1960 rated: 3.5 / 5
2002 rated: 2.5 / 5
So having rewatched this film and the 2002 remake, I figured now would be a good time to compare the two (ie state why this film is better than the remake).
So first of all, right from the get-go, the protagonists have completely different motivations for going through time. In fact, both films have a different concept of time travel altogether. Regarding the former point, the protagonist in the 60s film (I’ll call him George) wants to see the future mainly for curiosity’s sake, for science. But he does have an implied personal reason. A feeling of being born in the wrong time period. Wanting to see how he would be in other periods of the future where there would be more like-minded scientists like himself. Hence a feeling of wanting to belong. Yet the ironic part is that he winds up in a place where he ends up in the same position. A time period where he isn’t surrounded by any like-minded individuals, though their reasonings for having not much interest in what he does and what he proposes are different from those from his time period (near the turn of the millennium, to 1900).
The 2012 protagonist (I’ll just call him Alexander), on the other hand, builds up this whole endeavor primarily just to get his girlfriend back, and is willing to ditch the machine (which is very impressive looking, I must say, especially compared to George’s machine) once he has accomplished that, in spite of all the potential that machine can carry, in spite of all it could do, what wonders it could show. It seems pretty fucking petty compared to its reason for existence in the 1960 film. And even going wit this, lame-ass Alexander only makes an attempt to alter the past to save his girlfriend’s life once, and only once, before throwing his hands up in the air (“Whyyyyyyyy!!!????”) and deciding that it’s impossible to change the past, so he must find out why it’s impossible by getting the answer from some intelligent mind in the future, when minds are supposed to be more advanced and intelligent. For fuck’s sake, he’s a fucking scientist! His experiments are supposed to be all about trial and error, making mistakes, analyzing what the mistake is, and retrying the experiment again while avoiding those mistakes. Haven’t these fuckers ever seen Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure?
And this isn’t even bringing up the time paradox factor, which we’ve been told ever since Metal Gear Solid 3 that we’ve got to be careful of (I don’t give a fuck if that was released a few years after the 2002 movie, it’s still a valid point, even if I have to utilize another fucking time paradox to make it!). Alexander goes back in time. So where the fuck is his double? Is no one going to make a big deal about the big fucking time machine device that just spontaneously appeared in his laboratory, in his house, with his maid?
Which brings me to the latter point I mentioned in the second paragraph, the concept of time travel. George expresses no interest in going back to the past outside of simply returning to his own time after visiting the future, and even then making sure it’s at a time after when he initially left. Even near the end of the film (or the very beginning, depending on how you want to look at it), he doesn’t say anything in the hopes of trying to change the future in a way directly affecting those in the present (thus allowing the film to avoid paradoxes altogether, without even needing a reason to bring them up). Allow me to clarify. Alexander goes back for the sole purpose of taking action to save the life of his girlfriend, and goes about trying to do it. George, on the other hand, knowing that his best friend is going to get killed in World War I doesn’t make any attempt to make this statement to his friend, encouraging him to avoid the war. Why is this?
To answer that, you’d have to go to the middle act of the 1960 film, where George becomes outraged at the state of society, how they show no interest in the past in the hopes of improving the future. They have no ambition, no sense of duty to their fellow man. And George states at the end of all this that he would rather be back in his own time to die alongside his fellow countrymen, who would at least be able to die with honor alongside one another, at least trying to protect one another, even if the effort would be in vain. Because he recognizes that valuable trait that is also a shared bond between soldiers in the army. They fight more for each other than anything else. Creating a strong bond. And that bond isn’t just broken in that futuristic time period, it is completely non-existent. Why try to take that away from his friend, even knowing what fate will befall him? Or worse yet, what are the odds of that somehow making the future worse?
