Things to Come
The Criterion Collection
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A landmark collaboration between writer H. G. Wells (Island of Lost Souls), producer Alexander Korda (The Thief of Bagdad), and designer and director William Cameron Menzies (Gone with the Wind), Things to Come is a science fiction film like no other, a prescient political work that predicts a century of turmoil and progress. Skipping through time, Things to Come bears witness to world war, dictatorship, disease, the rise of television, and finally, utopia. Conceived, written, and overseen by Wells himself as an adaptation of his own work, this megabudgeted production, the most ambitious ever from Korda’s London Films, is a triumph of imagination and technical audacity.
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Let me start by saying that I made a small contribution to part of this release, in the form of an account of the music from the film -- but I had no role in any other aspect of the release, and have no participation in the sales or other activities surrounding the Criterion Collection DVD (or ANY other DVD edition) of this movie, nor did I have anything to do with the elements of the release about which I'm about to comment.
That said, I can safely say that the picture and sound quality of the movie itself as presented on this DVD (the FIRST authorized video release of the movie, at least on this side of the Atlantic, incidentally, and taken from the BFI's restored edition) are both stunning -- I'm old enough, and was lucky enough to have seen THINGS TO COME long before the wave of degraded, faded, worn out, and chopped up editions of the movie began filling the airwaves in the 1980s, at a time when there were still authorized 35mm prints of the movie around; and this release is a match for those 35mm sources and THEN some, for sheer quality in the detail, contrast, and richness, of the picture and the sound. It's the best the picture has looked and sounded in my experience since I first saw it in 1969, and it's better than that presentation (which was on a proper, network owned-and-operated TV station, incidentally -- on Christmas Day, no less, maybe because of the film's opening sequence?), as well.
As to the running time, it's 97 minutes -- that IS the running time of the movie, period. THINGS TO COME was previewed at 117 minutes (and perhaps even a longer version at one point), and subsequently cut down several times before its actual general release at 97 minutes, and was later cut to 92 and then 89 minutes; but 97 minutes is what there is of the movie. Unlike, say, Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS (1927), which was actually released in Germany (albeit briefly) at its full, 153 minute running time before being cut -- and which had full-length prints sent to distributors in various markets on different continents -- THINGS TO COME only ever went out at 97 minutes into general release, so there aren't any "loose" or unaccounted for long prints of it to be found around the world (as, fortunately, there were with METROPOLIS). There do exist stills representing scenes and characters that were cut from the film before release, and an "alternate cut" of the movie, incorporating those stills and other visual elements to fill out the "lost" sections in tandem with surviving script portions representing the deleted scenes, has been done for release in the UK; but there is no actual 117 minute, or 107-minute, or 100-whatever minute version of the movie, or whatever the frequently-cited figure is for an "extended" cut of the movie, to be seen intact as a finished, complete film. (That's anymore than there will ever -- EVER -- be an official "extended" cut of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, incorporating the scenes [was it 16 minutes' worth?] that Stanley Kubrick edited out after the previews but before the actual opening of the movie, in the basement of the MGM building on Sixth Avenue in New York. Reviews of the film from the opening even cited the still-visible splices at that point; and that removed footage is gone forever). And anyone who wants to rectify that situation on THINGS TO COME would have to take a page out of one of Mr. Wells's other playbooks, and perfect a time machine, journey back to London in 1936, and persuade Alexander Korda to save the deleted portions of the movie (good luck with that . . . . though if one could do such a thing for this sort of purpose, I'd sooner do it for the lost reels of Erich Von Stroheim's GREED and Orson Welles's THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, ahead of THINGS TO COME . . . . )
I'll also add, equally important to anything else about this release is David Kalat's audio commentary for the movie on the Criterion DVD -- it is a wonder: Charming, witty, informative, and entertaining, and this comment comes from someone who has done about 30 audio commentaries in his time.
As to the movie itself, it's even more fascinating than it looks and sounds, if that's possible to say (how can a movie be more fascinating than it looks or sounds? read on . . . .) -- a ground-breaking social/science-fiction film of its time, purporting to deal with the next 100 years of human history starting with the Second World War (the start of which it only gets wrong by about 15 months) and its aftermath. THINGS TO COME is, in many ways, akin to Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, a later monumental look into the future, and the relationships of humankind to technology, and technology to power (questions also raised by Lang's METROPOLIS, which Wells thought a very silly movie). And THINGS TO COME shares many characteristics with Kubrick's movie, including a coldness that repelled a lot of audience members in 1936, and characters who are mostly more symbolic figures than dramatic creations). And the whole thing was initally conceived by H. G. Wells as a near-operatic creation, with the music giving the work its structure, shape, and texture (and the music still mostly does, even though it wasn't shot that way except for the building-of-the-new-world sequences in the last third of the movie).
In other words, yes, it's all well worth buying.
THINGS TO COME was an ambitious undertaking at the time, not only in its subject matter - that of predicting 100 years into the future - but also in its cinematic creation. This was the first time that a noted author was directly involved in every aspect of adapting one of his novels for the screen. Wells collaborated closely with everyone; from producer Alexander Korda and director William Cameron Menzies, to set designer Vincent Korda and composer Arthur Bliss, to cinematographer Georges Perinal and special effects supervisor Ned Mann. While there were clashes over creative control, everyone's contribution remains intact making THINGS TO COME a testament to their considerable talent.
Although Wells was adamant toward having his film differ in every respect from Fritz Lang's futuristic epic METROPOLIS (UFA, 1927), similarities between both link them in the minds of many sci-fi aficionados. The scope of the sets, the archetypal characters, the idea of a utopian society, the masses ruled by an elitist class dedicated to technological advancement, the discontented mob rising against the elite - these are all common denominators in METROPOLIS and THINGS TO COME. There are significant differences too, in that Lang didn't make specific predictions whereas Wells accurately foretold another World War and a lunar expedition. In depicting the latter, Wells' scientific mechanics were off by using a "space gun" (Lang got the physics right in 1929 with UFA's WOMAN IN THE MOON), but this was a dramatic choice to show how a weapon of war could be used for a constructive purpose. It effectively brings the film full circle from the violent opening scenes of an aerial attack and anti-aircraft artillery to the hopeful space gun blast-off at the end. It also recalls the lunar launch from the very first sci-fi film, Georges Melies' A TRIP TO THE MOON (Star Films, 1902), in which the rocket is literally shot from a cannon.
There are those who find fault with the rather cold demeanor of several characters in THINGS TO COME, but I disagree; Technological advancement has its obvious advantages, but I could see how its side effect could be a decline in emotional interaction. Indeed, there's already some indication of this in our current tech-obsessed, insatiable society. I like how the characters stand for certain types, symbols if you will, rather than individual personalities. THINGS TO COME is a broad, visionary tale with a message, not a character study.
The visual design, even today, is stunning, and when combined with that terrific music, it all produces a unique and memorable film experience. It anticipates by thirty-two years "things to come" with Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (MGM, 1968).
Criterion's disc is off a 35mm fine-grain composite print and looks/sounds fantastic. For a movie whose effect depends so much on how well its design comes across, this Blu-ray of THINGS TO COME is the last word in quality. Special features include an intelligent and informative commentary by David Kalat, an interview on the film's design by Christopher Freyling, a visual essay on Arthur Bliss's score by Bruce Eder, unused effects footage by artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, a 1936 audio reading about the Wandering Sickness, and an illustrated booklet with an essay by Geoffrey O'Brien.
My highest recommendation.
Most recent customer reviews
I loved this movie. If you keep in mind that, even though it crosses 100 years into 2036, the visuals and conceptual...Read more