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H.G. Wells on the Screen
Quick Facts: One of the great pioneers of science fiction, Herbert George Wells was born in Kent, England in 1866. The youngest of four children, Wells loved reading, at the age of 18 he won a scholarship at the Royal College of Science.
After college he started teaching science for a while. In 1893 he became a full time writer, his first book was the non-fiction ‘Textbook of Biology’. He published his first science fiction novel The Time Machine in 1895. He had already speculated about time travel in his science school journal.
The popularity of The Time Machine led to Wells writing more “scientific romances”, an early term for science fiction. Stories such as The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), The War of the Worlds (1898), When the Sleeper Wakes (1899), The First Men in the Moon (1901) and In the Days of the Comet (1906).
Wells was writing about travelling to the moon, alien invasions, alien civilizations, time travel, mad science experiments, invisibility and cities of the future decades before they became the normal staples of science fiction.
One of the great visionaries of his time, Wells dreamed of a utopian society, a United States of Earth or ‘World State’ with a single common political authority for all mankind.
Like Jules Verne, H.G. Wells suffered from diabetes in the last years of his life and he died aged 79 at his home in Regent’s Park, London in 1946.
Island of Lost Souls (1933) directed by Erle C. Kenton, starring Charles Laughton as Dr, Moreau, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Kathleen Burke and Bela Lugosi as the Sayer of the Law. 70mins.
Based on H.G. Wells novel 'The Island of Dr. Moreau' (1896)
Charles Laughton played Dr. Moreau, the mad scientist who experimented on animals to turn them into people, and turn human beings into animals. There is a hint of bestiality in his experiments when he orders Panther Girl to entice shipwrecked Richard Arlen into having sex with her so she can produce a child, a hybrid human and animal.
Dr. Moreau: What is the law?
Sayer of the Law: Not to go on all fours, that is the law. Are we not men?
The film was banned in Britain three times and has never been shown on TV, it still awaits a UK DVD release. In the US it was released on DVD and Blu-ray by Criterion in 2011.
IMDB rating 7.7
The Invisible Man (1933) directed by James Whale, starring Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, William Harrigan, Henry Travers, Una O'Connor and E.E. Clive. 71mins.
Based on Wells classic novel of the same name.
Claude Rains first starring role even though we don't see his face until the very end of the film. The name of the Invisible Man is Dr. Jack Griffin, in the novel he is only referred to as Griffin, his first name is never revealed.
The Invisible Man: The drugs I took seemed to light up my brain. Suddenly I realized the power I held, the power to rule, to make the world grovel at my feet. Power to walk into the gold vaults of the nations, into the secrets of kings, into the Holy of Holies; power to make multitudes run squealing in terror at the touch of my little invisible finger. Even the moon's frightened of me, frightened to death!
One of the great sci-fi horror films of the 1930s, director James Whale had a major success in 1931 with Frankenstein. Boris Karloff and Colin Clive were considered for the role.
The visual effects by John P. Fulton were groundbreaking for their time.
Followed by 5 sequels - The Invisible Man Returns (1940), The Invisible Woman (1940), Invisible Agent (1942), The Invisible Man's Revenge (1944) and the inevitable, Abbott and Costello meet the Invisible Man (1951).
IMDB rating 7.7
Things to Come (1936) directed by William Cameron Menzies, starring Raymond Massey, Edward Chapman, Ralph Richardson, Margaretta Scott, Cedric Hardwicke and Ann Todd. 100mins.
The screenplay was written by H.G. Wells, adapted from his novel The Shape of Things to Come (1933).
The most expensive and most ambitious science fiction film of the 1930s – and despite the explosion of pulp SF magazines over the next 15 years, it was the last science fiction film of any importance until the 1950s.
The movie is in three sections beginning in 1940 in the English city of Everytown, it accurately predicts the start of WWII which sees devastation and ruin across much of the world. It than cuts to the 1970s where a after a decade of war a new society is forming in the shattered remains of towns and cities.