None of that is in Alexander’s world. Rather his ideals are more selfish and personal. Everything else be damned, he wants to spend the rest of his time with the love of his life. As if his entire existence revolves around her and only her, even though just the opening act of the film indicates his own hypocrisy (too busy doodling on the chalkboard to prioritize thinking about his fiance-to-be). And there is no self-awareness of this hypocrisy present in the entire movie. The speech by Morlock Jeremy Irons during the last act doesn’t directly address this issue either, that covers a different aspect entirely.
Both films have a similar yet different take on the future. In regards to the near-future it’s either the Cold War, or science going too far and nearly destroying us all. Either way, the message is the same, that mankind will create the tools of its own destruction. In the 1960 film, it’s because we destroy each other. In the 2002 film, it’s because we overestimate ourselves with using technology responsibly. … Thinking about it, I guess it’s still not much different, just the context.
But they also have something to highlight about society’s evolution. Naturally, the 2002 film has an advantage over the 1960 film in this regard. George notes the changing of clothing styles, yet for the most part they don’t change all that much. Alexander notes something more relevant and accurate. How women’s clothing became more and more revealing, with dresses that once went down to the ankles, now are up above the knees. How modesty fades away. Of course, that could change if muslims take over, then that’s going to bring modesty back with vengeance overkill. We’ll see if a 3rd major Time Machine movie has something to say about that (considering Hollywood’s lack of ambition and churning out of uninspired remakes, I’d say that’s as inevitable as the Home Alone reboot).
Clothing aside, George’s observance of the future is considerably more subtle (likely for budget constraints). Only in the background, if you squint to look, do you see structures that look somewhat futuristic (at least by 1960 standards). Alexander has the privilege of seeing credit swipe bicycles (either that or the card acts as a key; cool either way). And then there’s the library. There are some physical books, but it all seems mostly digital. With a black AI librarian who has a slightly pompous attitude, even going so far as to roll its eyes at the white time traveler for asking reasonable questions that it deems ridiculous (someone programmed this AI to be this way). And no access to any data from any scientists, not even ones who would’ve made public records/articles, of even the theory and concept of time travel, not even on a quantum physics level, even though some of those concepts exist today (not that they can be applied in a working-fashion in the way these films allege mind-you, but they’re there). Seems like this digital library is holding some information back, or is intentionally deprived of this sort of information, which may have been available in physical form at one point in time. Actually seems like a fairly accurate depiction of 2030 to me. Rather funny to see how many films at and before 2002 had a more ambitious future in mind for mankind’s progress, only to miscalculate that we would focus our progress more in the digital realm rather than in the physical realm.
Then we get to the future itself, after all the destruction caused from either nuclear war or the shattering of the moon (the latter of which I sure would’ve resulted in Earth being obliterated, especially after about 800,000 years; but whatever). George observes an all-white society has managed to survive. Alexander observes an all-brown society. Homogeneous either way. But the society Alexander witnesses has also accomplished setting up homes attached to the side of cliffs, accompanied by some uplifting tribal music sung by a choir of kids or something. Because it has to be blunt about this society being grand and great, without any downsides whatsoever aside from independent forces external to this society.
Here is another instance where both films try to tell something similar in a different way, yet the 2002 flick shoots itself in the foot as a result. The society in George’s timeline is so passive and uncaring and unambitious because they were bred that way. The Morlocks breed and raise the very society they will eventually consume; rinse and repeat. So the society is raised to be like this, to allow history and knowledge of the past to wither away to nothing, to have the achievements made by those in the past come to nothing. And to respond to certain sounds automatically as if they were hypnotized/brainwashed into doing so. Thus they were not only bred to be incapable of fighting back against their oppressors, but to not even comprehend that they are even being oppressed. After all, their oppressors provide them what they need, food and a shelter (and I presume clothing).
The society in Alexander’s timeline, on the other hand, is more independent and yet more stupid at the same time. They’re not bred and raised by the Morlocks, they can do that on their own. They can build on their own, acquire food on their own (though we never actually see what they eat; not that this is a fault in the film, I’m just curious about what the 2002 film would show a society like this eating as opposed to oversized pears in the 1960 film). There’s no air-raid sound (or anything like that) to lead any of them to their doom. Nope. The Morlocks just raid them whenever these people go off and, uh, spend time at a place dedicated to their ancestors (as opposed to scavenging for food in gardens or something). And they don’t fight back, they just flee, not even fighting back as a last resort. Why? Because they say they take the ones who fight back first. That’s just dumb.
