At the time this movie was made (1935) many British studios were churning out quota quickies, cheaply made movies that were guaranteed distribution because the British government, concerned by the dominance of Hollywood movies, had decreed that British cinemas should show a given quota of British-made movies. The result was the law of unintended consequences - low budget efforts that were pretty feeble but didn't lose you money. Two studios bucked the trend with lavish productions - Gaumont British and Alexander Korda's London Films. And was there any movie of the 1930s that was more ambitious and spectacular than Korda's Things to Come? I first saw this movie as a kid when it was first shown on TV circa 1957 and although most of the movie's ideas went over my head the awesome spectacle left a lasting impression, as did Arthur Bliss' great music. Having seen this DVD release I can confirm that the spectacular sequences have lost none of their visual power - the Christmas-time prelude mixing yuletide revelries with forebodings of war, the destruction of Everytown, the building of the underground city (a visual and musical tour-de-force) and the detonation of the space gun. Alas the passing years magnify the faults. H.G. Wells vision of the future was a curious mixture of spot-on and wildly off-beam, but that's you're average visionary for you. If only Wells had been less concerned with "big ideas" and more concerned with establishing flesh-and-blood characters and a gripping story line. Raymond Massey had read Wells' original book and was well aware that the clunking script conveyed none of its qualities and yet he still delivers a performance that is stagey and hammy as does Ralph Richardson who I've always found less than convincing as the dictator of Everytown (in fairness to these fine actors Wells' ponderous and preachy dialogue does not lend itself to natural performances.) And 50 years on I still find myself asking questions like who exactly are the enemy, why is the organisation that eventually restores civilization based in Basra (of all places!) and why is Everytown rebuilt as a subterranean city? Perhaps these things were made clearer in Wells' novel (which I confess I haven't read) and in the 30 or so minutes of running time lopped off the movie shortly before its premiere (signs of frantic last minute tinkering are evident in the opening credits where Margaretta Scott, who plays the dictator's moll, is credited with playing two roles, as did Massey and Edward Chapman, but her final scenes in the Everytown of the future, as Massey's estranged wife, are missing. And when actor Ernest Thesiger turned up to the premiere he was shocked to find that all of his scenes had been reshot with Cedric Hardwicke.) And then there's that curious phenomonen of English accents which 70 years after the film was made now sound so dated to us whereas American accents sound pretty much unchanged. But whatever the faults, I know that if I'd sat and watched this movie in a cinema in 1936 it would have scared the daylights out of me.
I recorded this movie off the TV about 12 years ago and there's no doubt this remastered version with some lost footage inserted is infinitely preferable to previously available versions. I encountered no significant problems with either the picture quality or the sound, I found just one ot two scenes sub-par. There are some valuable extras. Movie buffs will appreciate the alternative version of the movie with the action interspersed with caption cards supplying the dialogue of the lost scenes.It has to be said that much of this dialogue is ponderous, didactic and quite unnatural and clearly demonstrates why Wells wasn't a man of the cinema and why the scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. They would have aided the viewer's comprehension but at the risk of trying his patience. There's also an informative essay on the making of the movie by Nick Cooper although in my view he takes a rather lenient view of Wells' incessant meddling in the production (and refers to Cedric Hardwicke as Edward.)The only dud is Russell Harty's interview with the aged and eccentric Richardson which is not devoid of interest but of no relevance to the movie.
If you want to acquire Things to Come this release in my opinion is easily the best to date and I give it top marks. (Mr Cooper has taken issue with me on the matter of how far Wells interfered in the production - click onto the comments if you're interested.)
A final note about the music. Arthur Bliss' score is, in my opinion, one of the finest movie scores of all time, indeed it has virtually acquired the status of classical music, but the surviving cut of the movie doesn't always do it justice, the famous march, for example, being heard only in fragments. Bliss composed much of the music and the tracks were commercially released before production began and these can now be obtained on the inexpensive Naxos label (linked with other golden movie oldies like the Warsaw Concerto.)Inevitably the sound is a tad muffled and boxy but the choral climax still creates that unique frisson I experienced as a kid watching the movie for the first time. A more extensive selection in a fine modern recording is available on the Chandos label. If the movie stirs you, buy them both.
Postscript. Revisiting my review after a couple of years I note that Amazon are mixing up reviews for the Network/Granada 2 disc black and white version (the subject of my review) with the Ray Harryhausen colourised version. Readers should excercise care when placing an order to ensure they get the version they really want.