BluRay/DVD Reviews

THINGS TO COME (Criterion) 1936

By • Jul 2nd, 2013 •

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H.G Wells hated Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS. He called it “The worst movie ever!” With all of Lang’s visions of 18th Century class separations, Jazz-era fashions in the year 2026, and sexy robots, you might feel Wells’ 1933 novel THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME was his snarky answer to Lang, and you would be partially correct. Wells primarily wrote THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME as a cautionary/optimistic view of the future, where brutal politicians and warlords drive civilization back into the cave days, only to have the geniuses and “geeks” emerge, step in, form a dictatorship and bring about a high-tech utopia.

As envisioned by such visually powerful artists such as Producer Alexander Korda, Director William Cameron Menzies and Art Director Vincent Korda, the film version of Wells’ story – 1936’s THINGS TO COME – is a marvel of wild mechanical special effects. Remember, this is a half-century before computer effects. THINGS TO COME is also a thrilling, and entertaining film with no dull moments, even if some of those moments get clunky, and pretty darned unintentionally silly.

THINGS TO COME has a very distinct three-act format. The first act shows Everytown, a British city in 1936. (It could be London) War is declared, which infuriates Aeronautic Engineer John Cabal (Raymond Massey). Everytown is destroyed in an air raid. (The editing and effects here are top-drawer!) Unlike the six-year long World War II, which THINGS TO COME seems to amazingly predict in many ways, this war lasts until 1970.

This kicks in the second act. Everytown of 1970 is a medieval relic of the past, in total ruin, overcome with sickness and run by a bullying warlord, Rudolph (a role Ralph Richardson charges at with gusto and humor. It’s a role any actor would love to take on!) An elderly John Cabal flies into Everytown and orchestrates a peaceful coup. By 2036 (the third act) Everytown is a bustling modern underground metropolis with space travel, bird-like fashions for men and flat screen televisions! The effects and set design for modern Everytown are wonderful and eye-popping, but the dialog is dated and overly frantic. When Cabal’s grown grandson, Oscar (Massey again) rants about space travel, he sounds like a raving street lunatic! (Massey hated the melodramatic speeches he was forced to speak in this film) One curly-haired little girl from the future asks endless questions about the bygone days of 1936. It’s as if Shirley Temple wandered onto the set of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. However, you are never bored! The other grand performance here comes from Margareta Scott, a strikingly beautiful British stage actress who made very few film appearances. She plays Rudolph the Dictator’s often angry wife. Her snappy scenes with Ralph Richardson alone make THINGS TO COME a true treat.

THINGS TO COME fell into public domain, so it appeared on television and bargain DVD Sci-Fi packs in runny, faded, edited dupes from 16mm prints. Criterion has taken the film and given it a wonderful clean up. The audio is sharp and the images pop out in true untarnished black and white glory. Presented as it should be seen, uncut, THINGS TO COME is a landmark science fiction classic and an entertaining must have.

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