Things to Come
|Things to Come|
|Directed by||William Cameron Menzies|
|Written by||H. G. Wells|
|Based on||The Shape of Things to Come|
by H. G. Wells
|Produced by||Alexander Korda|
Derrick De Marney
|Edited by||Charles Crichton|
Francis D. Lyon
|Music by||Arthur Bliss|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|108m 41s (see below)|
Things to Come (also known in promotional material as H. G. Wells' Things to Come) is a 1936 British black-and-white science fiction film from United Artists, produced by Alexander Korda, directed by William Cameron Menzies, and written by H. G. Wells. The film stars Raymond Massey, Edward Chapman, Ralph Richardson, Margaretta Scott, Cedric Hardwicke, Maurice Braddell, Derrick De Marney, and Ann Todd.
H. G. Wells conceived his treatment as "a new story" meant to display the "social and political forces and possibilities" that he had outlined in his 1933 book The Shape of Things to Come, a work he considered less a novel than a "discussion" in fictional form that presented itself as the notes of a 22nd-century diplomat. The film was also influenced by previous works, including his 1897 story "A Story of the Days to Come" and his 1931 work on society and economics, The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind. The cultural historian Christopher Frayling called Things to Come "a landmark in cinematic design".
In 1940, businessman John Cabal, living in the city of Everytown in southern England, cannot enjoy Christmas Day as the news speaks of possible war. His guest, Harding, shares his worries, while another friend, the over-optimistic Pippa Passworthy, believes that it will not come to pass, and if it does, it will accelerate technological progress. An aerial bombing raid on the city that night results in general mobilisation and then global war with the unnamed enemy.
Months later, Cabal, now a Royal Air Force airman piloting a Hawker Fury, shoots down an enemy aircraft dropping poison gas on the British countryside. He lands and pulls the badly injured enemy pilot from the wreckage. As they dwell on the madness of war, they put on their gas masks, as the gas drifts in their direction. When a young girl runs towards them, the wounded pilot insists that she take his mask, choosing to accept death to save her life. Cabal takes the girl to his aeroplane, pausing to leave the doomed man a pistol. The pilot dwells on the irony that he may have gassed the child's family and yet he has sacrificed his own life in order to save her. A gunshot is heard.
The war continues into the 1960s, long enough for the people of the world to have forgotten why they are fighting. Humanity has entered a new dark age. Every city in the world in ruins, the economy has been devastated by hyperinflation, and there is little technology left apart from the weapons of war. By 1966, the enemy's armies and navies have been defeated, but their greatly depleted air force survives. A pestilence known as "wandering sickness" is inflicted by aerial bombing and causes its victims to walk around aimlessly in a zombie-like state before dying. Dr. Harding and his daughter struggle to find a cure, but with little equipment, it is hopeless. The plague kills half of humanity and extinguishes the last vestiges of government.
By 1970, the warlord Rudolf, known as the "Boss", has become the chieftain of what is left of Everytown and eradicated the pestilence by shooting the infected. He has started yet another war, this time against the "hill people" of the Floss Valley to obtain coal and shale to render into oil for his ragtag collection of prewar biplanes.
On May Day that year, a sleek new monoplane lands in Everytown, startling the inhabitants who have not seen a new aircraft in many years. The pilot, a now elderly John Cabal, emerges and proclaims that the last surviving band of engineers and mechanics known as "World Communications" have formed a civilisation called "Wings Over the World". They are based in Basra, Iraq and have outlawed war and are rebuilding civilisation throughout the Near East and the Mediterranean. Cabal considers the Boss and his band of warlords to be brigands, but offers them the opportunity to join them in rebuilding the world. The Boss immediately rejects the offer and takes Cabal prisoner, forcing him to work for his mechanic Gordon, who struggles to keep the Boss's obsolete biplanes airworthy. Gordon takes an Avro 504K up for a supposed test flight, but in reality it is a ploy to alert World Communications.
Gigantic flying wing aircraft arrive over Everytown and saturate its population with a "knockout gas" called "Gas of Peace". The Boss orders his meager air force to attack, but the aged biplanes inflict no damage. The people awaken shortly thereafter to find themselves under the control of Wings Over the World and the Boss dead from a fatal allergic reaction to the gas. Cabal observes, "Dead, and his old world dead with him ... and a new world beginning ... And now for the rule of the Airmen and a new life for mankind".
