In his essay “Son of Dr. Strangelove, Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Stanley Kubrick,” sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke writes about the work that lead up to the classic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Among other things, Clarke mentions that he first met with Kubrick to discuss the project on April 22, 1964 – exactly 50 years ago tomorrow.
Clarke also relates how he later tried to introduce Kubrick to some of the classic science fiction films, presumably to give him more insight into the genre. Kubrick was not very impressed by what he saw, and after they eventually got around to watching Things to Come, Kubrick said “What are you trying to do to me? I’ll never see anything you recommend again!”
Kubrick was right and he was wrong. Things to Come does have its share of weaknesses, as does 2001. But in the end, both are classics in the genre, and both deserve that status.
The two films actually have more than that in common. Both were born out of a cooperation between the most important living science fiction writer of the time (H. G. Wells for the earlier film) and one of the best directors (Alexander Korda, although he did not direct Things to Come; he only produced it). Both films are in some ways highly prophetic and, more to the point, try to convey important messages that are still relevant today.
Things to Come is divided into three sections. The first prophecies World War II (which begins in 1940 in the film) and is clearly anti-war. The second section deals with the world in the 1960s. The war never really ended, but civilization is in shambles and there is no central government. Local warlords fight for whatever remains. This part of the film makes it one of the first post-apocalyptic films, perhaps the first where a large part is dedicated to survival in the world after the apocalypse.
In the final section, we see the new world of 2036, typical of Wells, who was a firm believer in the wonders of technology, and how they could bring peace and wealth to the world, if used wisely. This part fascinates mainly because of its excellent sets and special effects, many of which still impress.
Things to Come is a splendidly effective and well-produced film, full of beautiful imagery and fascinating ideas. The film does have one major problem, however, in that it follows Wells’ script too closely. Wells, while one of my favourite SF authors, was always very didactic, which could sometimes give a rather stiff air to his books. In the movie, this shines through even more clearly, leaving in part a stilted, pompous and unnatural dialogue. Wells’ detailed synopsis for Things to Come has been published, and actually reads better than it comes through in the final film.
There are several versions of this film, all cut and incomplete to various extents. At least two are available at the Internet Archive. In this post, I mainly link to a version distributed in America, but there is also another version, slightly longer and with better resolution, but unfortunately the copy is very dark.
I understand that the copyright status of this film has been in question, and according to Wikipedia it is under copyright in the UK and the rest of the EU, but apparently not in the US. Whether you decide to download it or not is, of course, a matter for your own conscience.
This film is best enjoyed by those who, unlike Stanley Kubrick, realize that a film can have a few faults and still be brilliant.
Things to Come
Running time: 1 h 33 min
Director: William Cameron Menzies
Stars: Raymond Massey, Edward Chapman
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Low (426×320)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: Cinepack (838 M)