Things to Come (film, 2007)


Wells’ seminal piece of speculative fiction. A worthy reminder to us all that we humans possess great power of imagination, and yet nearly always get the future hopelessly wrong, although Wells does better than most! From Death Ray 2. There’s an article about the book and the short story that preceded this movie here.

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Film FOUR STARS Extras FOUR AND HALF STARS

1936/96 mins/PG/£19.99/Out now

Director: William Cameron Menzies

Writer: HG Wells

Stars: Raymond Massey, Ralph Richardson

Epic grandeur from the dawn of science fiction cinema, created by none other than HG Wells. All SF fans should see this at least once.

Things to Come has been hugely influential on science fiction, and remains a sumptuous feast of magnificent sets, sweeping narrative, and prophetic vision.

Written by HG Wells in 1934, and loosely based on his story ‘The Shape of Things to Come’ (1933), the film is an epic that takes in 100 years of future history. It begins with the outbreak of war in 1940 (HG Wells was only 16 months out), in the English Everytown as endless aerial bombardment destroys it, followed by a 20 year war which does the same for civilisation. The exhausted world then suffers a plague that reduces mankind to a barbarous level of existence dominated by petty brigand chiefs. But this state of affairs does not last, as a league of scientists, Wings Over The World, impose a benevolent dictatorship on mankind. We are then taken into the utopian future of 2036, where despite a rebellion led by a fractious sculptor weary of progress, a successful mission into space is undertaken.

It’s great to see Wells’ core themes of human barbarism versus the power of knowledge played out on screen to such great effect (and his worrying love of scientific autocracy). But its the production design of the film, by Vincent Korda, that is the real show stealer. The sets in particular are spectacular; not least in the amount of detail in the ruinous version of Everytown, and the sheer scale of the future city, while Arthur Bliss’ perennially popular score is likewise grandiose.

Though the film is vaguely accurate in some of its prophecies, it is equally entertaining as a snapshot of 1930s society, and its take on futurism. It is the post-apocalyptic elements of the film which are most effective, the 21st century parts less so. Although the future Everytown looks remarkably modern (though perhaps Wells’ would not have enjoyed the giant shopping malls it so resembles), the costumes for the future are the usual cod-classical toga-fest. This association of scientist, utopian futures and the classical period (which, to the educated European mind of the time, epitomised rational society), has proven very difficult to shake, but shaken it has been, and here it looks hopelessly silly. And it is exceptionally easy to snigger at the cut-glass accents of the 1930s actors. As a piece of cinema too it is not without its flaws. The structure of the film leads to a lack of flow, and much of the story is delivered in long, philosophical declamations barked by the cast, though its denouement remains thought-provoking. Despite this, the scope of Things To Come and its place in the history of SF makes this essential viewing,

Extras The film has had various versions, running from 92 to 117 minutes. This version incorporates all the extant footage, coming in at just over 96 minutes. Though the film has been remastered, the soundtrack remains crackly in places, and as with all films from the period suffers from the shrill limitations of 1930s sound recording technology. However, this is undoubtedly the best, most complete example we could hope for. There is a second ‘What if?’ version of the film included that uses cue cards to describe a number of lost scenes. These are not restricted to those lost from the original release, but also scenes shot but never incorporated, and even scenes written but never filmed.

A commentary by expert Nick Cooper is available on the first film. There are also a number of other interesting snippets, including a speech taken from an old record describing the history and effects of the wandering sickness (probably used to brief the film’s numerous extras), two picture galleries – one of 1930s promotional material, the other of film stills, a 25 minute documentary by SF author Brian Aldiss from 1971 on HG Wells, an interview with Ralph Richardson from the Russell Harty show, and a booklet about the film. Guy Haley

Did you know…?

The film ends with the promise of space exploration, the means by which this is to be undertaken a giant space cannon. HG Wells had sent men into space in The First Men in The Moon (1901), by the use of an anti-gravity MacGuffin called Cavorite. As the point of this tale was not a speculation on technology, but a planetary romance that served to allow Wells to pen another of his cogitations on society, the means of transport was unimportant. For Things To Come, which was intended to be realistic, he borrowed the cannon from Jules Verne’s slightly more scientifically rigorous From the Earth to The Moon (1865). These cannons, which occur a few times in SF, would not work in reality, for the concussive force of the blast required to send a capsule into orbit would pulverise the internal organs of the occupants.

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