Things to Come; written by H.G. Wells; directed by William Cameron Menzies; starring Raymond Massey (John Cabal/Oswald Cabal), Edward Chapman (Passworthy/Passworthy) and Ralph Richardson (The Boss) (1936): Things to Come gives us 100 years of extrapolated human history in about 100 minutes. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for characterization, but characterization isn’t on Wells’s mind anyway — or at least not the characterization of individuals, as humanity is the evolving character in the bildungsroman presented here.
We follow humanity’s rocky road by watching the history of Everytown (pretty obviously London, England), beginning on the eve of a world war in 1936 and ending with humanity’s first baby steps into outer space in 2036. In between, we get vignettes of diasaster and rebuilding, and one long middle section setting the hyper-civilized, transnational Airmen against the tribal warriors of bombed-out Everytown, led by Ralph Richardson’s engaging barbarian Boss, the only character in the movie I could imagine not punching in the face as soon as I met him. And he’s the bad guy!
The visual effects are occasionally stunning — moreso given the technology of the time. One’s reactions to Wells’s utopia, built by scientists and engineers who love lengthy declamatory speeches and airplanes with giant wings, will vary depending on one’s own opinions about ‘human nature’, the perfectability of man, and the wisdom of wearing togas and capes all the time. Why did seemingly everyone in the 1920’s and 1930’s think the citizens of future utopias would wear capes and dress all in white? Recommended.