Sunday, February 12, 2017

Revisiting the Classics -- Things to Come

Today we have the 1936 film Things to Come. Written by H.G. Wells, it delivered a shocking prediction of our future.

The story begins at Christmas in 1940 in the quite obviously real town of Everytown which seems to exist somewhere in England. The spirit of the season is upon the townspeople, but so is a dark cloud of war, because an unnamed enemy is threatening Europe. We are never told who these aggressors are, but come on; it's clearly the Nazis. Ultimately, it doesn't matter, though, because the next world war soon consumes all of civilized society. Level-headed good guy and family man John Cabal (Raymond Massey) is called upon to serve his country, and off to battle he goes.

We then jump in time to 1946. War is in full swing, and even the Brits are letting loose with poison gas. Things are bleak all over, and Everytown is not spared from devastation.

Flash forward again, this time to 1970. Everytown has been reduced to a pre-Industrial Revolution society. Their leader, the Chief (Sir Ralph Richardson) wants his fleet of biplanes to take to the air once more so he can dominate his enemies, but oil is in hopelessly short supply. But while he's complaining of this, an advanced aeroplane lands in the town. And who should emerge from it but a much older John Cabal. He's come to deliver tidings of a new world order that will establish peace and rebuild civilization. The Chief doesn't care, however; he just wants his oil, and promptly has Cabal arrested. Cabal is not without friends, though. One of them still lives in Everytown. Soon they get word to Cabal's organization, Wings over the World, who waste little time coming to his rescue.

We then flash forward one final time, now to 2036. A utopia has been established, with Cabal's great-great-grandson Oswald (also played by Raymond Massey) in charge. But it seems you can't escape discontent in any age, and now a troublemaker with a stick up his ass wants to derail scientific progress and experimentation, and his primary target is the space gun, a cannon which soon will launch humans to the moon. He makes an impassioned speech, rallying the people to destroy the space gun. Will he succeed? Will the Cabals' efforts to lead mankind into the future be in vain?

Things to Come had one hell of a budget at the time, and you can clearly see it in the production values. Nothing was spared to bring Wells' grand vision of the future to life. But the movie is more important for what it accomplished. It successfully predicted World War II, the oil crisis of the 70s, holograms, new diseases, and (arguably, mind you) the Apple Watch. It really is an underappreciated masterwork of science fiction, and demands to be experienced by the masses. Thankfully you can get it today courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

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