H.G. Wells adapted his novel The Shape of Things To Come into movie form, producing a science-fiction generational saga/futurist manifesto. World War II begins in 1940 (a pretty good call), and drags on for nearly thirty years, until a bit of biological warfare goes awry, producing a worldwide pandemic that wipes out half the human race in three years. As it becomes clear that the plague has passed, the remaining pockets of civilization, driven back to a sort of mechanized barbarism, prepare to return to the waging of war.
Interrupting this cycle is the rise of Wings Over The World, a technocracy run by engineers and scientists. Using their sophisticated aeroplanes, they pacify war-like tribes with sleeping gas, put the Warlords out of commission one by one, and start building huge science fiction cities underground. By 2036, man is preparing for his first trip 'round the Moon, but even in this most advanced of Utopias, there is a coalition of dissidents who want to return to the old, brutish ways.
Things To Come remains a pretty impressive piece of work, given it's age. Supposedly "three years in the making!", its miniatures and process shots still hold up well. The picture's tone is rather reserved, and any moments that might yield genuine emotion instead resort to preachy pronouncements, but the intellectual coldness of the script is more than balanced out by William Cameron Menzies directoral aesthetics, the superb art direction by Victor Korda, and a stirring score by Arthur Bliss.
There is a full review at The Bad Movie Report.
There is not much that can be done with a movie 65 years old, short of drastic frame-by-frame digital restoration; the elements used here, however, are the best I've seen for this film in some time. There is the usual flutter in dark and light areas, evident in any black and white footage of this vintage. There is also the expected amount of wear and tear, but the incidents of really heavy, distracting damage are laudably few - in fact there is only one instance, during a reel change at 18:10, that leaps to mind. The contrast and shadow detail is as sharp as the source material will allow, if grainy. The sound is a bit muffled at the low and high ends, but any confusion as to lines comes from the variety of English accents on display failing to register on my Yank ears. The mid-range is quite clear.
This movie is available on several budget discs, but I doubt they'll be able to beat this version.
Though the Wade Williams Collection has given us some wonderful versions of classic and near-classic SF movies (and yes: not-classic-at-all), they have also produced some of the most atrociously ugly cover art to ever contaminate video shelves. Things to Come is no exception. Though the photos from the movie have been beautifully colorized - this is so well done the unsuspecting might think this was a color film - the choice of star Raymond Massey in his futuristic shorts-and-cape outfit, combined with a bizarre collage of people lounging about on one of the movie's gigantic mining machines... had I not already wanted to own this movie, I would have contemptuously passed it by (indeed, as I would have most of the WW Collection).
There is a theatrical trailer which is in slightly better shape than the main feature, but a little bluish in tint, perhaps a later re-release that was recorded on color film.
Things to Come is not going be everyone's cup of tea. It is thoughtful more than bombastic, but it does have some moments of astoundingly epic scope. No space opera, no ray guns, just a lot of ideas, some of them quite outmoded. Recommended to the serious student of both science-fiction and of film.
And on a personal note, I have finally gotten one of those snapper cases that, after the first opening, now successfully rebuffs every effort to make it close. Image Entertainment! Why, oh why have you turned on me so?
Dr. Freex, 10/23/2001