THINGS TO COME came out with a flourish in 1936, announcing the rebirth of science-fiction on screen, dormant—apart from the quasi-horror Frankenstein and its first sequel, and the science-as-horror Island Of Lost Souls—since 1927’s Metropolis. Its failure at the box-office put the cerebral lobe of the genre back in the lab until the late 1960’s. Subsequent s/f films were eye-filling excitements (War Of The Worlds, Forbidden Planet), horror hybrids and nuke allegories (The Thing, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Them!, Gojira) or the campy fare (grades C to F) that flooded the 50’s with crazed physicists, mutated insects and rubbery monsters from other planets or galaxies. Things reviews of the day are still valid: the dated dramatics and clunky scripting flawed, the copious visuals wildly imaginative and spectacular. The prescience quotient, however, is truly remarkable; that, the landmark design and the stunning editing seal it as a major achievement. If you appreciate Fahrenheit 451, Blade Runner, Logan’s Run or Tomorrowland, you owe a visit to that which came before.
Briefly, WAR! begins in 1940, and continues for decades. Eventually science and logic triumphs over pestilence and barbarism, society is rebuilt and improved, until another crisis of human dissatisfaction—too much progress!—in 2036 propels mankind’s hopes into exploring space and what lies beyond.
“If we don’t end war, war will end us.”
Visionary H.G. Wells wrote the script from his 1933 bestseller “The Shape Of Things To Come”, as much treatise as novel. Producer Alexander Korda lavished £256,000, then equal to $1,257,100, on the most expensive film that had yet been made in Britain. The vaunted American production designer William Cameron Menzies directed, helping guide Korda’s brother Vincent, charged with the art direction. Georges Perinal (The Four Feathers) was the cinematographer, Arthur Bliss provided a dramatic score. After middling reviews, more than a half-hour was cut from the original release; surviving prints run 97 minutes. Menzies biographer James Curtis pegs the worldwide revenue at just $1,121,881; in the States it languished at 153rd place for the year.
The visuals created by Menzies, Korda and minions are jaw-dropping, but Wells fertile imagination didn’t extend to concise screenwriting: apart from the look, the film periodically sags under speechy-preachy jabber, with dated declamatory acting. In the hands of the more skilled players Raymond Massey (voice of reason), Ralph Richardson (vigorously belligerent), Cedric Hardwicke (hectoring like mad) and Margaretta Scott (vital, then suddenly missing), the windy dialog gets the best airing they could manage. The dramatics are quaint, we can’t get close to the characters; at any rate, they pale next to the marvelous sets, fantastic props and the sheer daunting scope of the piece. For a more informed and detailed review, we humbly direct you to click your trusty mouse on the one from Glenn Erickson, the Jedi master of CineSavant.
With Edward Chapman, Ann Todd, John Clements, Abraham Sofaer. Try and spot, in uncredited bits, future stars George Sanders (his second part) and Terry-Thomas (his fifth, as ‘Man of the Future’).
PASSWORTHY: “Oh, God, is there never to be any age of happiness? Is there never to be any rest?” CABAL: “Rest enough for the individual man. Too much and too soon, and we call it death. But for Man, no rest and no ending. He must go on, conquest beyond conquest. First this little planet and its winds and ways. And then all the laws of mind and matter that restrain him. Then the planets about him… and at last, out across immensity to the stars. 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… little animals.” CABAL: “Little animals. And if we’re no more than animals, then 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 nothingness! Which shall it be, Passworthy? Which shall it be? …”
From the bleak vantage point of 2023, with wars—or The War—on the horizon, one already crumpling to the climate payback, with greed ruling and stupidity on a suicidal rampage, it doesn’t look rosy. Oh, wait, here comes a savior…and he’s got the newest phone!