A long visual montage follows, showing decades of technological progress, beginning with Cabal explaining plans for global consolidation by Wings Over the World. By 2036, a stable mankind is now living in modern underground cities, including the new Everytown, and civilisation is at last devoted to peace and scientific progress.
All is not well, however. The sculptor Theotocopulos incites the populace to demand a "rest" from all the rush of progress, symbolised by the coming first crewed flight around the Moon. The modern-day Luddites are opposed by Oswald Cabal, the head of the governing council and grandson of John Cabal. Oswald Cabal's daughter Catherine and Maurice Passworthy insist on crewing the projectile. A large, flowing mob forms and rushes to destroy the immense space gun, used to propel the spaceship toward the Moon. Their action forces Cabal to launch it ahead of schedule.
Later, after the projectile is just a tiny light in the immense night sky, Oswald Cabal delivers a philosophical monologue about what is to come for mankind to his troubled and questioning friend, Raymond Passworthy, the father of Maurice. He speaks passionately for progress and humanity's unending quest for knowledge and advancement as it begins the journey out into immensity of space to conquer the stars and beyond. He concludes with the pointed rhetorical questions, "All the universe or nothingness? Which shall it be, Passworthy? Which shall it be? ..."
- Raymond Massey as John Cabal/Oswald Cabal
- Edward Chapman as Pippa Passworthy/Raymond Passworthy
- Ralph Richardson as Rudolf a.k.a. The Boss
- Margaretta Scott as Roxana Black/Rowena Cabal
- Cedric Hardwicke as Theotocopulos
- Maurice Braddell as Dr Edward Harding
- Sophie Stewart as Mrs Cabal
- Derrick De Marney as Richard Gordon
- Ann Todd as Mary Gordon
- Pearl Argyle as Catherine Cabal
- Kenneth Villiers as Maurice Passworthy
- Ivan Brandt as Morden Mitani
- Anne McLaren as Child (2036)
- Patricia Hilliard as Janet Gordon
- Charles Carson as Great-Grandfather (2036)
- Patrick Barr as World Transport official
- John Clements as Enemy pilot
- Anthony Holles as Simon Burton (credited as "Antony Holles")
- Allan Jeayes as Mr. Cabal (1940)
- Pickles Livingston as Horrie Passworthy
- Abraham Sofaer as Wadsky
Margaretta Scott is credited with the dual role of Roxana Black and Rowena Cabal, but the latter character does not appear in the longest surviving cut of the film.
Wells is sometimes incorrectly assumed to have had a degree of control over the project that was unprecedented for a screenwriter. Posters and the main title bill the film as "H. G. Wells' Things to Come", with "an Alexander Korda production" appearing in smaller type. In fact, Wells ultimately had no control over the finished product, with the result that many scenes, although shot, were either truncated or not included in the finished film. The rough-cut reputedly ran to 130 minutes; the version submitted to the British Board of Film Censors was 117m 13s; it was released as 108m 40s (later cut to 98m 06s) in the UK, and 96m 24s in the United States (see below for later versions). Wells's script (or "film treatment") and selected production notes were published in book form in 1935 and reprinted in 1940 and 1975. An academic edition annotated by Leon Stover was published in 2007. The script contains many scenes that were either never filmed or no longer exist, although the extant footage also includes scenes not in the published script (e.g. the Boss's victory banquet after the capture of the colliery).
Wells originally wanted the music to be recorded in advance, and have the film constructed around the music, but this would have impeded editing, and so the score, by Arthur Bliss, was fitted to the film afterwards in a more conventional way.[disputed ] A concert suite drawn from the film has remained popular; as of 2015, numerous recordings of it were still in print.
The film was made at Denham Film Studios, while the site was still under construction.
After filming had already begun, the Hungarian abstract artist and experimental filmmaker László Moholy-Nagy was commissioned to produce some of the effects sequences for the re-building of Everytown. Moholy-Nagy's approach was partly to treat it as an abstract light show, but only some 90 seconds of material was used, e.g. a protective-suited figure behind corrugated glass. In the autumn of 1975 a researcher found a further four sequences which had been discarded.
