For, July 12, 2013

Watching the 1936 futuristic anti-war film "Things to Come" after not having seen it for decades, my reaction was immediate, that it is certainly worthy of its reputation as a British science-fiction classic 77 years after its premiere — if only for its still-dazzling production design, with huge, wildly imaginative sets built under the supervision of director William Cameron Menzies.

Menzies is credited with essentially inventing the job of production designer and he's most famous for his striking visual work on the 1924 version of "The Thief of Bagdad" (1924), the 1939 classic "Gone With the Wind" (he also directed the burning-of-Atlanta sequence) and Salvador Dali's famous hallucinogenic dream in Alfred Hitchcock's "Spellbound" (1945), a memorably off-kilter sequence that producer David O. Selznik had Menzies direct. He also directed the dreamy, phantasmagoric 1953 sci-fi classic "Invaders From Mars."

All of which is important as motivation to watch the new Criterion Collection edition of "Things to Come" rather than any of the many public-domain versions floating around out there. Criterion has restored the film to its stunning former glory in a brilliant high-definition transfer (available on both DVD, $29.95, and Blu-ray, $39.95) whereas uncountable public-domain DVDs are transfers of prints so dark, fuzzy, scratchy and/or with annoyingly muffled sound that it renders them difficult to sit through.

"Things to Come" is also significant as the only screenplay written by the great fantasy author H.G. Wells, although many of his novels have been turned into films by others: "The Time Machine," "The Invisible Man," "War of the Worlds," etc.

Then there are the film's prognostications about the far-off … and not so far-of … future, as technology leads to warfare and warfare's destruction leads to an apocalypse. How many modern moviemakers are still postulating such events these days?

This was, of course, an ambitious and innovative cinematic achievement at the time, but today naturally looks rather antiquated and old-fashioned, with talky speeches that sometimes become a bit overbearing. But the visual value holds up and the performances by Raymond Massey (in two roles), Cedric Hardwicke and especially Ralph Richardson, are very good. (The Criterion disc includes an audio commentary, featurettes and an audio recording of Wells giving a reading from one of the story's sequences, along with a 24-page booklet.)

Suspend your prejudices along with your disbelief and you are guaranteed to enjoy yourself.