COMING SOON! “Return of the Time Traveler,” starring Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux! Produced and directed by George Pal! Special effects by Ray Harryhausen!
Ready? Just hop in a time machine, create an alternate reality, and you’re all set!
For a while after the release of “The Time Machine,” it appeared that a follow-up was on the fast track.
But a direct sequel – one that included George Pal and Rod Taylor – never came to pass. Ideas, scenes, books, notes and drawings have surfaced over the years. George Pal and Rod Taylor both tried their hand at writing or producing a follow-up. Bad timing and lack of financing thwarted their efforts.
This post will take a look at George Pal’s attempts at a sequel. Part 2 will look at “Time Machine: The Journey Back” (1993) and Rod Taylor’s turn at writing.
In July/August 1960, “The Time Machine” opened to critical acclaim and audience enthusiasm. Its pre-release buzz prompted MGM to put a sequel on its roster for 1961.
Director George Pal was eager to do it. According to an item by Los Angeles Times film critic Philip K. Scheuer on Aug. 9, 1960, Pal moved up the filming of a sequel to January 1961 while pushing back the making of “The Brothers Grimm” (1962).
Initial plans for “Return of the Time Traveler” included reuniting Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux and adding newcomer Anthony Hall to the cast. Hall, a.k.a. Sal Ponti, had just completed work on another George Pal project, “Atlantis, the Lost Continent” (1961).
Scheuer wrote that one sequence in the sequel would have the trio go back in time, overshoot their mark and find themselves in Atlantis. “Smart, huh?” Scheuer wrote. “The sets are already made.”
However, Pal never got a script together, and time marched on.
“George wasn’t quite sure what the plot was going to be,” Rod said in a July 1986 Starlog magazine interview. “He had some marvelous ideas, but he kept changing the concept. He told me about five different storylines, but I never read any completely finalized script.”
To the Future
Some of the early concepts for the sequel appear in comments and drawings by George Pal.
In a 1975 interview for Castle of Frankenstein magazine, Pal was asked if he’d ever thought of doing a sequel. He replied:
“Yes, yes. I would have, but we just never got to it at MGM. We had very difficult times with just the changing management. I would have loved to make a sequel having the Time Traveler go back in time, or — there was a great sequence which … just didn’t fit in our plot [of the original] — to go back to the same place [A.D. 802,701] and then go further into the future when the crabs took over.
“It was very beautiful. I can just see Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux, just the two of them there, go in there where the crabs are and the ocean is flat and doesn’t move any more and the sun is hot all the time. I think we could have developed a very interesting story of the loneliness of these two people.”
In his book, “Keep Watching the Skies” (1986), author Bill Warren described the first-announced sequel script:
“The Time Traveler was to go on into the future even farther, as in the novel: Pal prepared moody sketches of this unimaginably distant time, with the prescribed crabs and the huge, dim sun on the horizon. But he also included giant insects, and human beings who hide from them in huge honeycombs. The Time Traveler was to do for these people what he wanted to do for the Eloi.” That is, help them escape their oppressors and become peace-loving and self-sufficient.
[H.G. Wells’ account of the monstrous crabs, red sun over a dying sea and a huge butterfly can be read in Chapter 11 of “The Time Machine” novel.]
Make it Modern
As time went on, Pal reportedly got his old friend Ray Harryhausen involved. (The renowned visual effects artist and filmmaker got his start in Hollywood working on Pal’s Puppetoon films in the 1940s.)
“George and I were going to do a sequel to ‘The Time Machine,’” Harryhausen said in the afterword to David Hughes’ book, “The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made” (2008).
Harryhausen was to do the stop-motion animation and creature designs based on a story that Pal and he were working on. But, Harryhausen lamented, the real-life space program was going on at the time and computers were becoming a big thing. MGM decided that the Time Machine sequel needed to be more “modern.”
Pal went back to the drawing board, this time with screenwriter Joe Morhaim (who worked with Pal on “Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze,” 1975).
