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    Things to Come Blu-ray Review

    Blu-ray Criterion

    Jun 12 2013 01:46 PM | Matt Hough in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
    What a film of perplexity and paradox is H.G. Wells’ Things to Come! The celebrated author had his name affixed to the title because his contract protected his screenplay from being tampered with, but with such a vivid production crew featuring some of the greatest of the British and American cinema communities, there were bound to be conflicting temperaments at play, and the resulting film, both boundlessly inventive and irritatingly talky, is an absorbing enigma which has fascinated audiences in all the decades since its original failure at the box-office in 1936.

    Title Info:

    • Studio: Criterion
    • Distributed By: N/A
    • Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
    • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
    • Audio: English PCM 1.0 (Mono)
    • Subtitles: English SDH
    • Rating: Not Rated
    • Run Time: 1 Hr. 37 Min.
    • Package Includes: Blu-ray
    • Case Type: keep case
    • Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
    • Region: A
    • Release Date: 06/18/2013
    • MSRP: $39.95

    The Production Rating: 3.5/5

    When war breaks out in 1940, the citizens of Everytown are enjoying a wonderful Christmas celebration, but it doesn’t last for long since the world conflict drags on for more than twenty-six years. In 1966, a feudal state ruled with an iron hand by The Boss (Ralph Richardson) is determined to end all conflicts if he can keep the pestilence the Wandering Sickness under control and get his flying machines back up in the air and operational. A scientist named Cabal (Raymond Massey) lands in an impressive flying machine and has scientific solutions that can bring a worldwide peace, but the Boss distrusts educated men and does his best to thwart the man from Wings Over the World but to no avail. Once the pestilence dies away and the Boss’ reign is ended, the world is free to evolve, and by 2036, the utopian society is readying a planned flight to the moon. But those plans, too, are being attacked by some outraged men led by Theotocopulos (Cedric Hardwicke) who want to maintain the status quo and have no interest in advancing beyond Earth.

    The combination of celebrated designer William Cameron Menzies as director and Vincent Korda as production designer promises a visually dazzling cinematic feast, and they deliver on that promise even shackled as they were to H.G. Wells’ stringent ideas in his screenplay about what he wanted the future to look like. Thus, we get wonderfully evocative montages of the endless world war with impressive special effects for their time as Everytown falls victim to the enemy’s bombing raids (and the panicked people scurrying for underground shelter eerily heralded the blitz raids on London in just a few years), and views of a future first in 1970 without technology or even gas and oil products and then later in 2036 where the world is white and shiny and glorious. Wells’ thesis that there will always be a schism between the scientific dreamers who want continual advancements and proletarian realists who don’t want to rock the boat for their own personal reasons no matter the possible positive effect on society at large results in quite a few lengthy dialogue passages in which characters dully pontificate their own ideologies (Raymond Massey as the everyman scientist who turns up in all three societal eras the film covers gets stuck with a lot of those speeches which best convey Wells’ own sentiments). But Menzies establishes a foreboding tone early on with the posters about a possible impending war and newspaper headlines that predict the worst spoiling Christmas celebrations, and he maintains it through the other two major sections of the movie. He handles the war and the prosperity montages nicely that provide segues from one sequence into another and has some thrilling aerial shots both of planes massing for an attack and later as the feeble biplanes try to compete with the advanced airships from the Wings Over the World. It's easy with these elaborate visuals to see why this was the first British film that cost $1 million.

    Because the script doesn’t offer the actors much in the way of complex characterizations for them to explore (they’re basically playing archetypes rather than real people), most of these fine performers are left with one-note personas they must enact. They all do wonderfully well with their roles: villains Ralph Richardson and Cedric Haradwicke, of course, stand out as villains often do, and Raymond Massey makes a suitable everyman for Everytown. Of the other actors, Derrick de Marney makes a mark for himself as sensitive scientist Richard Gordon who doesn’t quite have the backbone to stand up against his enemies that Cabal possesses, and Margaretta Scott as the Boss’ wife has the foresight to listen to what Cabal has to tell them in an interesting characterization.

    Video Rating: 3.5/5 3D Rating: NA

    The film is presented in its theatrical 1.37:1 aspect ratio in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Sharpness comes and goes with the transfer as the best available elements have been used to piece together the film in its current state (original prints ran 130 minutes). The grayscale is more than adequate though black levels are good rather than great. There are a few random scratches that aren’t very distracting, and grain levels are inconsistent depending on the source used for a particular scene. The film has been divided into 11 chapters.

    Audio Rating: 3/5

    The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) sound mix again uses elements from different sources to piece together the soundtrack used here. Most of the mix blends the dialogue, music, and sound effects quite well together, but there are scenes where dialogue is not as discernible as it should be being overwhelmed by music or effects (or poor sound recording), and there is scratchy distortion in some of the dialogue as well on occasion.

    Special Features: 4/5

    Audio Commentary: film historian David Kalat provides an interesting analysis of the movie focusing on H.G. Wells’ complete involvement with the project.

    Christopher Frayling Interview (22:49, HD): the cultural historian discusses the myriad designers who were contracted to work on Things to Come and how they managed to deal with the demanding H.G. Wells.

    Music Score Analysis (16:28, HD): critic Bruce Eder offers an excellent overview of the music score by Arthur Bliss and offers historical insight into its unusual importance in the world of film scoring.

    László Moholy-Nagy Effects (4:02, HD): mostly unused special effects by the artist are presented in montage form.

    Things to Come 1936-2012 (2:36, HD): a video installation piece by Jan Tichy using the Moholy-Nagy effects.

    The Wandering Sickness (3:55): an audio excerpt plot point from the story about the plague which was also incorporated into the film.

    22-Page Booklet: contains cast and crew lists, some excellent stills from the movie, and author Geoffrey O’Brien’s biographical and critical essay on Wells and his film.

    Timeline: can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.

    Overall Rating: 3.5/5

    H.G. Wells’ Things to Come still holds a fascination after all of the years since its release. Though his prognostications about the future might not always have been accurate, the film offers a fair share of awe-inspiring visual moments and some observations about society and its people which have proven quite sentient.

    Reviewed by: Matt Hough
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    2 Comments

    Very happy that i did not buy the blu-ray release from Legend Films in 2011 because of the bad reviews on the print used for that release.  Saw this as a kid and still like the the film and a great score by Arthur Bliss so now i can retire my old Image dvd release.

    I think the last word of your review should be "prescient" instead of "sentient."