Things To Come (1936)
Things to Come (1936) is a British science fiction film produced by Alexander Korda and directed by William Cameron Menzies. The screenplay was written by H. G. Wells and is a loose adaptation of his own 1933 novel The Shape of Things to Come and his 1931 non-fiction work, The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind. The film stars Raymond Massey, Ralph Richardson, Cedric Hardwicke, Pearl Argyle and Margaretta Scott.
Christopher Frayling of the British Film Institute calls Things to Come "a landmark in cinematic design."
Although the film lapsed into the public domain in the United States in 1964, copyright remained in force in the UK, the European Union, and elsewhere. In the UK, film copyright subsists for seventy years after 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 2045. The film came back into copyright in 1996 in the United States 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, but later with partial success.
Successful businessman John Cabal (Raymond Massey) cannot enjoy Christmas Day, 1940, with the ominous news of possible war. His guest Harding (Maurice Braddell) shares his worries, but over-optimistic friend Passworthy (Edward Chapman) believes it will not come to pass, or even if it does, it will do good by accelerating technological progress. A bombing raid on the city that night results in general mobilization and global war.
Some time later, Cabal, now piloting a biplane, shoots down a one-man enemy bomber. He lands and pulls the badly injured enemy (John Clements) from the wreckage. As they dwell on the madness of war, they have to put on their gas masks, as poison gas drifts in their direction. When a little girl runs towards them, the wounded man insists she take his mask, saying he is done for anyway. Cabal takes the girl to his aeroplane, pausing to leave the doomed man a gun. The man dwells on the irony that he may have gassed the child's family and yet he has saved her. He then commits suicide.
The war continues for decades, long enough for the survivors to have forgotten why they are fighting in the first place. Humanity enters a new Dark Age. The city is in ruins and there is little technology left. In 1966, a plague called the "wandering sickness" is spread by the unnamed enemy using its last few remaining aircraft. Dr. Harding and his daughter Mary struggle to find a cure, but with little equipment, it is hopeless.
By 1970, a local warlord called the "Boss" (Ralph Richardson) has eradicated the sickness by ruthlessly shooting the infected. He dreams of conquering the "hill people" by getting his mechanic Richard Gordon (Derrick De Marney) to repair the few remaining biplanes to fly again.
On May Day 1970, a futuristic aeroplane lands outside the town. The sole pilot, John Cabal, emerges and proclaims that the last surviving band of "engineers and mechanics" have formed "Wings Over the World". They are building a civilization, based in Basra, Iraq, that has renounced war and outlawed independent nations. The Boss takes the pilot prisoner and forces him to work for Gordon. Together, they manage to fix a plane. When Gordon takes it up for a test flight, he flees to alert Cabal's friends.
Wings Over the World attacks Everytown with gigantic aeroplanes and dropping sleeping gas bombs on the town. The Boss orders his biplanes to attack but they are shot down. The people of Everytown awaken shortly thereafter, to find it occupied by the Airmen and the Boss dead.
A montage follows, showing decades of technological progress, beginning with Cabal explaining plans for global consolidation by Wings Over the World. By 2036, mankind lives in modern underground cities, including the new Everytown.
However, all is not well. The sculptor Theotocopulos (Cedric Hardwicke) incites the populace to demand a "rest" from the rush of progress, symbolized by the first manned flight around the Moon. The modern-day Luddites are opposed by Oswald Cabal (Massey again), the head of the governing council and great grandson of John Cabal. Cabal's daughter Catherine (Pearl Argyle) and her boyfriend Horrie Passworthy insist on flying the spaceship. When a mob rushes to destroy the space gun used to propel the spacecraft, Cabal launches the ship ahead of schedule.
Cabal then delivers a speech about Progress and humanity's quest for knowledge, asking, "And if we’re no more than animals, we must snatch each little scrap of happiness, and live, and suffer, and pass, mattering no more than all the other animals do or have done. It is this, or that. All the universe or nothing. Which shall it be, Passworthy? Which shall it be?"
The film, written throughout 1934, is notable for predicting World War II, being only 16 months off by having it start on Christmas 1940, rather than 1 September 1939. Its graphic depiction of strategic bombing in the scenes in which Everytown is flattened by air attack and society collapses into barbarism, echo pre-war concerns about the threat of the bomber and the apocalyptic pronouncements of air power prophets. Wells was an air power prophet of sorts, having described aerial warfare in Anticipations (1901) and The War in the Air (1908).
The use of gas bombs is very much part of the film, from the poison gas used early in the war to the sleeping gas used by the airmen of Wings Over the World. In real life, in the build-up to the Second World War, there was much concern that the Germans would use poison gas, which was used by France, Germany and Great Britain during the Great War. Civilians were required to carry gas masks and were trained in their use. When war did break out, however, the Germans did not use gas for military purposes.
Wings Over the World is based in Basra, in southern Iraq, from where it begins a new civilisation. Southern Iraq was also the home of one of the world's first known civilisations, Sumer, which began about 6,000 B.C. and invented the wheel, among a host of other things.
The single world government having engineers, scientists and inventors as the rulers mimics the ideology of the concept of Technocracy where those of the greatest skill and intellect in various vocations would be the leaders.
Duration history 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 30s, while the American print premiered on 18 April 1936 was further cut to 96m 24s. By late 1936, a 98m 06s print was in circulation in the UK, and a 72m 13s print was resubmitted for classification by the BBFC and was passed after further cuts for reissue in 1943. The 96m 24s American print was cut down to 93m 18s by the removal of three sections of footage for a reissue by British Lion Films in 1948, and then to 92m 42s subsequently by the removal of one more segment. A continuity script exists for a 104m 41s version of the film, which contains all the material in the 96m 24s and 92m 42s versions, plus a number of other sequences. It is not known if a version of this duration was actually in circulation at any time.
For many years, the principal surviving version of the film was the 92m 42s print. From at least the late-1970s until 2007, this was the only version "officially" available from the rights holders in the UK, and has been widely available via home video and television screenings, both in the UK and elsewhere (in countries using PAL or SECAM video systems, it runs to 89m exactly).
In the United States, although the 92m 42s version is most prevalent, a version is also in circulation that includes the four pieces of footage that were in the 96m 24s print, but not the 92m 42s version, although due to cuts elsewhere, it actually runs shorter than the latter. A cut version of the 92m 42s print was digitally restored and colorized by Legend Films, under the supervision of Ray Harryhausen, 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 24s version, which to date is the longest version available on DVD anywhere in the world. 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.
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