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Leonardo DiCaprio and Andy Muschietti to Remake ‘The Time Machine’

The universal, malleable narrative of this true sci-fi classic definitely lends itself to multiple onscreen translations.
The Time Machine
By  · Published on November 2nd, 2018

Andy Muschietti‘s directorial schedule is already getting busier, and it’s only been several days since his last big project announcement. We thought the IT director found his biggest break yet when he was tapped to helm a new live-action Attack on Titan movie. However, he clearly continues to leave our expectations in the dust in his rise through the Hollywood ranks. Deadline reports that Muschietti will collaborate with Leonardo DiCaprio‘s Appian Way production banner and Warner Bros. to once again bring one of the most influential science-fiction classics of all time to the big screen: H. G. WellsThe Time Machine.

Published in 1895 as one of Wells’ earliest fiction works, The Time Machine chronicles the adventures of an unnamed protagonist simply called the Time Traveler, who is a scientist and inventor living in Victorian England. After building a device that allows him to traverse the temporal dimension, he takes a trip far into the future, landing in the year 802,701 AD. Once there, the Time Traveler discovers that humanity has evolved into two conflicting factions: the elegant but childlike Eloi and brutal pseudo-humans called Morlocks. Shortly upon the Time Traveler’s arrival, the Morlocks steal away with his machine and he has to fight to get it back, slowly uncovering the real societal structures underpinning these civilizations.

Muschietti and his sister Barbara Muschietti, who serves as co-producer on this new adaptation of The Time Machine, penned the treatment for the film together. The siblings have worked together since Muschietti’s directorial debut Mama (both the short and feature versions). Also, notably, Arnold Leibovit is on board to executive produce The Time Machine, which links the movie back to prior versions based on Wells’ source material.

Leibovit previously worked on the 2002 rendition of The Time Machine, which was directed by Wells’ great-grandson Simon Wells and starred Guy Pearce as the inventor in question. That film is itself a remake of the 1960 adaptation of the novel starring Rod Taylor that was directed by George Pal (about whom Leibovit made a documentary in the ’80s). Those are just two of the many interpretations of the book that are out there. Just on screen, a 1949 BBC teleplay broadcast and a 1978 NBC television film exist, too.

Many a sci-fi fan would at least be aware of Wells’ name coupled with several titles in his arsenal, such as The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds (both of which have spawned onscreen translations in their own right). Although the prolific writer did pen works outside of sci-fi, he is most well-known as a pioneer of the genre. The futurist leanings of Wells’ books envision concepts such as time travel, alien invasions, and biological engineering while infusing them with varying degrees of socio-political commentary.

In fact, The Time Machine is an excellent illustration of this, as it examines class, modernization, and evolutionary fallibility via the intricate relationship between humanity, nature, and technology. Moreover, one of the most striking qualities about the novella is that these thematic threads are universal enough to allow for a ton of malleability when it comes to retelling the narrative. This is observable via Wells’ original tome as well as subsequent big-screen adaptations.

Spoilers Below

The original The Time Machine is determined in direct conjunction to its setting. The story is told using a frame narrative technique that supplements the Time Traveler’s exploits within the distinguishing context of the 19th century. While the novella exaggerates its hypothesis on human evolution, parallels are directly drawn between Victorian society and the complacent Eloi, while the working-class is evidently comparable to the Morlocks, who hide away and run the machinery that powers Eloi society.

Yet, harrowingly enough, cannibalism is the main source of sustenance for the latter. The line between good and evil is definitely blurred in The Time Machine, so much so that the story ends on an ambiguous note: the Time Traveler escapes the Morlocks out of self-preservation and when he next revs up his machine for another adventure, we have no idea where he goes.

Comparatively, both Pal and Simon Wells bring individual variations to The Time Machine‘s initial plot. Most significantly, these films pad out the source text with stronger emotional and romantic connections between characters and a good dose of action and special effects. Their protagonists are also more traditionally heroic compared to the Time Traveler in the book, and they get more optimistic conclusions overall.

Of the two, the 1960 movie more closely resembles the novella, retaining the use of a frame story system and prioritizing scientific curiosity as a primary motivation of its protagonist. That said, the cautionary tale of humanity’s destructive tendencies is more clearly driven home when the film’s main character, H. George Wells (a fictional surrogate of the author himself), witnesses world wars and nuclear cataclysm before arriving in 802,701 AD. Similarly, heroism and villainy are clear-cut, with the novella’s nuanced discussions of class struggle being mostly diluted in Pal’s movie. Finally, George defeats the Morlocks and helps restart progressive civilization for the Eloi through promoting intellect.

Meanwhile, the 2002 film is vastly different — and considerably ludicrous — in comparison. It detracts most saliently from The Time Machine‘s storyline by relating the creation of the eponymous device to lost love. Guy Pearce’s Alexander Hartdegen invents the time machine in an attempt to save his fiancée from death. When his efforts prove futile, he travels forward in time to figure out why, unintentionally landing in 802,701 AD when he narrowly escapes a man-made disaster (in a plot point echoing the 1960 movie).

Once there, Alexander is picked up by the Eloi, who are noticeably more industrious than those featured in the aforementioned versions of the narrative. The Morlocks’ social systems are purposely overhauled as well. They are divided into different sub-species, one of which — the hilariously named Über-Morlock — incidentally has the answers that Alexander desperately seeks. Nevertheless, Alexander gets his heroic ending when he saves the Eloi and rebuilds society with them.

Clearly, for better or for worse, The Time Machine lends itself to multiple recounts. Who knows what Muschietti’s take on the story will be like? There is more than meets the eye to Wells’ original plot that hasn’t totally been explored in a large cinematic scope yet, giving him ample avenues of storytelling potential to mine for his buzzy studio adaptation.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)