saves Weena on his first day in the future, while in the book the time traveler rescues Weena on his third day. In the book the time traveler observes, “Well, on the third day of my visit…to rescue the weakly crying little thing which was drowning… I caught the poor mite and drew her safe to land… found that her name was Weena” (Wells 43). This shows that the director chose to change the order of the events in the movie. He chose to change this because on the first few days of George’s visit to the future, he does a lot of thinking and inquiring to himself about the strange world that the Eloi live in and so to make the movie more interesting the director chose to skip some of the dialog that took place in the book. This was a good decision on the director’s part because it immediately drew the audience in and set up Weena as George’s love interest which came into play later in the film.
Next, another plot discrepancy between the book and the movie is the talking rings scene. In the book George cannot understand the language of the Eloi so as a result he has to figure out how the Eloi’s society is constructed, by himself. In the book George asserts, “I determined to make a resolute attempt to learn the speech of these new men of mine” (Wells 27). However, in the film the Eloi speak English so George is free to ask them questions about their lives and social structure. Still, the Eloi are uneducated so they don’t understand why they don’t have to work and why there are no older people. As a result, the director added the talking ring scene, in which George and Weena visit what appears to be a museum and listen to rings that talk when you spin them. The rings act as a historian. Weena doesn’t understand this, but George does. The rings make it so George doesn’t have to figure out the Eloi’s society on his own, because the rings give him all the answers. The rings verify, “I am the last who remembers how each of us, man and woman made his own decision. Some chose to take refuge in the great caverns, and find a new way of life far below the earth’s surface. The rest of us decided to take our chances in the sunlight” (The Time Machine). This allows George to learn of the relationship between the Eloi and the Morlocks and how the future world was divided. The director added this scene because it effectively cut a significant amount of time out of the plot of the book where George was trying to figure this out, and allowed the audience to understand the relationship between the Eloi and the Morlocks clearly, but in a short amount of time.
Weena’s death was another difference that was made clear when comparing the book, to the movie. In the book, Weena and George are wandering through the forest in the dark when Morlocks come across them. George escapes the Morlocks, but Weena dies in the process. The Time Traveler declares, “I felt the intensest wretchedness for the horrible death of little Weena” (Wells 78). This shows how much George cared for Weena, because she was his only friend in the future. It also gives George an air of loneliness which is not seen in the movie. This is largely because the director of the film chose to have Weena live in the movie. This drastically changed George’s motive and with it, the plot of the movie. Had Weena not lived, George would not have been so motivated to return to the future and rebuild the Eloi’s society, as he is in the movie. Filby (one of George’s friends) implores, “I think I understand. You see the imprint? This is where the time machine originally stood. The Morlocks moved it. They dragged it across the lawn… right into the sphinx. Right there. Weena was standing here when he last saw her” (The Time Machine). This proves that part of the reason George wished to return was because of Weena, whereas in the book it appears that George wishes to return because he was further curious about what the future held. Again the director chose wisely when he had Weena remain alive because as a result of this the movie’s tone turns into one of change, reviving humanity and rebuilding the future society.
Finally, we are able to see further discrepancies of the book and movie through the Eloi rescue mission from the Morlocks which is carried out in the movie version of The Time Machine. In the movie an alarm sounds and all the Eloi converge to the sphinx where some are taken inside to become food for the Morlocks. Weena is one of the Eloi taken, so George goes in after her where he fights the Morlocks and in the end, defeats them while restoring the Eloi to the surface. None of this took place in the book. In H. G. Wells’ rendition the Time Traveler endorses, “As I approached the pedestal of the sphinx I found the bronze valves were open… I stepped through the bronze frame and up to the Time Machine” (Wells 80-81). This tells us that the Time Traveler simply planned on leaving the future. He planned to leave the Eloi to fend for themselves and to let the Morlocks continue on with their cannibalism. He believed that humanity was past saving. This is very different from the movie because in the movie, George is looking to save the Eloi and exterminate the Morlocks, then to help the Eloi start fresh afterwards. Filby corroborates, “…so he could appear outside the sphinx again… and help the Eloi build a new world” (The Time Machine). The director chose to change the dismal and hopeless mood of H. G. Wells’ book into a positive, optimistic, better-times-in-the-future mood. He succeeded in doing this and with it he created a magnificent film that encourages viewers not to give up on humanity.
It’s almost impossible to recreate a book into a movie and not have some alterations. In the case of H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine, many changes were made to the plot which affected the order of the events and overall mood of the film. However, many times changes are made to help the audience easily understand the plot and to do so in a short amount of time. Often, these changes take away from the original story of the book leaving those viewers who read the book disappointed. In the case of The Time Machine, it may differ enormously from its original, but in the end these changes were not made in error.
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In The Time Machine, H. G. Wells takes on the impossible task of imagining the future of our world. The story features the Time Traveler (George), the main character of […]