Review by Steve D. Stones
Things To Come, directed by William Cameron Menzies (1936), is science fiction entertainment at its finest, particularly for the 1930s. Based on the H.G. Wells book – The Shape of Things To Come, this film is one of the most lavish and epic stories to ever make its way to the screen. It is required viewing for any fan of science-fiction cinema.
The film is conveyed in three acts. The first act shows Christmas Day 1940 in Everytown (what appears to be modern London) just before war and global conflict breaks out. The second act depicts the outcome of war and the decades that follow as civilization is being torn apart. In the third act, one hundred years has passed since war first broke out and civilization has technologically advanced greatly in those years.
In an opening sequence, John Cabal, played by Raymond Massey, expresses his concerns to Pippa Passworthy (Edward Chapman) over newspaper headlines proclaiming war to be near. In his upbeat attitude, Passworthy tells Cabal that wars stimulate progress. “Yes, war can be a stimulating thing, but you can overdo a stimulant,” says Cabal. “If we don't end war, war will end us” continues Cabal as he watches his children play with their toys on Christmas Day.
Eventually war does break out on Christmas Day 1940, and a great global conflict marches on for decades after. A wandering sickness, similar to the black plaque of the Middle Ages, breaks out and millions of people die as the war wages on.
It is now 1966, and a war general known as “the boss” or “the chief,” played by Academy Award nominee Ralph Richardson, tries to hold together his small band of survivors in a territory he refers to as an “Independent Sovereign State.” This is the same region of Everytown where the war began some 26 years earlier. The survivors of this region are convinced that airplanes and flight are a thing of the past, since they haven't seen an airplane in years.
This all changes one day when a much older John Cabal lands his plane in this region. After landing, he is ordered to be arrested by “the boss” and brought before him as a war prisoner. Cabal warns “the boss” that if he is killed or anything happens to him, his “wings over the world” of united airmen will come to find him and destroy “the boss” and his soldiers.
The united airmen arrive one day to put an end to “the boss” and to free Cabal. The survivors of Everytown are gassed by the united airmen. Cabal addresses the airmen and speaks of the great struggle ahead to rebuild civilization and put life back on track.
Fast forward to 2036 and we see a revitalization of the Industrial Revolution. Society has been rebuilt, and with greater technological advancements. This act of the film shows some the most spectacular props and environments, which have likely influenced every science fiction film that has followed.
As part of the new advancements in society, a giant space gun has been built which will allow space travelers to obit around the moon. A group led by Theotocopulos, played by actor Cedric Hardwicke, rebels against current advancements, particularly the space gun and orders the gun to be destroyed. Cabal is able to put together a group to quickly launch an expedition to the moon before Theotocopulos can interfere and destroy the gun.
The folks at Genius Entertainment-Legend Films colorized and restored Things To Come in 2006 with the supervision of special effects, animation wizard Ray Harryhausen. This DVD of the film also shows a newly restored and colorized trailer for the film. An interview and audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen is also included. The original black and white print of the film is also included.
In the 1980s, Goodtimes Home Video put out a VHS tape of Things To Come with the silent classic Metropolis (1926) - both on the same tape. Having both films on a double bill makes sense because they both explore similar themes. Metropolis shows us an technologically advanced society in which man becomes a slave to the master of Metropolis to do his bidding in building an advanced society. In Things To Come, we see an advanced civilization in the third act, but man is not necessarily a slave to the advancements. A small band of rebels revolt against these advancements in Things To Comes, as they do at the end of Metropolis. Both films are considered two of the most intelligent science fiction films in the history of cinema.
This Memorial Day holiday, enjoy a screening of Things To Come. Happy viewing!