- The Washington Times - Monday, March 25, 2002

LOS ANGELES — Think of all the starship Enterprise's trips through time; the alien aggressors of "Independence Day" or "Invaders From Mars"; the invisibility element behind "Hollow Man" or "Predator"; the notion of hybrid humans in "The Fly"; the centuries-long snoozes in "Buck Rogers," "Planet of the Apes" or even Woody Allen's comic "Sleeper."
H.G. Wells was there first, and a century after he wrote his best-known works, the stories remain a standard by which all later science fiction can be judged.
His own tales of time travel, interplanetary war and mad scientists have been adapted many times for film and television. Countless movies and TV shows owe huge debts to Wells some for thoughtfully using his concepts as springboards to original stories, some for shamelessly ripping off his ideas.
Where would the sci-fi factories of Hollywood be without Herbert George Wells?
"It's like trying to say, where would theater have been without Shakespeare?" says his great-grandson Simon Wells, director of the latest film version of the novelist's "The Time Machine." "There were lots of other people who were writing great stuff, but somehow certain people become the touchstone, the sort of golden standard, the reference. And H.G. certainly was the gold standard in science fiction."
A prolific writer on politics, history, literature and social activism, Wells is remembered mainly for a string of science-fiction classics published from 1895 through the early 1900s. Among them were the mad-scientist tales "The Island of Dr. Moreau" and "The Invisible Man," the Martian-invasion saga "The War of the Worlds," the suspended-animation story "When the Sleeper Wakes," and the space-travel adventure "The First Men in the Moon."
Jules Verne touched on some of those themes decades earlier, but his novels seem gimmicky and less relevant by comparison. Verne devoted great attention to details of his technological wonders the Nautilus submarine of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," the device that shot a capsule into space in "From the Earth to the Moon."
As real-life science caught up to his imaginings, Verne's "marvels" looked hokey and archaic.
"The way it strikes me is that Verne was much more explicit in what he was describing, and that works against him today," says John Partington, editor of the Wellsian, an annual scholarly journal published by Britain's H.G. Wells Society. "When Wells describes his time machine, he's very vague. That means it can fit into any generation. That's one reason Wells remains fresh and Verne dates."
Verne's stories also seem more comic-book fantastical, while Wells' tales remain thoughtful musings on what the future holds and how technology might benefit or harm humanity. Wells mined territory that has become common ground for modern sci-fi writers: the vast scope of time, scientists playing God, the evolutionary notion that the human race still is a work in progress.
"Really, what he was saying in 'The Time Machine' was that evolution carries on and that in 800,000 years, humanity is going to evolve into a very different thing," Simon Wells says. "This was still a fairly radical idea back then. It was just 30-odd years after Darwin's 'Origin of Species.'"

Guy Pearce stars in Simon Wells' version of "The Time Machine," a story previously adapted for film in 1960 by director George Pal, who also made "War of the Worlds" in 1953.
Before Pal took on Wells, the best-known films from the author's works came in 1933 with "The Invisible Man," starring Claude Rains, and "Island of Lost Souls," starring Charles Laughton and based on "The Island of Dr. Moreau."
Three years later, Wells was heavily involved in the film production of "Things to Come," a projection of the next century based on his book "The Shape of Things to Come."
The 1930s also brought Orson Welles' radio dramatization of "War of the Worlds," which mimicked radio news reports so effectively it panicked some listeners who believed Martians actually had invaded New Jersey.
Other notable Wells film adaptations include "First Men in the Moon" in 1964 and a version of "The Island of Dr. Moreau" with Marlon Brando in 1996. "The Invisible Man" has been the basis for a number of TV series, and Wells himself was portrayed as a character in the 1979 film "Time After Time," in which Malcolm McDowell played the author on a Jack the Ripper manhunt from Victorian London to modern San Francisco.
"The Time Machine" marks the live-action directing debut of Simon Wells, who was born in 1961, 15 years after H.G. Wells died in 1946. H.G. Wells was born in 1866. Simon Wells is a longtime associate of Steven Spielberg and his DreamWorks studio, which produced the film. Mr. Wells directed or co-directed such animated films as "The Prince of Egypt" and "Balto."
Simon Wells' "Time Machine" is loaded with special effects and is more a typical Hollywood action film than the cautionary tale of his great-grandfather's novel.
"This film looks to be eye candy," says Charles Keller, founder of the U.S. chapter of the H.G. Wells Society. "On the one hand, I'm glad they're doing it because it keeps the Wells name in the public eye. On the other hand, I'm terribly disappointed at the approach. There was the opportunity to take a timeless classic, one that helps define the genre, and do something that could have been great."
Simon Wells is braced for sniping by H.G. Wells purists, and while he's looking around for another live-action directing project, he is not keen on revisiting his ancestor's novels.
"I'm not sure I want to make a career out of making movies from my great-grandfather's work," Mr. Wells says. "Yeah, I would love to see a period version of 'War of the Worlds' done with machines like in the original illustrations, but I don't want to see it so badly that I would have to direct it."

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