LEAVING THE PAST, MEETING THE FUTURE continued...

 

To fans of the book, as well as the 1960 movie, the character of Mara was known as Weena; however, the filmmakers felt strongly that the woman who defies her people and befriends this stranger from another time should be a more contemporary female protagonist. With her newfound independence came a new name: Mara.

To say that casting Mara was a challenge would be something of an understatement. The filmmakers were hoping to cast an unknown face, but they also wanted that face to reflect the evolutionary path on which it appears humanity is heading.

"We wanted to find someone new, young and exciting, and especially someone who would lend credibility to how the Eloi might look in our distant future," Valdes notes. "To extrapolate what we're going to look like thousands of years from now, you have to examine what's happening now. The global population is becoming more amalgamated as the world becomes a smaller place. We wanted our Mara to have an exotic quality, so we had casting directors all over the world: one in Sydney, one in London, one in New York, one in Los Angeles, one in Jamaica. We started in September and at the end of January-with a February 5th start date set in stone-we still didn't have our leading lady, which, I don't mind telling you, was fairly terrifying."

It was about that time that casting director Mindy Marin was auditioning Samantha Mumba. The Irish recording artist had already had chart-topping hits in Great Britain and was on the verge of breaking in the United States. Marin immediately put her on video and sent it off to Wells, Parkes and Valdes.

Parkes recalls, "My wife (executive producer Laurie MacDonald) and I were watching the tape and saying, 'This is just fantastic,' and my daughter walks by and says, 'Hey, that's Samantha Mumba; she's a big pop star.' We had no idea. But the fact is she'd never acted before and she's amazing...an absolute natural."

Wells agrees, "It was one of those things that just hits you between the eyes. Samantha was extraordinary; she blew us away. Her ability to take subtle emotional direction and weave it into her performance was just inspired. She gave 100 percent every day."

Mumba relates that landing her first acting role was "a dream come true. When I got the call that I had the part, I was just in shock. I couldn't believe it. And it's a wonderful role. It was so lovely to play Mara; she's a very strong character with a wise head on her quite young shoulders."

The casting of Samantha Mumba came with an unexpected bonus. Wells explains, "By total coincidence, Samantha's little brother, Omero Mumba, was exactly the same age as Mara's younger brother, Kalen, in our story. Thinking it was almost too good to be true, we said, 'Well, why not? Let's screen test him.' He turned out to be a terrific natural actor in his own right, and, it goes without saying that he had the perfect look to play Kalen." At first, hearing that her segment of the story was set 800,000 years in the future, Samantha Mumba was understandably surprised to find that the Eloi's world was anything but futuristic. "It's quite the opposite," she remarks. "Everything has gone back to being completely natural. The Eloi are a lovely race of people...but they have such horror in their lives."

That horror comes in the form of the Morlocks, ferocious cannibalistic creatures who emerge from their subterranean world only to hunt down the Eloi. Centuries of evolution have separated the Morlocks into castes of spies and hunters, led by an unexpectedly brilliant, yet terrifyingly human-like ruler, called the Uber-Morlock.

"The Time Machine" aficionados might think that the Uber-Morlock was entirely an invention of John Logan's, but Simon Wells provides a noteworthy fact about his great-grandfather's work. "The Uber-Morlock is the brains behind the whole outfit. He exerts a form of mind control, which, incidentally, I discovered was an idea in one of the earlier versions of H.G.'s The Time Machine. He elected to remove it from the final published book, but we've reinvented it here to serve as a singularly worthy adversary to Alexander."

The casting of the Uber-Morlock came down to only one name for the director and producers: Jeremy Irons. "The Uber-Morlock had to be somebody who is mesmerizing and magnetic and yet terrifying. The list of actors who can portray all those qualities is very short, and our first choice was Jeremy Irons," Valdes states.

Parkes adds, "What we envisioned was that when you got to the bottom of this hideous system, what you found was a commanding, alluring, intelligent, articulate, frightening human being. So, it wasn't so much about the prosthetics, but about the actor himself, and Jeremy Irons is quite simply one of the best actors in the world."

Jeremy Irons says that one of the things he enjoyed most about playing the Uber-Morlock was being involved in the actual conception of the final character. "I wanted him to be a surprise, that he not be what the audience expected. He was originally written as an archfiend, but I'm always interested in the good things about evil characters and the bad things about good characters...the shades of gray. The Uber-Morlock had to fulfill a certain function, but within that frame we tried to push the envelope as much towards tickling the audience's amusement as making them uneasy...to make them question their beliefs and the beliefs of their hero about the object of his quest, the possible futility of his quest and maybe the human condition. Once we started putting him on film, even we were surprised by him, sometimes amused by him and sometimes horrified by him. For me, it was a great process to create the Uber-Morlock along with all the other people who were involved in that creation."

Creating the characters of the hunter Morlocks and spy Morlocks was more about design than casting. Coming from the world of animation, Simon Wells was no stranger to fashioning characters on paper. The director did the initial character sketches and then passed them on to the studio of renowned, multiple Oscar®-winning special effects makeup artist Stan Winston.

"The direction we took with the Morlocks was greatly influenced by Simon's sketches," Winston comments. "We realized immediately that we would not be able to simply put makeup on an actor, due to the structure of the Morlock skull and the location of the eyes and mouth. Instead we created a completely animatronic face, capable of brow movements, eye movements, lip and jaw movements, etc., to give as much expression to their faces as possible."

The heads of both the spy Morlocks and hunter Morlocks were fairly similar, with approximately 32 servos on each one. It took three puppeteers to operate the facial functions on each of the animatronic heads. The Morlocks' eyes were artificial, so the actors inside could only see by virtue of a tiny camera inside the nose that transmitted a tiny black and white image of the world "outside" to them.

The Morlock suits were made by creating a perfect mold of each actor's body, into which foam rubber was poured. The formed rubber was then cured in the oven and patched and seamed. Using a rubber cement-based paint, the paint department applied the color, and then hair was individually planted, strand by strand. When completed, the Morlock suits weighed about 27 pounds, which made them especially challenging for the stunt men.

Stunt coordinator Jeff Imada attests, "Overheating and being able to breath properly are always factors in any kind of prosthetic suit, but there were also sensory deprivation issues to cope with. You have no hands, per se, so you can't touch and grab things, and your vision is impaired; you're looking through a little black and white image, and depth perception is very distorted."

The end result was well worth all the inconvenience, as David Valdes says, "The best thing is that when you see these Morlocks on screen, they'll be as terrifying as they were 40 years ago for me."

Samantha Mumba agrees. "When I saw them for the first time, I was genuinely afraid. And when you see them running at you, it's really scary."

Though those playing the Eloi did not to have to wear anything like the confining Morlock suits, they had body tattoos that required the makeup department to airbrush head-to-toe tattoos on as many as 120 actors and extras a day.

 

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The Time Machine Project 1998 Don Coleman
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