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THINGS TO COME
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Raymond Massey, Edward Chapman, Ralph Richardson, Margaretta Scott, Cedric Hardwicke
Director: William Cameron Menzies
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Aspect Ratio 1.37:1
Studio: Criterion
Features: See Review
Length: 97 Minutes
Release Date: June 18, 2013

Is it this? Or that? All the universe? Or nothingness? Which shall it be, Passworthy? Which shall it be?

Film ***

It is indeed a thrilling experience for any moviegoing generation to experience a film that is ahead of its time. But if we're going to look at one of the first true examples of such a film, as in one that was made not long after motion pictures were first invented, we need look no further than two precise releases. The first would be Fritz Lang's Metropolis, and the second is Things to Come by William Cameron Menzies.

I first heard of the film in Roger Ebert's commentary on Dark City, where it was mentioned as one of the films that will be forever remembered in the realm of visionary film. This, obviously, increased my curiosity about the film should I ever cross paths with it later in life. And now thanks to greatness of Criterion Blu-ray, I clearly have the most perfect opportunity to see this renowned visionary achievement in the most appropriate form!

The story comes from the legendary science fiction writer H.G. Wells. It centers around a global war that ignites in 1940, and drags on for several decades. It such a devastating attack that the only people who remain alive are those who were born after the war had started.

Thirty years later, and the primary setting known as Everytown has survived The Walking Sickness, a horrific plague. In addition, the town has left in a heap of a mess as a result. Those who have survived it all attempt to make a new beginning for mankind...by any means necessary.

Among the survivors are Rudolph, or The Boss (Ralph Richardson), who has placed himself as ruler of the surviving class. Then there's Cabal (Raymond Massey), a former pacifist who is now part of a technical guild that is defeating warlords by way of advanced technology. Cabal is being held prisoner by The Boss, as he himself intends to wage a war as a way of securing materials to create more sophisticated weaponry.

Much like Metropolis, this film is very much a breakthrough film achievement for its time. It was also the first film completely driven by special effects as far as the filmmaking process is concerned. In other words, every film that has contained groundbreaking visual effects of any sort in the years that followed, be it Star Wars, Terminator 2 or even Dark City, owes it all to Menzies' film.

And though the towering visuals may seem as though they take center stage over the story, what serves as a story for this film is also rather bold. One simply has to respect the level of creativity that went into this 1936 release, because it established a sense of scope, visual wonder and storytelling that had simply never been seen on the big screen at this point in time. I can only imagine what it must have felt like to be one of the first to gaze upon a large movie screen and see such a fresh array of eye popping visuals such as what is displayed here.

Much like Metropolis, this film is very much a breakthrough film achievement for its time. It was also the first film completely driven by special effects as far as the filmmaking process is concerned. In other words, every film that has contained groundbreaking visual effects of any sort in the years that followed, be it Star Wars, Terminator 2 or even Dark City, owes it all to Menzies' film.

And though the towering visuals may seem as though they take center stage over the story, what serves as a story for this film is also rather bold. One simply has to respect the level of creativity that went into this 1936 release, because it established a sense of scope, visual wonder and storytelling that had simply never been seen on the big screen at this point in time. I can only imagine what it must have felt like to be one of the first to gaze upon a large movie screen and see such a fresh array of eye popping visuals such as what is displayed here.

Video ***1/2

Criterion has unquestionably crafted the best possible presentation of this release that one is ever going to see in this lifetime. The Black and White picture is presented most nicely in spite of its age (reminding me, at least, of Criterion's equally fine job on Wells' Island of Lost Souls). Black levels are also remarkably strong. Devoted fans of this piece should be immensely pleased with what Criterion has done here!

Audio **

As was the case on their recent Blu-ray release of Medium Cool, the provided PCM mono mix is all around well, as long as you are able to put up with the sound levels going all over the place. This is, of course, a result of low production resources which can't be helped. But overall the sound mix is endurable, as the dialogue is heard well and the music score sounds terrific!

Features ****

Criterion ushers in yet again a spectacular lineup of supplements. Included on this release is commentary with film historian and writer David Kalat, as well as an interview with writer and cultural historian Christopher Frayling on The film's design, There's also a new visual essay by film historian Bruce Eder on Arthur Bliss's musical score, and unused special effects footage by artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, along with a video installation piece by Jan Tichy which incorporates that footage,
Lastly, we get my favorite part of the extras, which is an audio recording from 1936 of a reading from H.G. Wells's writing about The Wandering Sickness, the plague from the film.

And we get a fantastic insert booklet featuring an essay by critic Geoffrey O'Brien.

Summary:

Whether or not you end up feeling overwhelmed by the story, Things to Come can't not be ignored as a technological achievement of the period. It's also a film whose influence remains potent to this day, and Criterion has done a most marvelous just in presenting it in its absolute best presentation yet!

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