Friday, December 3, 2010

Stodgy or Sanctimonius... WHICH SHALL IT BE?

In April 1927, sci-fi writer Herbert Wells lambasted 'Metropolis' in this review.

He begins by saying he doesn't think it would be 'possible to make a sillier film'.

Ten years later, he made a movie himself, and proved that ANYTHING is possible!

Wells calls Lang's movie 'thin bunkum', 'old-fashioned balderdash' and 'sentimentalizing make-believe' which 'ruins the market for any better film along these lines'.

Which brings me to 'Things To Come' (1936).  And not in a good way.  

It certainly IS devoid of sentiment- that is to say, it is a plodding morass of wretched tedium where I was hard pressed to find ANY emotion I could identify with save the obvious notion that 'war is bad'.

The film covers 100 years (and feels like it, too) in an hour and a half.  

The first half hour introduces us to stilted conversations and warbling hymns as the London Blitz comes to Everytown a year late in 1940 and global war stays until the mid-sixties.  This is followed by the Wandering Sickness (ie zombie plague, only more boring) that kills half of the world.  

In the second half hour, we discover 1970 is the year smug, fetish-clad English airmen sweep in from the scientifically advanced and benevolent dictatorship of Basra and 'Peace Gas' the backward savages of Everytown into submission.  The leader of these douchebags we're meant to be applauding is John Cabal, seen here looking sensible and not at all silly in his personal plane and Wondrous Ice Cream Scoop Hat.
The airmen of "Wings Over the World", "World Communication", "The Government of Common Sense" (or whatever it is they're actually called) crush the feeble locals and their horse-drawn motorcars and rusty biplanes.  Having made the world safe for dictatorship, they set up AN EIGHT DAMN MINUTE MUSICAL SALUTE to industry and efficiency: welding, strip-mining, and science-ing up a storm!  This "soon" culminates with the image of a 40 foot long automated toilet plunger assembling a building because...

It's 2036!  Spindly moving sidewalks NOT AT ALL CRIBBED from Metropolis!  Creepy stone lady statues NOT AT ALL CRIBBED... never mind!  Cuddly little helicopters!  SO CUTE!

We're told man has "conquered nature and built A GREAT WHITE WORLD."  Oh, dear. That's an unfortunate couple of phrases.  And, yeah, it sure is WHITE.  

The conflict now is between an odd, loud craftsman who fears space travel will FORCE(?) humanity to live in awful, nasty, old outer space, and the strident, speechifying descendants of Cabal who are chomping at the bit to fire their lovely suicidal kids out of a GIANT GUN pointed at the moon, never to rest until all of space and time are conquered.  A fey and orderly riot breaks out and may or may not be resolved somehow.

WELLS WROTE 'THE TIME MACHINE'!  And 'The Invisible Man'.  And 'War of The Worlds'. And 'The First Men in the Moon'.  This guy FOUNDED twentieth century science fiction!  WHAT HAPPENED HERE?

My theory is he tried SO hard to make the opposite of 'Metropolis' he forgot that logical, meticulous extrapolation and scientific accuracy are fine and dandy, but a film audience really wants to have some FUN with their Message Flakes.

No comments: