In 1936, Things to Come
painted a grim, ominious and shocking portrait of a future world
partially ruled by warlord and fabulous visions of new cities and huge
planes and rocket launchers and flat-screen television.
Wellsian conjecture, it ranges from the
reasonably possible to the reasonably fantastic; but true or false,
logical, it is an absorbing, provocative and impressively staged
which does credit to its maker, Alexander Korda of London Films; to its
director, William Cameron Menzies of Hollywood,
and to its cast and technical crew.
a historian Mr. Wells is convinced that
struggle is universal and inescapable. His film, being a premature
the next century, therefore is a record of conflict; conflict between
man, between idea and idea. In the beginning—and he starts his forecast
1940—there will be another world war, a monstrous thirty-year débâcle
will wreck our civilization. Slaughter, poison gas and pestilence will
industrial activity to a halt. Science and invention will cease.
will return to Stone Age methods. Only the war will go on, with petty
of petty city-States snarling over the rotting bones of civilization.
until 1970, when, out of the East, will come
a new civilization which has carried over the scientific spirit of the
Over the World' will be its name, says Mr. Wells, and it will be
the scientists, the inventors, the fliers and other knowledgeful men
the wisdom and the fortune to band together in exile while the rest of
world was engaged in war. They will have formed a new empire—the
Efficiency, the Brotherhood of Science—and, with the anesthetic Gas of
they will subdue the combatant States and, led by the purposeful John
his descendants, will model a new world over the ruins of the old.
is a spotless, white world Mr. Wells
envisages, and it has been depicted fascinatingly on the screen through
trick photography, full-size and miniature sets, and all the camera
Denham's and Hollywood's
command. If our historian is correct, the year 2036 will find us living
underground cities, basking in artificial sunlight, breathing
enjoying marvels of communication and transportation, dressed in cloaks
shorts, free from cold, indigestion, poverty and dinner jackets....
the new world the issue is closed when it is
proposed to send a young man and a young woman around the moon in a
ship. Theotocopulos, leader of the esthetes, calls for an end to this
mechanical progress' which risks even human sacrifice. 'The object in
happy living. Progress is not living, it should be only the preparation
living,' he tells his television audiences. 'Is there never to be any
end to it?' asks the conservative Passworthy, whose daughter is making
enough for the individual man, too much of
it and too soon, and we call it Death. But for Man, no rest, no
answers Cabal (who is Wells's voice in the film). The space gun is
rocket is off toward the stars, and another step has been taken in the
which must continue, says Cabal, until man has conquered the universe.
the meat of Mr. Wells's forward-looking picture and it is, for all its
melodramatic and fantastic dressing, probably as solid a prophecy as
Certainly the film strikes perilously close to current truth in its
dealing with the next great war and with its presentation of The Boss,
petty dictator of Everytown, who might be mistaken for a comic opera
except for his impious resemblance to certain internationally prominent
to Come' is an unusual picture, a
fantasy, if you will, with overtones of the Buck Rogers and Flash
strips. But it is, as well, a picture with ideas which have been
dramatically and with visual fascination....."
Ralph Richardson and Raymond Massey
Raymond Massey plays John Cabel, who
voice of Welles, with impressive seriousness.
Ralph Richardson plays the Boss who become the ruler of his city/state
with fearsome dictatorship, Maurice Braddell plays a frustrated doctor,
Chapman plays Pippa Passworthy, a friend of Cabel, Margaretta Scott
sexy mate of the Boss, and Sir Cedric Hardwicke plays Theotocopoulos
opposes Cabel's dreams and hopes for a better world and wants to retain
status quo and thwart Cabel's rocketship.
Edward Chapman and Raymond Massey
Margaretta Scott and Ralph Richardson
Richardson & Scott outdoors
The TV Guide review of the movie noted
that "Not since
Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS had there been a science fiction film of such
scope and vision as Alexander Korda's production of H.G. Wells's 1933
on the future, The Shape of Things to
Come," the title that was also used for the film.
"Set in an urban metropolis known as
film charts the course of a chilling future in which war, disease, and
totalitarianism nearly destroy mankind. THINGS TO COME is best
its prescient depiction of massive aerial bombing, which was to change
of war (and urban England)
within three years of its release. Eager to have Wells's participation
project, producer Korda approached the great author and offered him the
to write the screenplay. Two years and four drafts later, with
help from Korda, writer Lajos Biro, and director William Menzies, the
was completed. Wells was allowed to wander around the set during
influencing every detail of the film from the costumes and set design
blocking of the actors....
"Though the film fails as a human drama,
it succeeds impressively
in the scenes of devastation and reconstruction--a purely visual
Korda's brother Vincent was in charge of the production design and he
every new concept in architecture, industry, and design for the
Everytown of 2036.
Famed Hungarian futurist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was hired to contribute his
but his designs were scrapped as too impractical. Wells, of course, had
approval on everything, but eventually he grew frustrated with the
process and admitted he knew little about making movies.
"Menzies, one of the most influential art
the history of motion pictures, was the perfect choice to direct the
(though Lewis Milestone was signed on at one time). Though his skill in
directing actors was negligible, Menzies possessed a true feel for
knew how to photograph it. At Wells' insistence, Arthur Bliss was
before production started to compose the score based on the script and
suggestions. (The author felt that the music should be incorporated
filmmaking process from the beginning, instead of after the filming was
The resulting music was thus wholly integrated with the visuals.
on the film proved so popular with the critics and the public that his
for THINGS TO COME was the first movie score to be recorded
sold in record stores. When it was all over, Korda had spent over $1.5
on THINGS TO COME, an incredible sum for the time. The film failed to
the box office, but it eventually made money. The original release in
Britain ran 130 minutes, but the running time
was cut for the US....
