John Holbo in Crooked Timber:
Whenever I teach Philosophy and Film, I lecture about this film [the H. G. Wells-scripted/William Cameron Menzies-directed Things To Come (1936)] at some length. But some semesters I haven’t bothered to give it one of my screening slots because the DVD quality was meh. You can get a free meh copy from the Internet Archive. I’ve often told students they might as well just watch on their laptops. But now! But now!
Let me give you the short version of my previous posts about why this film is awesome and interesting.
First, you can see that the visuals are insane. All kneecaps and curtain rod shoulders and Darth Tweety helmets. ‘Nuff said.
In terms of the history, this film goes with Metropolis. It was Wells’ response to Lang’s film,which he hated. It was supposed to do everything intellectually right that Lang did intellectually wrong. But, in the end, it wasn’t enough fun and Metropolis turned out to be closer to the template for sf film success (even though Metropolis itself stunk up the box office.)
Things To Come is a big budget sf extravaganza that rigorously refuses all the standard, easy satisfactions of the genre. It is a sleek modernist lumberyard of missed opportunities to have more fun, in service of a hare-brained high-concept. That concept is: liberal fascism triumphant! Why don’t we make a film about a bunch of arrogant know-it-all scientist-types who force regular people to behave themselves better – because the scientists know what works, and the regular folks have screwed up the planet! – and it actually works! And in the end there’s a right-wing talk radio uprising, but it is easily put down. Buncha yahoos! I kid you not, that’s the plot.
I call it ‘liberal fascism’ because that actually was Wells’ term (that’s where Jonah Goldberg got it). Curious? Read my original post on the subject.
Anyway, the film is also the first modern zombie movie – in the Dan Drezner sense. (I talked about it here.) It contains a zombie outbreak that is a thinly veiled international relations allegory. It’s the first film in which, instead of a few zombie slaves in the swamp, there are deadly roving armies of the things. So why doesn’t anyone know this? Why isn’t it famous as such? Because it isn’t really a zombie film – not in the emotional sense. It contains all the elements but refuses to do anything fun with them, because that would make the audience sympathize with the ‘wrong’ characters.