Things to Come ★★★

After the groundbreaking Metropolis (1927), Things to Come was one of the first big budget science fiction films to treat science fiction seriously rather than as frivolous entertainment. Incidentally, H.G. Wells hated Metropolis, and told his director and production designers to always do the opposite of what Fritz Lang had. However after the relative failure of both Metropolis and Things to Come at the box office, the genre was demoted to B-movie status: tales of brave astro-men fighting off aliens and robots who all seemed intent on kidnapping screaming women while the sets wobbled in the background. To my knowledge there wasn't an equivalent large scale, ambitious SF production undertaken until 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968. Interestingly, Stanley Kubrick hated Things to Come, and I'm fairly sure I know why. H.G. Wells was a masterful novelist in the prolix late Victorian style, but seems to have done nothing to modify that style for the screen, making this less a work of cinema, but more a series of scenes where between special effects sequences (which are very well done for the time and show a great design flair in the Art Deco style), people stand around pontificating. Every character is an archetype who only exists to function as a mouthpiece for the author's vision of the future and warnings to mankind, thus the dialogue is for the most part a series of pompous speeches. This is a pity as the early sections of the film are both effective and prescient. How many could have so closely predicted the mass air raids of the Blitz so accurately? Although here the war continues for 30 years, resulting in the world falling back into the Dark Ages. Beyond that, predictions of the future varied in accuracy, in some instances they got things absolutely correct, such as televisions in every home and giant screens for public address, in other instances the film was wildly off, missing the moonshot by 70 years for a start, and I'm grateful that clear plastic furniture, Roman-style tunics and brylcream as an ongoing fashion staple never eventuated (at least not yet). And why do so many projections of the future insist we'll all want to live underground, what's up with that? 21st Century audiences will also get a chuckle out of the choice of mankind's haven and centre of progress form this story: Basra, Iraq. Both visionary and dated, Things To Come is, like all visions of the future, more a comment on its own time and prisoner of contemporary attitudes, but an important moment in science fiction cinema, even if it often comes across as pages from a novel being read aloud.