Friday, 24 October 2014

The Shape of Things to Come

The London Film Festival may well be over, but the BFI still have me in their grip with their new season of science fiction, Days of Fear and Wonder. There are various screenings of film and television shows as well as a few talks, so many of which look really interesting I could easily have bankrupted myself paying for all the things I wanted to see. That seemed like a bad idea, so I've been a bit more selective.

Last night I went to see Things to Come.

 Made in 1936 the script was adapted by HG Wells from his own book, The Shape of Things to Come (although at one point the film was going to be called Whither Man? which would have been amazing!). It condenses the book and cuts out much of the anti-capitalist message from it. It follows the fortunes of the citizens of Everytown, from a terrible war in 1940 (with a worryingly prescient aerial bombardment scene), through plague, to a utopian future based on principles of science, progress and equality.

I love Wells' novels, but it's clear from this that the man was not a gifted screen-writer. The dialogue is very clunky and, at times, more amusing than I think it was meant to be ("However did they cope with walking up all those stairs!"). However, Ned Mann's special effects are amazing, especially when you consider quite how old this film is. They make the war scenes at the beginning really quite distressing.

Things to Come also boasts two pretty impressive firsts. It was the first feature length science-fiction movie with sound and the first film to have an accompanying sound-track album. The music, specially composed for the film by Arthur Bliss, is wonderful, often better than the script at conveying atmosphere and tone.

I was slightly worried as the film began that it was going to be a bit slow, and more concerned about getting across a worthy message than entertaining the crowd. However, it was really fun. The end is so over-the-top and deranged that I couldn't help but love it, especially the final speech delivered by a wide-eyed Raymond Massey wearing a truly ridiculous costume. If that's really fashionable in 2036, we're all in trouble.

If you like classic sci-fi and an old-fashioned spectacle, you really need to check this film out.

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