H. G. Wells’ future-historical, which made its video rep over the decades via murky Public Domain editions of various lengths, has been visually restored (more like resurrected*) on Criterion and other specialty labels. Now, it’s the intellectual content that looks murky. It begins auspiciously as total war comes to Everytown on Christmas 1940 in a sort of Soviet-montage-meets-Fritz Lang prologue. And right from the opening, story, dialogue & acting give off a hollow, didactic ring of unearned imprimatur. Nothing improves as we dash thru a century of death & destruction, leading to a prosperous rebirth in ultra-modern cities with Progressives holding back Regressives by the skin of their teeth. (Wells’ package might seem more convincing if the good guys didn’t look like Proto-Fascists dictating decisions for those poor, deluded folk below.) So, what’s the continuing appeal? It’s all in the look of the thing, a très avant manner, call it World’s Fair Chic, that still sends off a charge (and a chill). Loaded with cool analogue F/X, the models, optical-printer superimpositions & traveling mattes were coordinated by various design experts (William Cameron Menzies, Vincent Korda, László Moholy-Nagy, Ned Mann) with mix-and-match official titles. If only someone had bothered to make Wells layer a bit of character humanity & dramatic development in with the lecture.
DOUBLE-BILL: While its groundbreaking futuristic visuals often gets THINGS lumped together with METROPOLIS/’27 (looking back) or 2001/’68 (looking ahead), it has little in common with either. Rather, with ill-defined political thinking and a fondness for speechifying rather than dialogue, it’s closer to the grand idiotic dreams of an Ayn Rand whopper like the inadvertently hilarious THE FOUNTAINHEAD/’49, though not nearly as fun.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Alas, for all the visual restoration, the film’s superb Arthur Bliss score still sounds distorted on the overloaded original soundtrack. Bliss recorded excerpts at the time (not off the original soundtrack) now on Dutton, but a fine modern recording of the Suite is out from Rumor Gamba & the BBC Phil on Chandos.