Comic Book Resources interviewed IRON MAN 3 director Shane Black (KISS KISS BANG BANG) about his collaboration with actor Robert Downey Jr. on the upcoming Marvel movie.
Bringing up his other genre projects (such as DEATH NOTE), Black affirmed that he’s still interested in doing DOC SAVAGE, a film adaptation of the famous pulp magazine hero from the 1930’s and `40’s.
“I do want to do DOC SAVAGE. The script is still evolving and I’m kind of busy, but I want to get it right and I want to do it… if we do DOC SAVAGE, the challenge is make it adult. I think that there are so few practitioners of action movies these days who are doing worthwhile stuff that it behooves me to try to weigh in and try to do the “Raiders Of The Lost Ark”-type stuff, to try to recapture the magic.”
Shane Black does have a track record in action movies, wrting LETHAL WEAPON while still in his 20’s, and later LETHAL WEAPON II, THE LAST BOY SCOUT and others.
Doc Savage was adapted for radio twice in the 30’s and 40’s, though no recordings are known to exist. A number of scripts survive.
In the 1960’s and 70’s paperback reprints of the Doc Savage novels became a huge success, bring the character back from obscurity for a new generation of readers.
This led to an unfortunately campy 1975 Warner Brothers film starring former TV Tarzan Ron Ely, produced by George Pal and directed by Michael Anderson.
In the Street & Smith pulps written by Lester Dent (as Kenneth Robeson). Doctor Clark Savage, Jr. led a group of adventurers, The Amazing Five, experts in various fields of sciences and (mostly) rough and tumble fighters as well.
National Public Radio did an audio drama revival in the 1980’s which was generally well-received.
The Man of Bronze, with his arctic Fortress of Solitude, was one of the inspirations for the Man of Steel, Superman.
A colorful Hollywood adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel.
I cannot recall when I first heard of George Pal’s 1960 production of THE TIME MACHINE, but it must have been in one of the many books about science fiction cinema that I read as a teenager in the 1970s. At a very tender age, I had seen the first part of Pal’s WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953) on television; it was a school night, so I had to go to be before the conclusion, but the sight of the Martian death ray rising up out of the mysterious meteor and blasting three helpless humans left an indelible impression. Consequently, learning that Pal had produced another adaptation of an H.G. Wells novel was more than enough to pique my interest. I probably caught some or all of the film on television, but in the days before widescreen, high-def televisions and cable stations that show movies uncut and uninterrupted, I did not reckon a television viewing as really “seeing” a film. Fortunately, I got a chance to experience THE TIME MACHINE on the big screen in 1979, thanks to science fiction film festival at the old Tiffany Theatre on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Did it live up to my enthusiastic expectations? Yes and no.
I found THE TIME MACHINE to be a lavish and entertaining production, but at that time I was a film student rapturously enamored of modern cinematic technique, and THE TIME MACHINE was a bit too old-fashioned for my taste. Also, the special effects, although colorful, were sometimes transparent in their phoniness; I recall with disappointment noting the visible matte lines as the Time Traveller (Rod Taylor) walks through a future world with a stone idol in the background.
To some extent, I was also a bit disappointed with the divergence from Wells’ 1895 novel, which I had read in grade school. Although I did not know it at the time, Wells had written two versions of The Time Macine: the first was serialized in a magazine; the second was published in book form, and there were significant alterations between the two. In retrospect, I realize that, if there were elements missing from the film, it was not necessarily because a Hollywood screenwriter deleted them; the real reason might have been that Wells himself had removed them during his second pass of the novel. (For example, the original version has an episode near the end, set in the distant future, when the unnamed Time Traveler finds small mammals that – it is clearly implied – are the last evolutionary descendants of humanity. These creatures are missing from the version published in book form.)
Looking back, I am more willing to forgive THE TIME MACHINE for expanding and updating the source material to make it work in the film medium and to bring its concerns up to date for the audiences of 1960. The result is a film that is an interesting time capsule in its own right, in some ways quaint, even naive, but nevertheless entertaining, though perhaps not always for the reason originally intended. For example, the futuristic Eloi (mostly inarticulate in the book) speak perfectly good (albeit simple-minded) English; their childlike size has been increased to adult dimensions, and they are given blonde sugar-bowl hairstyles, so that they resemble apathetic California beach bums. On the one hand, this also allows for a captivating romantic interest in the form of the charming Yvette Mimieux (a more child-like character in the original). On the other hand, it feels very much like parental finger-wagging, with the Old World Pal using the Eloi to make a snide comment on the hedonistic “younger generation,” who are portrayed as lazy and ignorant, living the good life without lifting a finger to work or create. As the Time Traveler (here named George) says:
What have you done? Thousands of years of building and rebuilding, creating and recreating so you can let it crumble to dust. A million years of sensitive men dying for their dreams… FOR WHAT? So you can swim and dance and play.
The most interesting aspect of this, for me anyway, is that the appearance of the Eloi seems so clearly to be of 1960s. The decade has barely started, and Pal is presenting this image as if it will be instantly recognized by the target audience of presumably disapproving adults. I would have expected something that was a bit more of a holdover from the 1950s. Oh well, perhaps Pal, like Rod Taylor’s character, was able to see what the future would bring.
More important than the film’s attitude toward the youth of 1960, THE TIME MACHINE jettisons Wells’ evolutionary angle and the social criticism that went with it. In the book, the sun-dwelling Eloi and the cave-dwelling cannibalistic Morlocks are portrayed as the inevitable if unpleasant result of the schism between the affluent ruling class and the downtrodden workers. In the movie, mankind devolves into the Eloi and the Morlocks not because of unstoppable forces of biology and economics but because of a nuclear holocaust. The end result in the year 802,701 may seem almost the same, but there is a major difference: what has gone wrong in the movie, we are left in no doubt, can be undone.
Consequently, when the George disappears from his own era, never to return, we are not left to speculate that he may have been devoured by “the huge reptilian brutes of the Jurassic times”; instead, we know that he has gone back to the future to lift mankind back up from its dismal situation. Again, this may disappoint those who desire a faithful version of Wells, but the nuclear element gives the film its own context. Whether this is better or worse than the original is less important than the fact that, fifty years later, it renders THE TIME MACHINE as an interesting time capsule of an earlier era, its fears and concerns expressed in a popular artistic medium, in the same manner that Wells expressed the zeitgeist of his era in the novel.
Seen today, THE TIME MACHINE remains a reasonably elaborate affair, with impressive production values and fine special effects (even if these are somewhat dated, they do not undermine the movie.) The old-fashioned cinematic style, which previously disappointed me, now seems part of the film’s charm – a sort of look back at how movies used to be made. The Moorlock makeup is reasonably frightening (in part because their scenes are filmed mostly in underground darkness), turning them into memorable movie-monsters. And there is a decent amount of spectacle for the eye (e.g., exploding volcanoes, nuclear bombs). The film even has a fair degree of visual poetry, as when the Time Traveler asks to learn more about the Eloi by looking at their books: an Eloi takes George to a dilapidated library and hands him an ancient volume, which promptly crumble into dust in his fingers. George concludes ruefully that the books do, indeed, tell him all he needs to know about the Eloi.
Overall, while perhaps not a masterpiece, George Pal’s version of THE TIME MACHINE deserves to be considered a classic of science fiction cinema – a piece of old-fashoined filmmaking expressing a decent amount of intellectual ambition in the context of a rousing adventure story. THE TIME MACHINE (1960). Produced and directed by George Pal. Screenplay by David Duncan, based on the novel by H.G. Wells. Cast: Rod Taylor, Alan Young, Yvette Mimieux, Sebastian Cabot, Tom Helmore, Whit Bissell, Doris Lloyd.
George Pal produced and sometimes directed some of the great science fiction films of the 1950 and 1960s – films that defined the genre and inspired later filmmakers like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Joe Dante. On Wednesday August 27 at 7:30pm in Samuel L. Goldwyn theatre in Beverly Hills, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences will offer a tribute entitled “George Pal: Discovering the Fantastic,” which will include a panel discussion featuring several people who worked with Pal, including actros Barbara Eden (THE SEVEN FACES OF DR. LAO), Ann Robinson (WAR OF THE WORLDS), Russ Tamblyn, and Alan Young (THE TIME MACHINE). THE WAR OF THE WORLDS will be screened, along with several of Pal’s short stop-motion “Puppetoons.”
Tickets are $5 for general audiences, $3 for Academy members. The theatre is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, California 90211. Telephone: (310) 247-3000.
