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THE TIME MACHINE Revisited

Seing a classic film in a classic theatre at the Last Remaining Seats Festival.

By Craig Reid     June 22, 2000

An Eloi-like line magnetically streams up Broadway Street towards the Orpheum theatre to gaze at one of the all time classics of sci-fi cinema, George Pal's film of H.G. Wells' THE TIME MACHINE in downtown LA. By 1931, this grand theater was part of the brilliance of Broadway, which boasted the greatest concentration of movie palaces in the world, with an audience capacity of over 15,000. Appallingly, many of these classic movie houses have been disappearing faster than the rain forest under the threat of demolition or expansion of modern day duplexes.

Like an urban Green Peace, the LA Conservancy strives to protect these treasured historical palaces from extinction and part of their strategy includes the Annual Last Remaining Seats Film Festival, which was launched in 1987 to increase awareness of the endangered historic theaters in the greater LA area. Held every June, the series presents classic films as they were meant to be enjoyed, accompanied by vintage news reels, cartoon shorts, live performances, or on-stage interviews and cast reunions.

On this particular evening, my wife and I sit on golden felt chairs, below the balconied, operatic box seats once reserved in a bygone era for Royalty or Hollywood icons. But tonight, we're all royalty, waiting for the grandest of performances, THE TIME MACHINE. But before that starts, a special treat awaits us live on stage.

Giant robot Gort from THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, stands like a temporal sentry awaiting the appearance or disappearance of THE TIME MACHINE (not to be confused with 1978 MTV film) while audio commercials of yesteryear blare: 'THE TIME MACHINE! H.G. Wells' most astounding prophecy. NOW from MGM, the picture that smashes the time barriers, takes you to unknown worlds. See the future before it happens. THE TIME MACHINE! Taking you through eons of time, past atomic wars and volcanic upheavals that desolated the globe. THE TIME MACHINE! What does the future hold? What is the fate of man? See the answers on the giant screen in blazing color. THE TIME MACHINE!'

In Vaudevillian fashion, the white-gloved Max DeMille, wearing top hat and tux, saunters onto stage. Lights flash behind a shear curtain as the actual Time Machine, courtesy of Fred Barton Productions, comes into view, disc spinning and lights flashing. Suddenly, we realize that STAR TREK: VOYAGER's Jeri Ryan, host of tonight's TIME MACHINE 40th Anniversary celebration, has just made an appearance saying, 'Sorry I'm late but I had urgent business from the 24th century.'

After roars of cheers, she begins, 'Welcome to the Orpheum Theater. Before I begin, I'd like to thank the man who hosted last year's FORBIDDEN PLANET reunion, George Takei.'

Applause quickly turns to pandemonium as the Sulu man himself makes an unscheduled appearance, sharing, 'Thank you. It's a great to be here tonight for this year's Last Remaining Seats sponsored by the LA Conservancy. I'm sure all my STAR TREK colleagues would agree, we want this theatrical treasure to 'live long and prosper.'' Whoops of cheers later, he exits.

After her tribute to director George Pal, Jeri sits down and interviews special guests Alan Young (Filby in THE TIME MACHINE), Arnold Leibovit (executive producer of the Dreamworks/Warner Bros, remake of THE TIME MACHINE) and world-renowned sci-fi collector and historian Forrest J. Ackerman.

Before Ed Sussman performs haunting musical shticks and songs (including the STAR TREK theme) on the theremin, Warner Brothers' Clyde Lucas and Brian Jameson announce the upcoming, digitally remastered DVD release of THE TIME MACHINE, which will include the ordinal theater trailer. Cheers later, the moment has arrived for THE TIME MACHINE.

It's New Year's Eve, the night before the new centurythe 20th century, that isand four scientists have been invited over for dinner to their young colleague's house. Moments later, wearing tattered clothes, the young scientist staggers in and proceeds to tell a story of time travel. His name is George and he has their and our undivided attention.

Retaining the period piece sensibility without challenging the somewhat cloddish British class system, producer-director George Pal (WAR OF THE WORLDS) delightfully tackles H.G. Wells' fantastical first novel THE TIME MACHINE, wielding a magical wand that incorporates the paranoia and social commentary of its time by intelligently conveying that, for better or worse, one man can make an impact on history, regardless of the time period.

With it's Oscar winning special effects, TIME MACHINE tells the story of one such man, George (Rod Taylor), who invents a device that can transport him through the fourth dimension of time. He goes forward past three world wars. (I'm thankfully glad that the 1966 prediction of WWIII was incorrect.) He eventually stops at the year 802,701 where he encourages peace-loving, pseudo-zombie like Elois to rise up against the dominions of darkness, their subterranean enemies, the beastly Morlocks. His experiences are vivid and frustrating, yet his emotions are very mature and controlled, considering that he is privy to the destruction, reconstruction and devolution of mankind.

When I saw this film as a kid growing up in England, it really scared the hell out of me. I mean I couldn't sleep for almost a week worrying that the Morlocks were going to attack. Although this time around, the scare factors weren't as strong and the film seemed a bit dated in some parts, I was actually impressed with the final action fight between Taylor and the Morlocks. It wasn't Hong Kong action, but for 1960, the rhythm of the fight was remarkably frenetic and well-paced. Although the audience laughed during Taylor's classic lines like, 'Oh Weena,' and 'I'll be back' (decades before Arnold), the one laugh many missed was the famed Woody Woodpecker chide. Pal was a close friend of animator Walter Lantz, and in a scene where the Elois are having a good time and Weena is drowning, you can hear in the background that patented, 'Oh, oh, oh uh-oh.' It's Pal's in-joke and tribute. Listen for it next time, if there is time....

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