The final section takes place in the year 2036, where an elitist utopian state has been created on the ruins of the old world. Theotocopulos (Cedric Hardwicke) argues for a return to a less sterile life. But there is hope for the future, as this peaceful bored society uses a "space gun" to send a man and a woman to the stars in search of possible transcendence.
Cabal: All the universe or nothing. Which shall it be, Passworthy? Which shall it be?”
IMDB rating 6.7
The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1936) directed by Lothar Mendes, starring Roland Young, Ralph Richardson, Edward Chapman, Ernest Thesiger, Joan Gardner, Sophie Stewart, George Zucco, George Sanders, Torin Thatcher. 82mins.
Based on a short story by H.G. Wells first published in 1898.
George Fotheringay (Roland Young) suddenly discovers he has the power to make objects move about by themselves or appear and disappear by sheer willpower. By the end of the film George, still experimenting with his powers, has stopped the Earth from rotating causing chaos and destruction.
IMDB rating 7.2
Kipps (1941) directed by Carol Reed, starring Michael Redgrave, Diana Wynyard, Phyllis Calvert, Arthur Riscoe, Max Adrian, Philip Frost, Diana Calderwood and Michael Wilding. 111mins.
Based on Wells novel Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul (1905).
Arthur Kipps (Redgrave) works as a draper's assistant until one day he finds he has inherited a fortune and life gets a lot more complicated.
IMDB rating 6.4
The History of Mr. Polly (1949) directed by Anthony Pelissier, starring John Mills, Betty Ann Davies, Megs Jenkins, Finlay Currie, Edward Chapman, Dandy Nichols, Sally Ann Howes and Juliet Mills. 95mins.
Based on the comic novel of the same name by H.G. Wells, first published in 1910.
Young Alfred Polly (Mills) sets up shop in a small town after inheriting some money from his father, 15 years later he is married to an abusive spiteful wife and feels his life is going nowhere. He decides to set fire to the shop and kill himself, but he ends up a hero when he saves an elderly neighbour from the burning building.
IMDB rating 6.6
The War of the Worlds (1953) directed by Byron Haskin, starring Gene Barry, Ann Robinson, Les Tremayne, Robert Cornthwaite, Lewis Martin, Paul Frees and Henry Brandon. 85mins.
“No one would have believed in the middle of the 20th Century that human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than Man's. Yet, across the gulf of space on the planet Mars, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded our Earth with envious eyes, slowly and surely drawing their plans against us.”
Based on H.G. Wells classic novel, first published in 1898.
One of the greatest and most popular sci-fi films of the 1950s, War of the Worlds was the first movie to show a world-threatening alien invasion. Produced by George Pal who previously had successes with When Worlds Collide (1951) and Destination Moon (1950) and would later direct The Time Machine (1960).
Unlike the Martian war machines from the novel which had tripod legs, these were shaped like manta-rays and floated on beams of energy. And the setting was changed from 1898 London to 1953 California. But the fate of the Martians remained the same.
The memorable visual effects won a well-deserved Oscar, the film was also nominated for Sound and Editing.
IMDB rating 7.1
The Time Machine (1960) directed by George Pal, starring Rod Taylor, Alan Young, Tvette Mimieux, Sebastian Cabot, Whit Bissell and Tom Helmore. 103mins.
Based on Wells first science fiction novel, published in 1895.
1900. George (Rod Taylor) builds a time machine and travels to 1917 and finds that England is at war with Germany, he than stops at 1940 and sees that war is still raging. His next stop is 1966 and shock horror London is still under attack this time in a nuclear war. Horrified he leaps into his Time Machine and vanishes into the far future, almost a million years forward in time to the year 802,701.
Well's story is a commentary on the classes, in the future the rich upper class became too comfortable and complacent, they evolve into the beautiful, mindless Eloi, while the downtrodden working class after centuries of hard labour, terrible living conditions and malnutrition go underground and evolve into the cannibalistic Morlocks.
Various effects were used to show time passing including time-lapse photography, flickering lights, animation and stop motion.
An Oscar win for Best Special Effects.
IMDB rating 7.5
First Men in the Moon (1964) directed by Nathan Juran, starring Edward Judd, Martha Hyer, Lionel Jeffries, Miles Malleson and Eric Chitty. 103mins.