The Los Angeles Times has an article about the event, including interviews from some of the people who will be involved. RELATED ARTICLES:
Producer George Pal’s 1953 movie version of the H.G. Wells novel is lavishily mounted and visually stunning, thanks to imaginative production design and impressive technical effects — a rare example (along with FORBIDDEN PLANET) of a big-budget ’50s science-fiction film from a major Hollywood studio, made during an era swamped with low-budget B-pictures and independent productions.
Taking the basic concept from the book, Pal produced a popular Hollywood entertainment, complete with a love story played out against the backdrop of the devastation of Earth; fortunately, the devastation still packs a wallop. A nicely structured build-up leads to scattered initial encounters, and only gradually does it become apparent that Earth is helpless against the invasion. The sense of futility is nicely conveyed, especially in the riot-like mass exodus in the third act, and director Byron Haskin manages to wring a few horror-movie type scares (the old claw-on-the-shoulder gag, nicely done in a dark, abandoned farm house), thanks to the creepy-looking Martians, who are seldom more than glimpsed. With humanity unable to save itself, it’s up to our microscopic accidental allies to do the job for us -perhaps the only time in film history that a deus ex machina ending has really worked.
The screenplay by Barre Lyndon updates the setting from the Victorian England to the (then) contemporary United States. As in the book, the Martians themselves are physically weak; it is only in their machines that they are a threat. But the machines themselves are radically redesigned and far more invulnerable: graceful green hovercraft that float suspended above barely glimpsed electro-magnetic pulses (an effect shown only in their first appearances, for fear that the on-set electricity would set the effects stage on fire!) and are shielded by an invisible force field that can even deflect an atomic blast. Also changed are their weapons: the lethal black smoke is nowhere to be seen, and the heat ray becomes a disintegration ray (notably similar to the one used by the alien robot Gort in DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL two years previously).
These changes actually help keep the film faithful to the spirit of the novel, which portrayed the world’s most powerful nation humbled by an almost infinitely more powerful alien adversary. Many incidents find their way from the page to the screen, but for the most part the film is an original work fashioned as a crowd-pleasing entertainment. Rather than Wells’ humbling warning about the precarious place humanity holds at the top of the food change, the film offers reassurances that even the worst challengers imaginable will be defeated because God is on our side.
This becomes evident in a number of ways. Wells was crafting an ironic scenario in which the Martian invasion acted as a magnified mirror image of British imperialism: that is, a technologically superior army using its advanced weaponry to evict and/or annihilate a native population. The film is all about Cold War paranoia and the fear of “Godless Communism,” with the Martians standing in, more or less, for the Soviet Union. (In a montage of Martians attacking countries around the world, the USSR is conspicuous by its absence.) We know beyond doubt that the Martians are evil when the heartlessly blast into oblivion a priest trying to communicate with them. (Of course, he is reciting the famous psalm “As I walk through the Valley of Shadow, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me Lord.”)
The editing even implies that it was not so much bacteria as True Love (sanctioned by God, of course) that defeats the alien enemy: Searching through the devastated streets of Los Angeles (a marvelously well-done sequence that includes a convincingly shot destruction of City Hall), our scientist-hero (Gene Barry) finds his love interest (Ann Robinson) in a church. He’s not there to save her; they just want to be together when the end comes. But as the walls begin crumbling around them, they embrace, and the film cuts to a shot of a Martian war machine crashing to the ground. The juxtaposition of images (hug=crash) seems to imply a cause-and-effect relationship, at least on a metaphoric level, whatever the narration may tell us about Martian lack of immunity to Earth’s micro-organisms.
The cast of characters is fairy typical for the era: brave men and vulnerable women. Fortunately, the actors fill their rolls well, emerging as likable archetypes — charming to watch even if they are not fleshed out much beyond their professions (the General, the Scientist, etc). And the script gets in a few nice touches. (Barry is first seen wearing glasses; he tells Robinson they are for viewing distant objects and that he doesn’t need them when he wants to examine something up close –whereupon he takes them off and turns his eyes full upon her, signalling his romantic interest.)
The special effects were state-of-the-art for the time, and they remain impressive today. If a few wires are visible to discerning eyes, at least the images are interesting in design and colorful in execution; something about the smooth, sleek look of the Martian hovercraft make them fascinating to watch, even if their miniature origins are sometimes apparent. Although subsequent films (such as INDEPENDENCE DAY) would outdo WAR OF THE WORLDS in terms of depicting mass destruction, this film retains its classic status thanks to the dramatic conviction with which it portrays its characters helplessly fighting against an unstoppable enemy bent on driving humanity into extinction.