Things to Come

Things to Come

4.1 6
Director: William Cameron Menzies

Cast: Cedric Hardwicke, Edward Chapman


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First, a bit of explanation. There's never been a legitimate home-video edition of Alexander Korda's production of Things to Come (directed by William Cameron Menzies), and, in recent years, precious few legitimate broadcasts, either. The U.S. copyright of the movie, like many British films of its period, was allowed to lapse (in 1964); at the time, it hardlySee more details below


First, a bit of explanation. There's never been a legitimate home-video edition of Alexander Korda's production of Things to Come (directed by William Cameron Menzies), and, in recent years, precious few legitimate broadcasts, either. The U.S. copyright of the movie, like many British films of its period, was allowed to lapse (in 1964); at the time, it hardly seemed to matter as there was little in the way of a theatrical or 16 mm market for anyone possessing prints to take advantage of, and no commercial television station of the period would deal with anyone other than large legitimate distributors for their movies. That changed somewhat with the advent of low-power UHF stations in the late '70s and more so with the switch by public television stations (increasingly in search of low-priced programming to fill their air time) into the vintage film marketplace at the outset of the 1980s. Still, this movie, along with the Alexander Korda productions of The Scarlet Pimpernel and Fire Over England (which had also fallen out of copyright), still had legitimate distribution, from authorized agents who had access to high-quality master materials, until the middle of the 1980s. In the midst of all this legal and commercial activity in America, rumors spread that a complete 108-minute edition of the film -- unseen at that length since the 1930s -- had been found or restored in England. (There has since been no sign of that full-length edition). The Samuel Goldwyn Company bought out the Korda library's American rights during the 1980s, including Things to Come, but has never seen fit to release it on video in any form. The situation doesn't seem to have altered much in the wake of MGM/UA's buy-out of the Goldwyn collection. Image Entertainment's release of Things to Come on DVD, courtesy of the Wade Williams Collection -- which usually specializes in so-bad-they're-entertaining sci-fi and horror titles like Plan 9 From Outer Space, interspersed with a few legitimate postwar American titles such as Destination Moon and Invaders From Mars (1953) -- is as close to a legitimate release in quality as this movie has ever seen. The source print used is generally very clean, apart from some very rough spots, generally at the reel-change points. Equally important, the print is reasonably consistent in its brightness, contrast, and detail -- one suspects that a fair amount of time and money was spent on the film-to-video transfer to achieve this consistency, and this is in sharp contrast to every other DVD edition of the movie (as of the fall of 2002), which utilized crude, dark "one-light" transfers from substandard sources. In comparison to those other DVD editions, this disc is a pleasure to watch, and even more so to listen to. The audio track is remarkably consistent, with only a lingering (but not too severe) drop in volume at 28 minutes in, from which the audio gradually recovers. Equally important, the audio track is clear and well-defined, which does justice not only to the dialogue but to Sir Arthur Bliss' score, one of the earliest bodies of serious, concert hall-quality music written for a feature film. The 14 chapters break down the plot (which is, itself, divided into three "acts") more than adequately, and the disc goes to the menu automatically on start-up. One wishes that there were more of a history of the film included in the packaging, but the one bonus feature here almost makes up for it -- a reissue trailer running nearly five minutes that shows how the movie was marketed to audiences in its own time and a half-generation removed from that time, distilling down many of the more dramatically intense scenes. It's not a completely perfect release -- the package claims a running time of 97 minutes, but it's actually the standard 93-minute reissue version of the film -- but until MGM/UA decides to do something about the movie (and they've been very slow about issuing any of the Korda titles, even the 1939 version of The Four Feathers), it's likely the best that will be available for purchase.

