Not since Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS had there been a science fiction film of such epic scope and vision as Alexander Korda's production of H.G. Wells's 1933 treatise on the future, The Shape of Things to Come. Set in an urban metropolis known as Everytown, the film charts the course of a
chilling future in which war, disease, and totalitarianism nearly destroy mankind.
THINGS TO COME is best remembered for its prescient depiction of massive aerial bombing, which was to change the face of war (and urban England) within three years of its release. Eager to have Wells's participation in the project, producer Korda approached the great author and offered him the
chance to write the screenplay. Two years and four drafts later, with considerable help from Korda, writer Lajos Biro, and director William Menzies, the script was completed. Wells was allowed to wander around the set during production influencing every detail of the film from the costumes and set
design to the blocking of the actors. Everything about THINGS TO COME, its strengths and its considerable weaknesses, may be directly attributed to Wells. While the epic scope of the film and its vision of the future are impressive, the human element is sorely lacking. The dialogue is very stilted
and uninteresting: there is little interaction among characters and everyone makes speeches. It is a tribute to Massey's skill as an actor that the speeches play as well as they do.
Though the film fails as a human drama, it succeeds impressively in the scenes of devastation and reconstruction--a purely visual experience. Korda's brother Vincent was in charge of the production design and he plundered every new concept in architecture, industry, and design for the Everytown of
2036. Famed Hungarian futurist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was hired to contribute his vision, but his designs were scrapped as too impractical. Wells, of course, had final approval on everything, but eventually he grew frustrated with the filmmaking process and admitted he knew little about making movies.
Menzies, one of the most influential art directors in the history of motion pictures, was the perfect choice to direct the film (though Lewis Milestone was signed on at one time). Though his skill in directing actors was negligible, Menzies possessed a true feel for design and knew how to
photograph it. At Wells' insistence, Arthur Bliss was brought in before production started to compose the score based on the script and Wells' suggestions. (The author felt that the music should be incorporated into the filmmaking process from the beginning, instead of after the filming was
completed.) The resulting music was thus wholly integrated with the visuals. Bliss's work on the film proved so popular with the critics and the public that his music for THINGS TO COME was the first movie score to be recorded commercially and sold in record stores. When it was all over, Korda had
spent over $1.5 million on THINGS TO COME, an incredible sum for the time. The film failed to ignite the box office, but it eventually made money. The original release in Britain ran 130 minutes, but the running time was cut for the US. (There are several different versions of the film now in
distribution, running the gamut from 96 min. to 130 min.) Despite its flaws, THINGS TO COME is a truly epic work which continues to fascinate. leave a comment