Son of Time Traveler
In a December 1977 Starlog article, Pal said that he and Joe Morhaim were busy writing a new screenplay as well as a novel. You can sense Pal’s excitement as he relates the story:
“This is actually how the film will begin,” he says, relishing every moment of his storytelling. “We open it up with the Time Traveler and Weena rushing back from the future. They’re both in the time machine, Weena is pregnant, and the Time Traveler … wants his son to be born in his own time, his own place. He drives so recklessly and so fast that the machine hits the wrong moment and place and freezes during the London Blitz of 1943. It cracks. Tumbles and cracks. Weena runs out into the street in panic. He runs after her to try to protect her from the bombing with his own body. He gets killed and, then, she gets killed. The planes leave. And there’s a long, long silence. Suddenly, we hear a baby cry. Then we pan over to the time machine and next to it is a 1977 version of the machine. A brand new one. A young man stands there … He has just witnessed the death of his parents and his own birth. That’s the way we start!
“From then on in, it’s the story of the young man trying to find his parents in the future and warn them not to try to go back in time. Because if they do, they’ll be killed. He would rather not be born than to have his parents die. Isn’t that a great idea?” Pal asks gleefully.
A Starlog article a few months later (May 1978) reports that the script was ready, the book version was near completion, and Pal was eager to bring the production to the screen.
What was Hollywood’s reaction to the spin-off? “Nobody is interested right now,” Pal sighed. “They all say it’s impossible to bring to the screen. That’s Hollywood for you.”
Unfortunately, time was running out for George Pal. He died in 1980. But the idea of a Time Machine sequel lived on.
A Novel Idea
The novel “Time Machine II,” by George Pal and Joe Morhaim, was published in 1981, a year after Pal’s death.
It includes the exciting opening scene Pal described and a story focused on the son of the Time Traveler. He’s an orphan who learns the truth about his parents, builds a time machine and meets up with them in the year 802,701ish. He finds George and Weena living a peaceful life among the Eloi. But this reunion is short-lived and he is whisked off millions of years into the future. This is where the son encounters the monstrous crabs, the dying sea, the big red sun, the huge insects and the honeycomb people from Pal’s original script concept. Perils ensue, followed by timeline paradoxes. The novel ends with the George, Weena and their son united. But it also raises the question, what world is this? Have they created a parallel universe?
The description of the second time machine, circa 1970s, seems to fit the studios’ demand for Pal to make the Time Machine more techy and modern. It has dials, a time traveling radar detector and a canopy that looks more like the machine in the 2002 “The Time Machine” movie with Guy Pearce.
[The “Time Machine II” novel is described in great detail and with insightful analysis by RJ Onyx Moonshadow in a May 10, 2018, article for the Time Travel Nexus website. Don’t forget to travel back here after you’ve read it!]
Genius with a Broken Heart
Rod Taylor has expressed his admiration for George Pal on many occasions, and he also has been able to offer perspective on why the filmmaker’s lovely qualities were a handicap when going up against hard-nosed studio types.
“George Pal was a genius,” Rod said in a 1986 Starlog article. “He was a lovely, warm-hearted man. I thought of him as a funny little elf. He was surrounded by tiny puppets and toys, which he brought to life in his movies.”
But, Rod added, “He had so much trouble getting his movies made, because he lived in another world. The studio executives treated him like a weird little fellow who couldn’t make money. He just didn’t inspire confidence in the moguls, who were only interested in profit.”
Rod echoed his sentiments in a 1994 Starlog piece. “Pal tried to schlep around town to do ‘The Time Machine II’ and a few other movies, and they told him, ‘You’ve had your time, George. It’s all over.’ I honestly believe he died of a broken heart.”
But Wait, There’s More!
In Part 2, we’ll visit an epilog to “The Time Machine” in a scene from the documentary “Time Machine: The Journey Back.” Plus, we’ll take a peek at Rod’s notes about his own attempt at fleshing out a sequel screenplay. Stay tuned!