Both films have the protagonist fighting back against the Morlocks, and thus inspiring the people to also fight back by following his example. But it’s carried out far better in the 1960 film because there’s a more logical reason as to why they needed George to inspire them to fight. Just the concept of fighting never occurred to them, no more than the concept of “stealing” seems to occur to these perfectly peaceful cabbages in the 2002 film. In the 2002 film, they know what fighting is, they just choose not to do it, until some schmuk shows up to remind them that it’s more logical to do so. Stupid.
Honestly, the only interesting thing about the 2002 film is when Alexander meets Jeremy Irons. The speech Irons makes, the philosophical points being stated, about the harshness of how a species evolves in relation to the environment, about the nature of existence and non-existence in relation to events of the past. It was the most investing part of the entire movie. But then the movie reminded everyone that it’s designed to be a dumb B action movie for dumb B audiences, and then a fight ensues along with a chase and an explosion, and then it lost any goodwill it gained from Jeremy Irons, which faded away about as quickly as he did.
Lastly, how each film ends. The 2002 film ends with Alexander’s BFF tossing his hat into the air, making a callback to the line of Alexander stating he wants a generation of students to go against the norm and offer some diversity of style and thought in a plain mundane society. This seems to go against his BFF’s attitude and character, what little there was, setup during the first act of the film, not to mention goes against the fact that there were a ton of great scientific minds during that time period who would end up changing society at one point or another with their inventions (they mention that hack Albert Einstein, don’t mention Nikola Tesla). Yet this doesn’t leave the viewer to ponder anything, to even encourage them to act independently against the norm for progress.
The 1960 film on the other hand, has George go back to the future (heheh), to that age where society has regressed in terms of knowledge, to where it has practically reset without any of the knowledge to be had from their distant ancestors. But he doesn’t go back with nothing. He takes a few books with him to help society grow. Which books did he take? The film doesn’t say. We are left to ponder with this question:
“Which three books would you have taken?”
It encourages the audience to ask themselves the question as to what limited sources of information would they utilize to make the best society they could? What should we be teaching our children in the hopes that they too will make society better for them, and their children, and their children’s children? When was the last time a film was made that posed an open-ended question like that which makes the viewer think critically?
At least the 1960 film poses a question that could be utilized somewhere along the lines of, “What would you do if you had a time machine?” The 2002 film, all it says is, “It’s just a machine.” As if technology should be tossed aside for a more simplified way of living, ala some shitty episode or film of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The 2002 film exists only as a statement at best. The 1960 film exists as both a statement, and as a question to the viewer as how to take that statement (ie the statement is made for the sake of leading up to the big question at the end).
So despite the superior looking time machine, and the impressive-looking Morlocks the 2002 film provides, the 1960 film is ultimately superior with its themes and ideas, and even warning of the future, which are still relevant today.
PS: Oh, right. And the 2002 film ends by showing the next generation in this future society being taught the the AI librarian. That’s taking the easy way out, and not even addressing the set of problems even that could bring (that hard drives could last that long, that data wouldn’t be corrupted, that a power source could last that long, it’s information that is selected by a corporation that deems it worthy of the public to access, etc). Besides, that doesn’t include those bitchin’ spinning ring devices from the 1960 film. Seriously, what other movie did something as awesome as that? Seems like a great concept that no one else has ripped off yet, even if it is a bit impractical.
PPS: The Morlocks were built up far better in the original than in the remake. Always just a brief glimpse of them through some bushes, or out of the corner of your eye, dashing from one corner to the other, through the light back into the shadow, building the suspense until they are finally encountered. In the remake, they are named once, and then they just show up.