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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
Things To Come came about because of a multitude of forces and events. Producer Alexander Korda's wanted to dramatize the future -- as projected through the imagination of author H. G. Wells -- in the same terms that he had dramatized the past, in movies such as The Private Life of Henry VIII. And author H. G. Wells -- by then more of a political philosopher than a best-selling author -- was intrigued by the idea of putting his visionary work on the big screen. Additionally, Wells saw an opportunity to outdo a then-recent attempt at science fiction -- Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) -- that he had ridiculed; what he turned in was a script that asked many of the same questions, about how man and technology can and should interact, without the religious symbolism that crops up throughout Thea Von Harbou's screenplay for Lang's movie, but peopled, nonetheless, by characters intended to voice and embody various philosophical ideas and accepted human traits. Korda gave Wells a level of control over the movie that was unprecedented for an author or even a screenwriter (and Wells was both) -- right down to the casting of roles (and recasting them after they were filmed) -- but the movie still ended up with many of the attributes associated with Korda's London Films. These include exceptionally high production values, striking sets and costumes, and a carefully laid out script with a handful of major actors in finely wrought roles -- as great and would-be great men -- surrounded by fine character players. Indeed, in these areas, and also that of music -- with a score authored by no less a figure than Sir Arthur Bliss -- the movie's credentials and attributes were impeccable. And visually it is a stunning work, and the portrayals of various iconic and symbolic characters makes the movie seem all the more profound and important, in this setting. But for all of that grandeur of gesture and dialogue, and its visual opulence, and extraordinary special effects, Things To Come was a critical and box office disappointment, a curiosity that left viewers and reviewers of the time cold, principally because it failed to deliver in one essential area: drama. Wells may rightfully have found fault with some of the logic, science, engineering, and ideology of Lang's Metropolis, but the characters in that movie, whatever their dramatic shortcomings, at least displayed some emotional resonances, with each other and to the audience -- not so the characters in Things To Come, who are almost self-consciously iconic and symbolic, rather thsn dramatic. Director William Cameron Menzies was one of the cinema's great production designers -- in fact, the man who defined the job -- but working within the contraints of what author H. G. Wells would allow, was unable to deliver a dramatically satisfying film. What Menzies, Wells, and Korda between them devised was a technically beautiful, visually stunning movie that was so dark emotionally, and devoid of emotional life at its center, that audiences couldn't resonate to it in the least. Raymond Massey and the rest of the cast try hard, within the limits of the script, but only Ralph Richardson, in the role of the brutish, fascistic Rudolph, and Margaretta Scott as his ambitious and far-sighted wife Roxana, bring much that is emotionally identifiable and resonant to their roles, which are confined to the middle of the picture. (Scott had a second role, in the last third of the movie, as the descendant of her earlier character, but it was cut out during the final edit before release, though stills of her in that part survive, as they do of Ernest Thesiger in the role of Theotocopolus, played in the final cut of the movie by Cedric Hardwicke). In most of the rest of the movie, the technical side and the special effects overpower most of the portrayals, and what warmth there is in the viewing mostly comes from Bliss's score, which is more complex than most people give it credit for being -- it is grandiose, yet there are sections, such as the chorale/march depicting the entry of the airmen into the ruined, postwar Everytown, that are also profoundly and memorably beautiful. Audiences in 1936 were dazzled by the special effects but put off by the movie's seeming lack of emotional reference points; modern viewers, however, with different expectations, and looking at the picture as a fascinating period piece, seem to appreciate it somewhat better, even if the final question that it asks is one that we're still wrestling with, of where and how humanity and technology can meet and reconcile.

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Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Image Entertainment
Region Code:
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Special Features

Theatrical trailer

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Raymond Massey John Cabal,Oswald Cabal
Cedric Hardwicke Theotocopulos
Edward Chapman Pippa Passworthy/Raymond Passworthy
Ralph Richardson Rudolph
Margaretta Scott Rowena,Roxana
Maurice Braddell Dr. Harding
Sophie Stewart Mrs. Cabal
Derrick de Marney Richard Gordon
Allan Jeayes Mr. Cabal
Ann Todd Mary Gordon
Pearl Argyle Katherine Cabal
Anthony Holles Simon Burton
Kenneth Villiers Maurice Passworthy
Ivan Brandt Morden Mitani
Patricia Hilliard Janet Gordon
Patrick Barr World Transport Official
Charles Carson Great Grandfather
John Clements The Airman
Paul O'Brien Actor
George Sanders Pilot
Abraham Sofaer Watsky

Technical Credits
William Cameron Menzies Director
John Armstrong Costumes/Costume Designer
Lajos Biro Screenwriter
Arthur Bliss Score Composer
Lawrence W. Butler Special Effects
Edward Cohen Special Effects
Charles Crichton Editor
Rene Hubert Costumes/Costume Designer
Jane Huizenga Production Designer
Alexander Korda Producer
Vincent Korda Production Designer
Francis D. Lyon Editor
Ned Mann Special Effects
Muir Mathieson Musical Direction/Supervision
Georges Périnal Cinematographer
H.G. Wells Screenwriter
Harry Zech Special Effects

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Scene Index

Side #1 --
0. Scene Index
1. Main Titles/Christmas 1940 [7:02]
2. War! [10:10]
3. A Spark of Humanity [5:24]
4. The Aftermath [5:17]
5. Controlled Chaos [5:00]
6. A Visitor [7:47]
7. A Madman? [7:15]
8. Playing the Game [5:46]
9. One-Sided War [7:31]
10. A New Unity [8:12]
11. Perfect Future? [7:09]
12. Rebellion [6:23]
13. Hope for the Future [6:57]
14. A New Beginning [2:46]


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