Things To Come
is a 1936 film based upon the novel The Shape of Things to Come
by H. G. Wells
. Adapted for the screen by Wells himself, the film follows a concept and plot similar to the book, and is seen mostly through the eyes of cynical but visionary John Cabal (Raymond Massey) or one of his descendants (also Raymond Massey
) and centered on a fictional English city called "Everytown".
The film is divided into three distinct segments of history (similar to the novel's division into discrete sections). The first, set in 1940
Everytown, juxtaposes the looming threat of war with a peaceful Christmas celebration, contrasting a bleak outlook with optimism for the future. And then the military is mobilized in response to an enemy incursion, and Everytown is devastated by bombers; the Second Great War has begun.
The war drags on for decades
, plunging human society into a Mad Max
-style After the End
state and unleashing a deadly, contagious and incurable plague
. When next we catch up with the residents of Everytown, in the then far-flung year 1970, it has become a shanty, all but overrun by plague-ridden citizens and ruled by a Corrupt Hick
who has taken an extremist method for dealing with said plague-ridden citizens
— in stark contrast to a young doctor who, despite the now primitive conditions, is striving for a cure. Into this arrives a stranger: John Cabal himself, who reveals that human society has not been completely wiped out and is in the process of rebuilding itself. The Corrupt Hick, however, is interested only in holding onto his own niche of power, and so Cabal must call down his military allies on the town.
carries us farther into the future, showing mankind rebuilding his society
into a shiny plastic
underground city. Now, in 2036, John Cabal's equally visionary great-grandson Oswald is spearheading mankind's first expedition to the Moon
. However, a radical dissident opposes the expedition on the basis that human technology and knowledge are advancing too fast (or something to that effect)
. The dissident's plot to stop the launch fails, and Cabal waxes on about mankind's eternal quest for knowledge
. The End.
Wells had intended the film to be a response to Fritz Lang's Metropolis, and he hoped to do everything he felt Lang had gotten wrong in envisioning the future. To that extent, the whole thing can basically be looked at as an extended author filibuster, with characters who are little more than two dimensional ciphers who don't do anything but talk earnestly about how self destructive and brutal the world is and how great the world would be if only it were governed rationally along socialist/modernist lines. Because, y'know, progress! Unfortunately for Wells, the movie bombed, and a lot of the ideas that informed his vision turned out to have severe defects that make the movie look really dated, and not just for aesthetic and historical reasons. But on the other hand, there's tons of Scenery Porn
and the cinematography is pretty well done. It's also impossible to overstate how influential the movie was. Its ideas and general feel influenced Science Fiction writers well into the 70s. For example, Gene Roddenberry's Federation and Isaac Asimov's Foundation are more or less expanded versions of Wells' future.
This film provides examples of:
- Adaptation Distillation
- After the End: Eventually morphs into a Trope Codifier for Crystal Spires and Togas.
- Cool Plane: The giant flying wings of Cabal's air force, Wings Over the World.
- Corrupt Hick: The "Chief" of Everytown in the second segment.
- Deadly Gas: Played straight during the war, but the 'gas of peace' only knocks people out, except for The Chief who conveniently dies of a heart attack.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: A young man and woman are sent to start life on a new world; the seed of mankind shot into space from a huge gun. Ummm...
- Film of the Book
- Good Old Ways: The dissident, Theotocopulos, in the third segment, who opposes any and all advancement of human society, apparently purely on the basis that it is advancement.
- History Marches On: As with the novel, double-subverted: the film predicts the onset of World War II, which proceeds to go on for a couple decades.
- Identical Grandson: Raymond Massey plays multiple generations of the Cabal family tree. Other roles in the film are treated similarly.
- Infant Immortality: Averted. At the start of the film a child is marching the streets, playing Boy Soldier with his toy drum and pith helmet; after the city is bombed we see the boy among the rubble. Making it worse, he was the son of one of the main characters.
- Mood Dissonance: The opening scene showcases people preparing for a joyous holiday while placards and billboards proclaim the threat of war. Even the carols on the soundtrack have a decidedly dark cadence.
- Next Sunday A.D.: The first segment, set in 1940. The rest of the movie takes place Exty Years from Now.
- One Sided Battle: Justified as The Chief's decrepit biplanes are no match for Wings Over the World.
- Patrick Stewart Speech: Cabal gives one to the audience at the end of the movie.
- The Philosopher King: The finale shows a world governed entirely on principles of scientific progress
- The Plague: The so-called "wandering sickness".
- Raygun Gothic
- Scavenger World
- Time Passes Montage: Used to link the film's three segments. The first instance is combined with a war-themed Apocalyptic Montage; the second blends with a Hard Work Montage.
- Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Invoked almost word-for-word by The Chief concerning the plague-ridden populace. The fact that he alone thought of this is apparently what begins his rise to power.
- Zombie Gait: While they're not technically dead, the shambling, cadaverous victims of the walking sickness definitely look like zombies. One could say Wells unintentionally invented the modern zombie