Things to Come (1936) - Wings Over the World
Based on H.G. Wells book The Shape of Things to Come (1933), Things to Come (1936) was the most expensive and most ambitious science fiction film of the 1930s – and despite the explosion of pulp SF magazines over the next 15 years, it was the last science fiction film of any importance until the 1950s.
The film is divided into three parts and begins in 1940 in the English city of Everytown, it accurately predicts the development of a world war which sees devastation across much of the globe. The scene then shifts to the 1970s where a new society is forming in the shattered remains of the cities left over from the decades-long war.
The emerging society living in the ruins of Everytown are ruled over by “The Boss” a cruel dictator played by Ralph Richardson, but everything changes when the technologically aided Cabal (Raymond Massey) arrives in his futuristic aeroplane. He tells them he comes from a peaceful scientific community called Wings Over the World and their mission is to restore law and order, he uses 'Peace Gas' to bring the unruly people of Everytown under control and sets about building an ideological society of the future
The story then takes a further shift forward in time to 2036, where an elitist utopian state has formed on the ruins of the old world. The new world order is decidedly undemocratic, and a technological upper class makes all the important decisions. Against this background Cedric Hardwicke’s humanist sculptor argues for a return to a less sterile life. However, there is hope for the future, as this peaceful society sends a man and a woman to the stars in search of possible transcendence.
H.G. Wells was closely associated with the film and if there is one good thing about his script, it is a positive and confident vision of a technological future when the ruling technocrats have built a gleaming white utopia and an attempt is being made to send people into space using a "space gun", despite opposition from effete "artists" who are still maintaining that "there are some things Man is not meant to know".
Cabal: (Raymond Massey) delivers the films famous concluding speech, as he declares of Man: ". . . and when he has conquered all the deeps of space and all the mysteries of time, still he will be beginning."
Passworthy: “But... we're such little creatures. Poor humanity's so fragile, so weak. Little animals.”
Cabal: “If we’re no more than animals, we must snatch each little scrap of happiness, and live, and suffer, and pass, mattering no more than all the other animals do or have done. It is this, or that. All the universe or nothing. Which shall it be, Passworthy? Which shall it be?”
H.G. Wells belief that the future of humanity lay with the technocratic elite seemed oddly old-fashioned even in 1936. But the visual drama (supported by Arthur Bliss's majestic music score) is exhilarating: the special effects were by Hollywood experts Ned Mann and Lawrence Butler, and the director William Cameron Menzies was one of the great production designers of the time, most famously for Gone With the Wind (1939).
There is a confidence about the films predictions that has an inspiring effect on the viewer. Things to Come was a financial failure on release but it remains one of the most important films in the history of SF cinema for the boldness of its ambitions and for the eagerness with which it projects spaceflight as the next step in man’s evolution.
A digitally remastered edition of the film has been released on DVD along with a colorized edition. Fans of the film might want to check out the UK Network DVD which also includes a "Virtual Extended Version" utilising photos and script extracts from missing or cut scenes, the running time of the extended version is a whopping 134mins.
The Critics Wrote –
“Tremendous, awe-inspiring, challenging, imaginative and technically magnificent - but, viewed in the light of sheer entertainment, far too prolix in its argumentative vision of the future.” (News Chronicle)
“I must immediately declare that no American picture I have seen, except perhaps King Kong, has equalled the technical achievements of Things to Come. The awe of it all is over-powering.” (The People)
“A leviathan among films... a stupendous spectacle, an overwhelming, Dorean, Jules Vernesque, elaborated Metropolis , staggering to eye, mind and spirit, the like of which has never been seen and never will be seen again.” (Sunday Times)
"Intolerably prosy and grotesquely unconvincing. I was confirmed in a former suspicion, namely, that the future is the dullest subject on earth...” (Mark van Doren, Nation)
“Incomparably the greatest technical achievement of filmcraft to date, and in scope and sincerity sets a mark for film producers to aim at for many years to come.” (Morning Post)
“An amazingly ingenious technical accomplishment, even if it does hold out small hope for our race... The existence pictured is as joyless as a squeezed grapefruit.” (Don Herold)
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