DVD Review: A vintage oddity returns in 'Things to Come'

"Things to Come" (or "H.G. Wells' Things to Come," as it's sometimes known) was an oddity when released in 1936 and remains an oddity today. Wells was best known for his turn-of-the-century science-fiction novels ("The Time Machine," "War of the Worlds," "The Invisible Man"), but by the '30s had long since abandoned the "science" and focused on social prophecy. His stature enabled him to demand total script control for this lavish Alexander Korda production, which foresees World War II, though overestimates how long it would last.

As a result, most of the movie's good and bad points can be traced to Wells. On one hand, his speculations have a number of interesting correlations to what really was to happen; on the other, characters tend to deliver, straight to the camera, speeches that are often cringeworthy.

The movie's greatest asset is its futurist production design, which generally seems to contradict Wells' instructions; e.g., the look is reminiscent of "Metropolis," despite the author's assertion that "whatever Lang did in 'Metropolis' should be the absolute opposite of what we want to do."

Criterion's new Blu-ray has rendered the black-and-white cinematography beautifully (though some frame grabs online suggest that the British Blu-ray may be slightly superior). The extras include a 16-minute look at the score, some abandoned design ideas contributed by Fernand Leger, an audio-only track of Wells' elaboration on the plague that figures in the story, and a fine, informative commentary track by scholar David Kalat. But even Kalat's work is trumped by Sir Christopher Grayling's witty remarks in an additional 22-minute presentation."Things to Come" (Criterion, Blu-ray, 39.95; DVD, 29.95)


ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).

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