Based on Wells SF classic, first published in 1901.
1899, Joseph Cavor (Lionel Jeffries) creates Cavorite, a substance which can resist gravity. He teams up with Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd) and they build a sphere coated with cavorite and blast off to the moon. They encounter an insect-like civilisation, the Selenites.
Special effects legend Ray Harryhausen created the excellent visual fx.
IMDB rating 6.5
Village of the Giants (1965) directed by Bert I. Gordon, starring Tommy Kirk, Johnny Crawford, Ron Howard, Joe Turkel and Beau Bridges. 81mins.
Based very loosely on H.G. Wells The Food of the Gods (1904).
A kid nicknamed 'Genius' (Ron Howard) accidentally creates a substance that can make animals grow to giant size, he names it Goop. A bunch of troublemaking youths steal the Goop and turn themselves into giants.
Director Bert I. Gordon's monster movies usually feature giant animals or people, like The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), The Cyclops (1957), Earth vs the Spider (1958), War of the Colossal Beast (1958) and The Food of the Gods (1976).
IMDB rating 3.1
Half a Sixpence (1967) directed by George Sidney, starring Tommy Steele, Julia Foster, Cyril Ritchard, Penelope Horner, James Villiers and Allan Cuthbertson. 143mins.
A British musical based on H.G. Wells novel Kipps (1905).
The musical played on Broadway for 511 performances in 1965 and was nominated for a Tony Award. Tommy Steele recreated his stage role for the film.
IMDB rating 6.4
The Food of the Gods (1976) directed by Bert I. Gordon, starring Marjoe Gortner, Pamela Franklin, Ralph Meeker, Jon Cypher and Ida Lupino. 88mins.
Based on Wells 1904 novel of the same name.
A remote island in British Columbia is infested with giant rats, wasps and other giant sized animals. The animals have eaten a strange substance which has bubbled out from beneath the earth. Eventually a bunch of people find themselves trapped in a farmhouse which is attacked by giant rats.
Bert I Gordon's second attempt to make a film from Wells novel, his first was Village of the Giants (1965).
IMDB rating 3.8
Empire of the Ants (1977) directed by Bert I. Gordon, starring Joan Collins, Robert Lansing, John David Carson, Albert Salmi, Jacqueline Scott, Pamela Shoop and Robert Pine. 89mins.
Inspired by a short story of the same name by H.G. Wells written in 1905.
A toxic spill turns ants into giant monsters. The poor visual effects in some scenes make the magnified ants look like they're walking on air.
IMDB rating 3.4
The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977) directed by Don Taylor, starring Burt Lancaster as Dr. Moreau, Michael York, Nigel Davenport, Barbara Carrera and Richard Basehart as the Sayer of the Law. 99mins.
Based on Wells classic novel, first published in 1896.
Dr. Moreau: If one is to study nature, one must become as remorseless as nature. You should know that!
Montgomery: Who's next Dr. Moreau? Me?
John Chambers created the make-up for the 'Manimals', Chambers won an Oscar for his work on Planet of the Apes (1968).
IMDB rating 5.7
The Shape of Things to Come (1979) directed by George McCowan, starring Jack Palance, Carol Lynley, Barry Morse, John Ireland, Nicholas Campbell and Anne-Marie Martin. 98mins.
A Canadian SF film inspired by some aspects of H.G. Wells novel of the same name, first published in 1933.
Set in the far future where Earth has been devastated by the Robot Wars and most of humanity has settled into large domes on the Moon.
The reviews were negative "Trust me folks, this film is NOT good and if this is, in fact, "The Shape of Things to Come", I'd much prefer to live in the past." J.C.Macek III
IMDB rating 3.0
Time After Time (1979) directed by Nicholas Meyer, starring Malcolm McDowell as H.G. Wells, David Warner as Jack the Ripper, Mary Steenburgen, Charles Cioffi and Patti D'Arbanville. 112mins.
Not based on Wells stories but it does feature Malcolm McDowell as H.G. Wells.
