Movie Review: "Things To Come"

In 1933 HG Wells wrote a book called The Shape of Things To Come. He later adapted it for the 1936 Alexander Korda film, Things to Come. Wikipedia says, “This depicted, all too accurately, the impending World War, with cities being destroyed by aerial bombs.” I read elsewhere that Wells was kind of a prophet of aeronautics, predicting as early as 1901, an air war. The Wright Brothers made the very first flight in 1903, two years after Wells predicted that war would take to the skies.. Wells also predicted the outbreak of WWII and was off by only 16 months. He also predicted people movers, Segway, aircraft dominance in war, being slaves to technology, amphibious tanks, drones, zombies, robots, and more.

HG Wells also wrote The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The Invisible Man and The Island of Doctor Moreau.

So his book The Shape of Things To Come was was made into a movie Things to Come. If you watch it having a Christian worldview, it is sadly right on the money. It depicts man’s endless seeking of something greater, always learning but never able to come to knowledge of the truth. So ultimately the film is dystopian, because it is Godless, though Wells wanted to depict a utopia, because science is his god.

If you watch it just as entertainment, it is a stunning film. It is tremendously a visually stunning movie, as much or more than even Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and that’s saying a lot if a 75 year old movie can still top the stun list. The futuristic sets in the future years segment of the movie are especially stunning.

The film begins in 1940, 4 years into Wells’ future. War is predicted, and soon enough, it comes to pass. The city, named ‘Everytown’, (looking suspiciously like London) is destroyed by air. This actually happened in a few years into the future when in WWII, parts of the city were razed by Nazi bombers.

However, unlike WWII, the war in Things To Come simply never ended for decades and decades. The population of the world was reduced dramatically and people forgot why they were fighting. A fiefdom was set up in Everytown by The Boss, AKA The Chief. he ruled tyrannically. A pestilence swept over the globe known as the wandering sickness, whereupon infected people would arise from their sickbeds and wander aimlessly and catatonically about, infecting more people as they passed. These we know as today’s zombies, the first cinematic depiction of such a thing. The Boss ordered any wanderer to be summarily shot. However, because of this brutal approach, soon the disease was conquered, and the economy began rebounding, though a Stone Age one.

The Boss dreams of removing ‘the hill people;’ from the area where coal and oil fields are so as to obtain petrol and make his ancient biplanes fly again. However he recognizes this is a race against time because so many decades have passed, the technology for oil extraction and its conversion to usable fuel was dying with all the old men who once knew how to do these things.

Even as The Boss dreams of this, an advanced aircraft lands one day and an old man emerges, the every man who was featured in the beginning of the film in Everytown musing about the possibility of war. He has allied with a group of techno-crats, aircraft engineers and other scientists, who have built factories, squashed the concept of national sovereignty and tells The Boss that he aims to take over and their group will stamp out disease and war via science and reason AKA “Sanity” as he puts it. It is by now the late 1970s.

The movie continues on through the 1980s and on into 2046 with a preparation for a manned moon shot. Thought he world has indeed rid itself of disease and war, one lone sculptor wonders at what price. he is discontent, and asks the technocrat planning the moon shot what all this sterile living and subservience to science is for. “Progress isn’t living! Progress is preparation for living!” He yells.

It is amazing what Wells did with his sets and how he showed the future. It’s not a perfect film but it is an amazing film, One has to give proper due to the man whose vision of the future was so perceptive and the questions he asked of mankind’s struggle with itself so poignant- all encapsulated in a 96 minute movie. It is in Hulu plus in the Criterion Collection, and is on Youtube for free in its entirety. Check it out.

Here are some photos from the movie.

This is the interior courtyard of Everytown in 2036. The clear tube going up the side is a pneumatic elevator, and the crosswalk is a conveyance that moves people.

It made me think of the interior of the Contemporary Resort Hotel at Disney world in FL. I stayed there after it first opened in 1971. Note the similarities the monorail passing directly through the courtyard.

Flat screen tvs, wrist phones with video screen and iPads are in use in this film, 60 years before they came to be…

The Technocrat’s iPad

 Oh look, here is a modern Galaxy Smartwatch…

Yup, a rocket all right. In the movie they called it a ‘space gun’.

Saturn rocket on launch pad, 1961

The aircraft particularly show a design aesthetic advanced beyond imagining. This blogger said:

It’s especially apparent in the designs for the majestic Wings Over the World airships, which although often described as flying wings are actually something even more exotic. Their combination of swept wings (a decade before the earliest such aircraft entered service), tailless construction (which wouldn’t become really practical until the 1990’s), and twin catamaran fuselages (a design concept that has hardly ever been used in the real world) is like something out of Nausicaa in the Valley of the Wind, and the models representing them are curiously much more convincing than those used for the comparatively conventional 1940’s fighter planes.”


Single man aircraft manufactured by Wings Over the World … almost looks like a drone

 Or an Ibis RJ03…

Anyway you get the idea!

Further Reading:

NY Times original movie review, 1936 Boy, those guys sure could write well back then.

Overview by Turner Classic Movies

AMG review


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