The art design in the film is by Vincent Korda, brother of the producer. The futuristic city of Everytown in the film is based on London: a facsimile of St Paul's Cathedral can be seen in the background.
Things to Come was voted the ninth best British film of 1936 by Film Weekly's readers. It was the 16th most popular film at the British box office in 1935–36. In 2005, it was nominated for the AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores, a list of the top 25 film scores unveiled by the American Film Institute.
Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports an approval rating of 93%, based on 28 reviews, with an average rating of 7.46/10. The site's consensus read:, "Eerily prescient in its presentation of a dystopian future, Things to Come's special effects may be somewhat dated, but its potent ideas haven't aged at all."
Writing for The Spectator in 1936, Graham Greene gave the film a mixed review. Although he made it clear that "a third of the film is magnificent", he felt that the second third (as the world of tomorrow reverts to barbarism and anarchy) seemed implausible, and began to lose interest with the introduction of the "Great Conspiracy" (an international force of airmen bent on restoring Earth's former glory) in the last third of the film. The optimism and idealism comes off as naive for him.
Science fiction historian Gary Westfahl has stated, "Things to Come qualifies as the first true masterpiece of science fiction cinema, and those who complain about its awkward pace and uninvolving characters are not understanding Wells's message, which is that the lives and actions of individuals are unimportant when compared to the progress and destiny of the entire human race". He also considered that "the film's episodic structure and grand ambitions make it the greatest ancestor of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey".
Indeed, during early development of what would become 2001, co-writer Arthur C. Clarke had Kubrick watch Things to Come as an example of a grounded science fiction film; Kubrick, however, disliked it. After seeing 2001, Frederik Pohl complained in a 1968 Galaxy editorial:
"The science-fiction movie we've all been waiting for still hasn't come along. We think it's a disgrace that the most recent science-fiction movie made with a big budget, good actors and an actual sf writer preparing the script, not aimed at a juvenile market and uncontaminated by camp, is Things to Come... produced in 1936."
Duration, releases, and surviving versions
The rough cut of the film was 130 minutes in length, while the version submitted for classification by the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) was 117m 13s. By the time of the 21 February 1936 UK premiere and initial release, this had been reduced to 108m 41s, while the American print premiered on 18 April 1936 was further cut to 96m 31s. By late 1936, a 98m 07s print was in circulation in the UK, and a 76m 07s print was resubmitted for classification by the BBFC and was passed – after further cuts – at 72m 13s for a reissue in 1943 by Exclusive Films, a film distribution company co-founded by William Hinds.
The 96m 31s American print was cut down to 93m 19s by the removal of three sections of footage for a reissue by British Lion Films in 1948, and subsequently to 92m 44s by the removal of one more segment. A continuity script exists for a version of approximately 106m 04s, which contains all the material in the 96m 31s and 92m 44s versions, plus a number of other sequences. It is not known if a version of this duration was actually in circulation at any time, or if it was simply an intermediate stage between the premiere and release versions.
For many years, the principal surviving version of the film was the 92m 44s print (in countries using PAL or SECAM video systems, it runs to 89m exactly). From at least the late-1970s until 2007, this was the only version "officially" available from the rights holders in the UK.
In the United States, although the 92m 44s version was most prevalent, a version was also in circulation that included the four pieces of footage that were in the 96m 31s print, but not the 92m 44s version, although due to other cuts, actually ran shorter than the latter.
A cut version of the 92m 44s print was digitally restored and colourised by Legend Films, under the supervision of Ray Harryhausen (who had no connection with the making of the film) and released on DVD in the United States in early 2007.
In May 2007, Network DVD in the UK released a digitally restored copy of the 96m 31s version, the longest version remaining of the film. The two-disc set also contains a "Virtual Extended Version" with most of the missing and unfilmed parts represented by production photographs and script extracts. In 2011 Network released an updated and expanded version of this edition on Blu-ray in HD.