An excellent sci-fi romance. John Stevenson (David Warner), a friend of Herbert George Wells, turns out to be the notorious Jack the Ripper, he borrows Wells Time Machine and travels into the future- 1979 San Francisco. The machine returns to 1893 because Wells holds a 'return-key', he goes after the ripper. In San Francisco Wells is helped by Bank employee Amy Robbins, they fall in love. The ripper continues his killing spree.
Jack the Ripper: Ninety years ago I was a freak. Today I'm an amateur.
Nominated for 8 Saturn Awards and winning 3 - Best Actress (Steenburgen), Best Music (Miklos Rozsa) and Best Writing (Nicholas Meyer).
IMDB rating 7.2
The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996) directed by John Frankenheimer, starring Marlon Brando as Dr. Moreau, Val Kilmer, David Thewlis, Fairuza Balk, Temuera Morrison, Mark Dacascos and Ron Perlman as the Sayer of the Law. 96mins.
The third movie based on Wells novel. The film was to be directed by Richard Stanley who developed the project 4 years earlier but he was given the boot by the studio after 3 days of filming and John Frankenheimer was brought in to direct it. But problems continued, Marlon Brando was eccentric on screen and off, just doing his own thing. Frankenheimer pointed the camera in his direction and hoped he would mumble something similar to the dialogue in the script.
Val Kilmer was very difficult, and didn't get along with Frankenheimer who said in an interview "I don't like Val Kilmer, I don't like his work ethic, and I don't want to be associated with him ever again". On the plus side the late Stan Winston's make up for the Manimals was very good.
The film was nominated for 6 Golden Raspberry Awards, winning for Marlon Brando's strange performance.
IMDB rating 4.2
The Time Machine (2002) directed by Simon Wells, starring Guy Pearce, Mark Addy, Sienna Guillory, Orlando Jones, Samantha Mumba and Jeremy Irons as Uber-Morlock. 96mins.
Directed by Simon Wells, the great-grandson of H.G. Wells and based loosely on his novel.
Dr, Alexander Hartdegen builds a time machine and travels to the year 802,701 AD and helps the Eloi defeat the Morlocks. The Morlocks have a leader in this film, the Uber-Morlock, played by Jeremy Irons who looks like an albino David Bowie. Hartdegen travels even further into the future at one point in the film, to the year 635,427,810 AD.
There is a cameo from Alan Young who played David Filby in George Pal's The Time Machine (1960).
IMDB rating 5.7
War of the Worlds (2005) directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Miranda Otto, Justin Chatwin and Tim Robbins. 116mins.
An expensive updating of H.G. Wells classic novel.
It isn't mentioned if the alien invaders are from Mars, the word "Martian" is never used, The alien war machines have been buried on our planet for maybe hundreds of years. Unlike George Pal's classic 1953 film the alien machines walk on tripod legs just like Wells novel.
The movie focuses on Tom Cruise and his two children throughout. A highlight is the first appearance of an alien tripod rising slowly out of the ground it's heat-ray vaporising the local populace. The film loses momentum once raving mad Tim Robbins arrives on the scene to help Cruise.
Oscar nominated for Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Visual Effects.
War of the Worlds cost $132m to make and has grossed $591m worldwide.
Closing narration (spoken by Morgan Freeman): From the moment the invaders arrived, breathed our air, ate and drank, they were doomed. They were undone, destroyed, after all of man's weapons and devices had failed, by the tiniest creatures that God in his wisdom put upon this earth. By the toll of a billion deaths, man had earned his immunity, his right to survive among this planet's infinite organisms. And that right is ours against all challenges. For neither do men live nor die in vain.
IMDB rating 6.5
The First Men in the Moon (2010) directed by Damon Thomas, starring Rory Kinnear, Mark Gatiss as Cavor, Alex Riddell, Peter Forbes and Katherine Jakeways. 88mins.
Made for TV by the BBC. Adapted from H.G. Wells novel.
During the 1969 Apollo 11 Moon landing, 90 year old Julius Bedford (Kinnear) tells the story of how he and Professor Cavor (Gatiss) first journeyed to the Moon in 1909.
IMDB rating 6.0