Commentary The Time Machine is a classic Sci-Fi film based on H.G. Wells' 1895 novel of the same name. This is the earliest film I know of based on time travel. The special effects are impressive for their day, and the story is quite entertaining and thought-provoking.
Introduction: An British inventor named George completes construction on a time machine on New Year's Eve, 1899, just in time for the new century. He shows it to his friends, demonstrating it with a small model which disappears as it travels into the future. He then tells him that he plans on taking a journey into the future himself, starting at midnight.
Journey Into the Future: He travels into the future by pulling on a time lever, very slowly at first, but then gradually more and more. He is able to observe changes in the world happening around him by looking out of his window. He makes a few stops along the way, first in 1917 after his house gets boarded up during World War I, then briefly during World War II, in which his house gets destroyed, and finally in 1966 (six years after the movie was released), during World War III, when everyone is running into fallout shelters. He stays for awhile to see the world getting destroyed, then rushes back to his machine just in time before it gets buried under an eruption of lava.
Eloi and Morlocks: Now he journeys fast into the future. The lava quickly solidifies into rock surrounding him. He keeps moving forward until the rock erodes away, which doesn't occur until the year 802,701. He exits the machine to find what appears to be a very carefree society. However, he quickly learns that this society, which calls themselves the Eloi, is very unenlightened, without any book or even knowledge of fire. George soon learns that there's another race of humans, savage cannibals known as the Morlocks, who live underground. He narrowly escapes being killed by them and journeys back to 1900.
Conclusion: Back home, George tries to explain to his friends about his journey, but they don't believe him, except for a botanist friend of his named Filby, to whom he shows a flower from the future which he can't identify. In the end, George goes back to 802,701 with three books with which to educate the Eloi in the hope that they can build a new world.
Cultural Significance The Time Machine ultimately influenced many other films about time travel, most notably Time After Time, which involves a time machine similar to the one shown in this movie. The character George is presumably H.G. Wells, author of the story who also presumably tried to build his own time machine. This is in fact the basis for the movie Time After Time as well.
Problems with the Machine
The time machine illustrated in this film, as well as the similar one in Time After Time, both have the feature that they manage to always return to the same location on Earth in which they left when traveling through time. But if this is the case, then they must move along with the Earth, following its rotation, movement around the Sun, as well as the Solar System's motion through the Milky Way. Also, both machines are shown to disappear as they travel through time. But this idea is inaccurate as well, since the machine should exist at all times through which it travels.