Saturday, January 29, 2011

Things to Come (1936)

Getting through that sci-fi list, by golly! Based on an HG Wells novel I haven't read, Things To Come tells the rather preachy tale of "Everytown" (actual name), a place of White British People that goes through a number of extreme changes over the course of 100 years. At the start, we see the town's inhabitants- including intelligent family man John Cabal (Raymond Massey)- assaulted with bombings at Christmas. WWII has begun, and drags on for decades. By the 1970s, civilization has deteriorated into militant tribes attempting to salvage what little resources and technology are left. An aging Cabal unites with a group of engineers and inventors to kickstart a more peaceful society. Flash forward several more decades and we see the descendants of the original characters living in a futuristic world, now forced to contend with the consequences of advancing technology.

The idea of tracking a small, ordinary town through a century of development is indeed an intriguing one- especially when apocalyptic war and space travel are involved. By maintaining a focus on certain re-appearing characters and their offspring (played by the same actors), there's a certain continuity that makes it easier to digest a story so epic in scope. The characters are interesting- especially the lean, mean Raymond Massey as John Cabal- and the visuals are memorable during the future scenes, with a range of whirring vehicles, video gadgets, togas, and something known only as a SPACE GUN. Hell yes.

Unfortunately, Things to Come is hindered by a very preachy script and ineffectual pacing. I understand what screenwriter Wells and director William Cameron Menzies were trying to do, what with all the anti-war and pro-intellectualism goings on, but it's just clumsily done. The dialogue is stilted and unrealistic, the acting is often melodramatic, and there's about 20 minutes of "war sucks" montage to get us through 40 years. Normally I'd be ok with those things in an old sci-fi movie, but this one just isn't fun because it's so caught up in getting out its message. Plus the cool futuristic stuff only gets about 15 minutes. It's a good premise and there are a lot of good ideas here, especially in the visuals and inventions, it just doesn't come together as well as it should.


Pair This Movie With: Well, I was somewhat put in the mind of Metropolis for its big scope and cool visuals, but apparently Wells's intent was to make a movie that was the opposite of Metropolis, because he hated what Lang had done with that film. Oh well.