The Machine Stops

Maybe it’s kismet, but as I write The Curator of Forgotten Things, I’ve been encountering more and more references to E.M. Forster’s Edwardian science fiction novella, The Machine Stops. This story, written in 1909 (and in the public domain; the text can be read here), is rightfully lauded for anticipating how automation and easy long-distance communication could result in humans drawing back within themselves, becoming ironically more isolated than ever before.

I’d heard of the tale before, of course, albeit through a more indirect manner. Back in my high school and university days, when being a Doctor Who fan wasn’t cool, I was an avid reader of the British magazine Dream Watch Bulletin (formerly the Doctor Who Bulletin), which branched out from covering Doctor Who and highlighted the other gems of British science fiction in film and television. An article covered an adaptation a series called Out of the Unknown (a British version of The Outer Limits) did of Forster’s work. It must have been a well written review, because I remember it to this day, decades later.

Anyway, the recent mentions sent me looking for that movie adaptation, and I ended up discovering it, and a second one.

The movie short below was produced in 2009 “a thesis project at the School of Visual Arts, NYC by twin brothers, Nathan & Adam Freise”. It’s an impressive piece of production, though I would say that the acting leaves something to be desired. At nine minutes, it doesn’t take much of your time, but barely gives the material coverage. Still, it does show these brothers have talent. Look for their names in the film industry in the future.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Out of the Unknown adaptation of The Machine Stops. E.M. Foster is credited as the story’s writer, with Kenneth Cavander and Clive Donner as mere dramatists, but it shows the reverence that Cavander and Donner treats the material. The adaptation has much better actors, and a budget possibly equal to that of the 2009 short. It is also over 50 minutes long, but surprisingly watchable through that length, largely due to some interesting directorial choices. I think it’s worth your time, if you’ve got 50 minutes of it.

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