Things To Come

Things To Come (1936)
Image Entertainment
Cast: Raymond Massey, Ralph Richardson, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Margaretta Scott
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

A landmark in science fiction cinema, H.G. Wells’ ’Things To Come’ charts the progress of mankind through the century-long odyssey of a single city. Starting in 1940, Everytown (a thinly veiled London) is a typical bustling community in the carefree throes of the Christmas holidays when global war strikes. Devastated to near collapse by thirty years of unrelenting warfare (imagine WWII lasting until 1970!), Everytown rebuilds under ’the Boss’ (Ralph Richardson), keeping order through fear and the bullet. Eventually, under the guidance of scientists like John Cabal (Raymond Massey), the Boss’ tyrannical reign ends and a new pacifist order begins. By 2036, Everytown gleams as a gloriously Art-Deco metropolis. Yet even as Cabal’s grandson Oswald (Massey again) spearheads the first moon shot, troubled souls within this utopia plot to sabotage Man’s continued exploration of the unknown.

Released in 1936, ’Things’ exemplified Wells’ hope for a future based on the positive fusion of socialism and science. The film also greatly benefitted from the directorial eye of William Cameron Menzies, known primarily as production designer for ’Gone With The Wind’ and the silent ’Thief of Bagdad.’. The opening montage concisely establishes the unease hovering over the city, as the word ’War’ appears somewhere within the frame during every shot. But the endurance of the film can also be attributed to its eerie parallels between the story’s prolonged warfare and our decades-long Cold War or the Wandering Sickness blighting post-war Everytown, ominously echoed in the AIDS epidemic.

The cover touts a pristine transfer but alas the source elements are not. Splices, splotches, and blemishes plague the image from beginning to end. The video exhibits strong black levels. Gray scale is inconsistent, however, sometimes producing a crisp, sharp image with the next scene deteriorating into an inky murk. Some edge enhancement is evident and pixelation occurs in a few shots. Yet, judging from previous viewings on public television and home video, this version is probably the best this film will ever look.

Hiss, pops, and crackles are a constant throughout the soundtrack. Dialogue projects relatively peak-free, but passages heavy with music and effects occasionally distort or sound crammed. While possibly an aftereffect of additional compression from the Dolby Digital encoding. I’m not sure if housing the audio on a PCM track would have improved fidelity.

The theatrical trailer included actually displays a crisper, more detailed image than the feature. In parts, the trailer looks cleaner with uniform grayscale and better detail delineation.

’Things To Come’ still speaks to our era 65 years later due to Wells’ passionate belief in mankind’s future and Menzies’ striking visual compositions. When watching this film, consider the following: the DVDs we so casually handle now were only a dream less than a decade ago.