It is strangely appropriate that in my research into the history of science fiction I should have reached Things To Come on New Years Eve!
H G Wells' Things to Come, as it was called in promotional material,
was a 1936 British black-and-white science fiction film from United Artists,
produced by Alexander Korda, directed by William Cameron Menzies, and written by
H G Wells.
The dialogue and plot were devised by H. G. Wells as ‘a new story’ meant to
display the ‘social and political forces and possibilities’ that he had outlined
in his 1933 story The Shape of Things to Come, a work he considered less
a novel than a ‘discussion’ in fictional form that presented itself as the notes
of a 22nd-century diplomat. The film was also influenced by previous works,
including his 1897 story A Story of the Days to Come and his 1931 work
on society and economics, The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind.
In the British city of Everytown, businessman John Cabal cannot enjoy
Christmas Day, 1940, with the news everywhere of possible war. An aerial bombing
raid on the city that night results in general mobilisation and then global war.
The war continues into the 1960s, long enough for the people of the world to
have forgotten why they are fighting. Humanity enters a new Dark Age. The world
is in ruins and there is little technology left, apart from the firearms used to
wage war. In 1966 a biological weapon called the ‘wandering sickness’ is used by
the unnamed enemy in a final desperate bid for victory. The plague kills half of
humanity and extinguishes the last vestiges of central government.
On May Day 1970, a sleek, futuristic aeroplane lands outside of what remains
of Everytown. The sole pilot, John Cabal, emerges and proclaims that the last
surviving band of ‘engineers and mechanics’ have formed a civilisation of airmen
called ‘Wings Over the World’. They are based in Basra, Iraq and have renounced
war and outlawed independent nations.
Gigantic aircraft arrive over Everytown and saturate its ruins and population
with sleeping gas globes. The people awaken shortly thereafter to find
themselves under the control of the airmen of Wings Over the World.
A montage follows, showing decades of technological progress, beginning with
Cabal explaining plans for global consolidation by Wings Over the World. By
2036, mankind lives in modern underground cities, including the new Everytown.
All is not well, however. The sculptor Theotocopulos incites the populace to
demand a rest from all the rush of progress, symbolised by the coming first
manned flight around the Moon. They are opposed by Oswald Cabal, the head of the
governing council and grandson of John Cabal. Oswald Cabal's daughter Catherine
and Maurice Passworthy insist on manning the capsule. When a mob later forms and
rushes to destroy the space gun, used to propel the projectile toward the Moon,
Cabal launches it ahead of schedule.
Later, after the projectile is just a tiny light in the immense night sky,
Oswald Cabal delivers a stirring philosophical monologue about what is to come
for mankind to his troubled and questioning friend, Raymond Passworthy, the
father of Maurice. He speaks passionately about progress and humanity's unending
quest for knowledge and advancement as it journeys out into immensity of space
to conquer the stars and beyond. He concludes with the rhetorical questions,
"All the universe or nothingness? Which shall it be, Passworthy? Which shall it
Science fiction historian Gary Westfahl has stated:
"Things to Come qualifies as the first true masterpiece of science
fiction cinema, and those who complain about its awkward pace and uninvolving
characters are not understanding Wells's message, which is that the lives and
actions of individuals are unimportant when compared to the progress and destiny
of the entire human race."
I hope the things to come for you in 2017 are all good ones.
[adapted from Wikipedia]
Ann Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books,
a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science
fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now.
Follow her at http://eepurl.com/bbOsyz