Friday, June 8, 2012

Things to Come (1936)

Director: William Cameron Menzies
Starring: Raymond Massey, Ralph Richardson

It is an exciting idea that famed science fiction author H.G. Wells would be issued to write an original screenplay for a motion picture. Author of such major English science fiction classics including The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds, Wells had inspired many imagination filled filmmakers, but here an original screenplay which was inspired a couple of his smaller works would be written, telling a chilling tale of what the possible future people of London were looking at in 1936. Eerily Wells would of predict a few chilling facts that would actually come to be inspired by the then modern events of Europe, including the coming of World War II, and the idea that people would one day war with each other over the commodity of oil. Overall the story would share that the world is cyclical with the rise and fall of civilizations, but most of all this movie brought wonderful visuals by a very visual director, present for audiences with a world of what could be.

Things to Come is a science fiction tale about a major city in England and it coming future ranging over the next century from when this film was originally released (1936), fighting a major war, falling into despair, rising to greatness again, only to fall into another age against progress. Set in the fictional city of Everytown, England, a loosely masked version of London seen in the obvious landmarks of nation’s capital, we share in the story of its coming history.  Starting on Christmas of 1940 with the sudden and destructive bombing of the city during the usually joyous season by a foreign invader, not mentioned, but obliviously Germany, comes the second Great War of the 20th century. After the long conflict, the city in ruin falls into another dark age, fighting off a new kind of plague that threatens the survivors, an effect of gas bombing from the war. The people only held together as a tribe battle the nearby enemies known as “the hill people,” while being lead by a self proclaimed leader known as “the Chief.” This medieval ruler would be overturned thanks to a foreign aid of a higher developed civilization of man, who bring with them a newly rebuilt, technological renaissance age in the form of an underground metropolis. This progress would become so great, as the age moves to 2036, that people would rise up against this overly progressed world, leaving the a message of man ever seeking to find their purpose on the earth, never fully being happy with where they are at, always destroying what they worked for to start over.

Visually stunning, with a chilling story about the destruction of the world as they saw it at the time, the picture supplies a chillingly stunning film. With majestic views, awe-inspiring visuals, imaginative camera tricks that bring you to a world that had never existed, this motion picture is pure movie magic… that is until the characters open their mouths. Though the film has a very loose story based around characters, primarily revolving around the evolution of the city, when the characters do talk in attempt to further the information in which the audience is to understand the surrounds of the time, the story abruptly slows down and the filmmaking becomes less than inspiring, in fact becoming a rather poor picture in those scenes. Despite the magnificent collages of special effects enhanced visuals, when the story between individual characters take center stage as we watch the progression of time, the production quality sinks abruptly. In these cases the editing is slow and uninspired, the acting is sub-par despite the high thought of actors, and the camera work is featureless, almost like it is two movies edited together.

As you watch he picture it becomes painfully obvious that director William Cameron Menzies is a visual director. By trade an art director, American born filmmaker Manzies has an eye for stunning visuals, including the dark shadows seen in his artistic visuals in Alibi and his stunning work he would do in the burning of Atlanta scenes in Gone with the Wind, scenes which he helped direct. His work is amazing in this picture, but when it comes to dialogue scenes we can see he is less inspired as the camera becomes rather plain in style, a sad realization of his skill. But he would play an integral part in filmmaking in the future, ever producing stunning visuals as art director in many features with the coming of color pictures.

The big name that was tagged with the picture was of course that of H.G. Wells, as inspiration and screenwriter. It is a little bit of a controversy as to how far Wells would have control in this picture. He would write the screenplay, inspired by some of his past works which he would fuse into this original idea, but as far as when he handed over the script is becomes questionable in history how much his voice would be heard in the production process of the feature. It is said he had words that helped cast parts in the film, including reshoots after not being pleased with performances. It would also be said that producer Alexander Korda pushed the author to the side, treating him as a pest more than a storied genius of imagination. In a way it is a mystery as to just how much Wells was part of the process, but his voice as a storyteller can be seen by those familiar to his past works in this feature.

The film follows more the story of the city Everytown (one of Wells’ more uninspired names) than it does characters as it jumps from age to age in the 96 year span of the picture. There are however character that do span much of the film, and include their children that were too played by the same actors to manifest the relation of the characters. If there is a star of the film it would be Raymond Massey, a famed Canadian-born Broadway actor with minimal work in film. Massey would provide the voice of the film playing the roles of John Cabal and his son Oswald, the elder a former man of Everytown that flees during the war, only to return and help pull the city from its dark age, and his son who stands in defiance of the people looking to end the progress of the great city in 2036. His performance is unimaginative, but does come off as Shakespearian in the end. Another actor that appears throughout the film in Edward Chapman, once again playing two generations of characters in the history of Everytown. Ralph Richardson appears as the major character in the center of the feature as The Chief, the self proclaimed leader of the tribe of Everytown survivors of the second great war. Both Chapman and Richardson were great stage actors in England that found interest in the movies, Chapman finding his break with Hitchcock’s film Murder!

Aside from the picture itself, is the chilling predictions Wells makes in this picture about the coming events of the world seen through the eyes of 1936. Wells’ fictional war that started on Christmas Day 1940 would not be far off, as World War II would come to the doorsteps of London and all of England in September 1939, a little over a year from his prediction. His foresight of strategic bombing and air warfare was a foresight in a world that had yet to see such use of great battle. Gas and biological warfare is also manifested in the feature, a serious issue that would not necessarily be used much during in WWII, but was being developed by Nazi Germany among other nations. Foreseen are battles for oil as a primary commodity in the future in an industrial world as well as space travel. Most great nations would eventually fight for years over oil and its location to this day. Space travel would be one thing that would be developed years ahead of the time Wells would predict in this fiction, with man landing on the moon a mere 33 years later, instead of just getting off the ground in 2036, a century from when the feature was released.

Things to Come would not be a timeless picture as Lang’s picture Metropolis was a decade before. In fact, Lang disliked Things to Come very much, despite its slight similarities. Perhaps it is because of the stamping of the years into the storyline, the obvious difference in time periods from this fictional world to the actual history, or the poor acting. With that aside it is a visually stunning film penned from by the greatest English science fiction writer and produces interesting views of the world’s foresight from a time before WWII, knowing full well the power rising within the Nazi Germany boarders and its threat to change the world. Its tale of a cyclical world rising and falling many times would speak to the audiences, and would be embraced by science fiction fans. Today it stands rather a forgotten film, but still provides a story intriguing enough to watch despite its out of touch storyline when compared to the contemporary world that has come since its release many years ago. It may not be timeless, but it is a capsule of thought from a different age penned by a great imaginative mind of the time.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Out of the Past (1947)

RKO Pictures Director: Jacques Touneur Starring: Robert Mitchum , Jane Greer , Kirk Douglas Honors: National Film Registry ...