Although the film lapsed into the public domain in the US in 1964 due to non-renewal, copyright remained in force in the UK, the European Union, and elsewhere. In the UK, copyright for films as "dramatic works" subsists for seventy years after the end of the year of release, or the death of either the director, the writer (or author of original story), or the composer of original music, whichever is the latest. As the composer, Arthur Bliss, did not die until 1975, copyright will not expire until after 31 December 2045. The current copyright holder is ITV Global Entertainment Ltd., while the longest surviving original nitrate print is held by the BFI National Archive, a copy of the 96m 31s print donated by London Films to the newly formed National Film Library in March 1936.
The film came back into copyright in the US in 1996 under the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA), which, among other measures, amended US copyright law to reinstate copyright on films of non-US origin if they were still in copyright in their country of origin. The URAA was subsequently challenged in Golan v. Gonzales, initially unsuccessfully, later with partial success, but the challenge was ultimately defeated in Golan v. Holder and a new principle established that international agreements could indeed restore copyright to works which had previously come into the public domain.
- The Man Who Could Work Miracles, a 1937 film based on Wells short story of the same name
- H. G. Wells' The Shape of Things to Come, a 1979 Canadian space opera film
- List of incomplete or partially lost films
- 1936 in science fiction
- "Film World". The West Australian. Perth. 20 March 1936. p. 3. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
- H. G. Wells, Things to Come – A Film Story (London: Cresset, 1935), p. 9.
- Frayling, Christopher (1995). Things to Come. British Film Institute. p. 56. ISBN 0-85170-480-8.
- Cooper, Nick. "Things to Come Viewing Notes", Network Blu-Ray, 2012, page 15
- Terry-Thomas at IMDb
- H. G. Wells, Things to Come – A Film Story (London: Cresset, 1935), p. 11.
- H. G. Wells, Things to Come: A Film (London: Cresset, 1935), pp. 91–93; Wells mentions the date four times on these pages, but in the "Introductory Remarks", he gives the date as "A.D. 2055" (p. xi)
- Cooper, Nick. "Things to Come Viewing Notes", Network Blu-Ray, 2012, page 14
- Cooper, Nick. "Things to Come Viewing Notes", Network Blu-Ray, 2012, page 18
- Cooper, Nick. "Things to Come Viewing Notes", Network Blu-Ray, 2012, page 17
- Frayling, Christopher (1995). Things to Come. British Film Institute. pp. 72–73. ISBN 0-85170-480-8.
- "Best Film Performance Last Year". The Examiner. Launceston, Tas. 9 July 1937. p. 8 Edition: Late News Edition and Daily. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
- "The Film Business in the US and Britain during the 1930s" by John Sedgwick and Michael Pokorny, The Economic History ReviewNew Series, Vol. 58, No. 1 (Feb., 2005), pp.79-112
- "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 November 2013. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
- "Things to Come (1936)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 20 August 2019.
- Greene, Graham (28 February 1935). "Things to Come/Bonne Chance". The Spectator. (reprinted in: Taylor, John Russell, ed. (1980). The Pleasure Dome. pp. 54–55. ISBN 0192812866.)
- Wells, H.G. "Gary Westfahl's Bio-Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Film". Retrieved 21 January 2014.
- Arthur C. Clarke, The Lost Worlds of 2001 (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1972), pg. 35.
- Pohl, Frederik (July 1968). "The Week That Was". Editorial. Galaxy Science Fiction. p. 4.
- Things to Come at BBFC
- Low, Rachel (1985). The History of the British Film 1929–1939. London: George Allen & Unwin. ISBN 0047910429.
- Cooper, Nick. "Things to Come Viewing Notes", Network Blu-Ray, 2012, pages 24–26
- "Things to Come [BLU-RAY]".
- The Criterion Collection: Things to Come
- see Copyright Act of 1909
- Cooper, Nick. "Things to Come Viewing Notes", Network Blu-Ray, 2012, page 20
- Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the US
- "H. G. Wells Photographs the Future in His Motion Picture "Things to Come"". Modern Mechanix. May 1936.
- O'Brien, Geoffrey. "Things to Come: Whither Mankind?". Criterion Collection.
- Things to Come at IMDb
- Things to Come at Rotten Tomatoes
- Things to Come at AllMovie
- Things to Come at the TCM Movie Database
- Things to Come website by film expert Nick Cooper
- Things to Come at the American Film Institute Catalog