Things To Come
Dir. William Cameron Menzies
Based on the Novel by H.G. Welles
Christmas Eve has arrived, and with Santa and his sleigh have followed the air raids of a foreign enemy. War is for Christmas with a side of turkey.
This war rages for decades, finally coming to some form of an end in 1966. The world is decimated. Turned into the Post-Apocalyptic wastelands we've come to recognize in later literature and films. Civilization has been upended on its ear having been ravaged by air raids, ground assaults by modern war machines and chemical warfare. As a result of this new version of war, a disease is wiping out the remaining population. ZOMBIES!!! Yup, this movie has an early version of zombies! Sweeet! Warlords rise to power by simply motivating the population to kill the infected. They are praised and elevated to high status for taking command during a time of need. But, they are corrupt and use their power over their small populations to further the cause of war, but no longer on a foreign enemy, but on their neighbors who have things they need, like coal or petrol.
One day, out of the sky emerges a new fangled flying machine, piloted by one of the original characters from the prewar portion of the film. He promises safety and peace in the walls of a new futuristic city where society is being rebuilt.
We will soon come to realize that no matter how advanced we become as a people, it is human nature that will eventually destroy us, time and again.
OK, here we go. I've been thinking on this since last night. I'm gonna get the bad out of the way first.
This film certainly came from the 30s era of Science Fiction, where the filmmakers of the genre didn't understand subtext the ways filmmakers like Ford did, or even the writers of Kong, let alone Orson Wells and modern screenwriters (good ones anyway). Every line of dialog becomes platforms for the actors to argue, debate and pontificate their inner thoughts and ideals. The themes of the film are spelled out the audience with every flap of the mouth by an actor. This is bad since I felt brow beaten most of the time.
That's the bad, and as far as I'm concerned all of it. The rest is gravy.
The filmmaking, the raw craft of Things to Come
is astonishing. Beautiful frames abound. I was tempted to pause it and take stills every minute or so. Things like this really excited me:
Then, there is the level of effects shots. I'd estimate that 80 percent of the shots in this film are incredibly complex FX sequences. I paused some shots and analyzed them, breaking them down to find them consisting of forced perspective, matte paintings, miniatures and even some backdrops and rear projection. All are near seamlessly blended to make for one of the most ambitious of early FX driven films and one of the most successful. Sure, this isn't exactly the most innovative of FX films, after all many of these FX were achieved brilliantly in King Kong
. But that's just it, this film achieves many of the same FX but does so even better, as one would hope seeing as this is a few years after. Yet, I never hear people talk about this film as a masterpiece of cinematic FX. Take a look at some of these stills I've pulled:
The above still constitutes a matte painting, a practical set and set dressing. Its perfect. Its real, or at least its photo real. I was talking with Frozenhamster last night, and I mentioned how I adored Matte Paintings because they were more photor ealistic than a lot of the digital mattes we see today. This is exactly why. Its blended perfectly. Often times with Matte Paintings you'll see a seam. Where paint masks reality. Here, the blend is perfect. I know its a matte cause I'm looking at it blown up and studying it, but even blown up I can't find the seam. Astounding.
More Matte Paintings! Look how beautiful!
Look at that shot above! Its a miniature with forced perspective applied to the live action actors climbing the ladder set against the sky. That is absolutely beautiful, especially considering the era it was made. Yay for practical effects!!!!
The above still is taken from the end of a very long tilt down through a miniature of the futuristic city. The people at the bottom of the image are standing in front of a rear projection of a blending of more live action actors beneath the miniature itself, a forced perspective shot. Its not perfect, but it is certainly impressive when combined with the tilt down move.
Here again, the people at the bottom of the frame are live action actors standing before a rear projection frame. But notice how the crowd of live action actors are grouped around a miniature aircraft taking off in another brilliant forced perspective shot.
There are loads and loads of these type shots throughout. I could spend all day breaking down these complex and amazing shots! I love it!!!
The film starts real strong, but once we get to the futuristic city it slows down immensely. But, with the incredible special effects this becomes a great, great film and a must see for cinema history and SFX enthusiasts. Please see this under appreciated gem.
I wanted to write a lot more, and more eloquently, but this will have to do since I have to run out and do some work, I hate lame work. But I was floored by the craftsmanship of this film and how it is ignored in the annals of SFX Film history. Anyone have any incite on that? Sure its not nearly as good a film or story as Kong, but its awesome. I need to see Metropolis since they seem to be borrowing heavily from it. Maybe that's why its overlooked, its too much like Metropolis?