"Despite its flaws, THINGS TO COME is a
truly epic work which
continues to fascinate."
In his Blu-ray.com review, Dr. Svet
Atanasov said that the
movie is "a spectacular sci-fi film with some truly fascinating
observations about the future of mankind."
"...the film essentially predicts the
the Cold War will introduce," he continued, "as well as the enormous
role technology will have in people's everyday lives in the years
film's final act is particularly curious as it addresses a number of
issues that have emerged since the end of the twentieth century....
"Portions of the film have a preachy tone
reflecting H.G.Wells' strong socialist views - but they never seriously
Crowds inside massive building
"The film looks simply extraordinary. Many
of the sets
and decors here easily rival the ones seen in Fritz Lang's legendary
Metropolis. In the final third of the
film, where some of the most spectacular imagery is, there is also some
fantastic camerawork. There is one particular sequence where the crowds
on the ground level of a massive building and the camera slowly zooms
which is quite remarkable.
Invasion over the Cliffs
"The aircraft designs are also stunning.
"An excellent orchestral score by Arthur
compliments the film. The score was an immediate success with critics
casual filmgoers and was later on often performed as a concert suite at
"Note: When Things to Come reached
Hitler was apparently so impressed with the imagery with the destroyed
city (Everytown) that he instructed the head of the German air force
founder of Gestapo, Hermann Goering, to screen it to his subordinates."
In his September 10, 2017 review at the
Criterion Collection on DVD, Jamie S. Rich wrote that "Though billed as
'Everytown' throughout the film, these
opening scenes look distinctly like London, and so the wholesale
the city must have been extremely disconcerting for contemporary
audiences, especially if they had memories of having seen Things To Come when the German
raids on England began just a few
years later....Menzies’ attention to detail is still: the images of
amongst the rubble of a one-time thriving community deliver a potent
message. And as the battles rage on for the next several decades, only
to a sort-of end in the mid-1960s, I can’t help but think of the
currently finds itself in.
"The Everytown scenario ca. 1966 is one of
The townspeople are still at war with the hillspeople, and true to
prediction that war will stifle progress, technology has taken a few
back. Fuel is scarce, and machines don’t run. Cars are now pulled by
just like the carriages they are meant to replace. The remaining
also just come through a zombie-like plague, 'The Wandering Sickness,'
conquered not by medicine but by brute force. His plan to shoot anyone
has elevated the Boss (Ralph Richardson...) to a place
of leadership. More Donald Trump than Hitler, 'the Boss' continues to
through fear and bullying, mostly content to close Everytown off from
of the world rather than expand too far into other territories. It’s a
successful plan, and he would have gotten away with if not for an aged
arriving in a high-tech plane, wearing spaceman armor, and touting a
under the rubric 'Wings of the World.' The Boss naturally distrusts
from the skies, as any tyrant opposes science and invention that he
to his will. Cabal promises there are more like him coming, and the
civilization depends on whether Everytown will join this cultural elite
crushed by them....
"That Wells seems to be on the right side
of these things
speaks well for his philosophical character, but the future utopia he
an alternative seems ironically shortsighted. When Wings Over the World
and unseat the Boss, using a 'gas of peace' to put the townspeople to
effectively removing their choice of whether to join or resist (and
as a noble alternative to the poison gas we see in a depressing wartime
early in Things to Come), it’s hard
not to view the new management as more fascistic than what they’ve come
replace, good intentions opening the highway to hell as they do. This
harder to ignore as we jump ahead in the 2000s and see the utopia that
airmen are ushering in: it’s sterile, impersonal, and referred to as
a way that feels for more loaded than anyone intended, given that there
one person of color in all of Things
to Come. Likewise, the terraforming that
makes this new civilization possible looks more like an ecological
than the triumph of industry it must have appeared to be in the ’30s.
Base of Space Gun with capsule about to lifted to cannon
"That said, the special effects that
working with such talented people as production designer Vincent
special effects artist Ned Mann..., and director of photography Georges
are nothing short of astonishing, including the scenes where gigantic
destroy an entire mountain. The future world that follows is a
towering labyrinth--reminiscent of Krypton, all artificial structures
impossible curves, brought to life by a nigh-seamless melding of
projection, and full-size sets. This imaginative future is made all the
believable by the complicated tableau of Everytown. Menzies and his
as much attention to the city in ruins as they do the world of
bringing a realism to Shakespearian drama that essentially gives Things to Come its spine.
"Here Theotocopulos looks more like an
imposing fascist than
what he opposes.
"Even with all that to appreciate, though,
it’s hard to tell
what message Wells is trying to convey with his future society, and
not this brave new world is as difficult to maintain as other fictions
us to believe. Things to Come
a dissenting voice in Theotocopulos..., a man that asks if there has
enough progress, if we should not focus on the society that already
the initial debate from the 1940 scenes is reignited via Cabal and
grandchildren (played again by Massey and Chapman). Yet, there is
sinister in Cabal’s dismissing of Theotocopulos as merely representing
'artists' whose work will be made small by his scientific
especially when Cabal wins, successfully launching a rocket around the
with his 'space gun.' In his closing speech, Cabal declares that
be stopped, nor should they. 'All the universe or nothing,' he tells
his face in profile, framed by the universe in all its sparkly glory.
not merely trading an ignorant tyrant for an intelligent one? Hitler
Mussolini dethroned in favor of Gore Vidal and Neal Degrasse Tyson....
to Come was
the most ambitious and expensive SF film ever undertaken until
A space odyssey, released in 1968...."