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H. G. Wells Strikes Back with 'Things To Come'

Illustration for article titled H. G. Wells Strikes Back with Things To Come

H. G. Wells disliked Fritz Lang's Metropolis with a fiery passion, tearing it apart in a review for the New York Times. The movie Things To Come' is his brilliant celluloid riposte, and you can watch it online for free.


Reviewing Metropolis, Wells wrote:"Never for a moment does one believe any of this foolish story; for a moment is there anything amusing or convincing in its dreary series of strained events. It is immensely and strangely dull. It is not even to be laughed at. There is not one good-looking nor sympathetic nor funny personality in the cast; there is, indeed, no scope at all for looking well or acting like a rational creature amid these mindless, imitative absurdities."

The visual differences between Metropolis and Wells' Things To Come are staggering. And if it's necessary to pit these two films against each other in cinema bloodsport, it's difficult to determine a winner. The raw creativity and invention of the images in Things To Come still resonate over seventy years later: workers float through a bright industrial landscape of bubbling fluids in huge transparent vats and spiral staircases that go on forever. The images associated with Metropolis are certainly less fantastic, but iconic. It seems that history has already chosen a winner, and it's Metropolis in a cyborg landslide.


Both films serve as cautionary tales to the audience, but Things To Come tells a much more interesting story with a much wider scope. It is simply epic, regardless of its short running time. Metropolis warns us of removing the human element from our visions of the future, but Things To Come does what is required of great science fiction: It holds up a tremendously ornate mirror to our own prejudice and assumptions, and then requires us to make (and live with) our own decisions.

In Things To Come, a world war launches in 1940, and lasts 30 years, until nobody can remember why it started. The world descends into medieval squalor, and Everytown is run by an evil Boss — until a flying machine, piloted by Cabal, a representative of a group of enlightened scientists and thinkers, appears. The Boss and Cabal fight for control, until Cabal drops "Peace Gas" and wins. And we see 70 years of progress pass by in a montage, as humanity rebuilds its shattered world. But then in the year 2036, in an idealized future utopia, we see the battle between luddites and the representatives progress play out again, as the luddites seek to sabotage the futuristic Space Gun. It never stops.

You can watch the whole thing online at the Internet Archive.

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Both are amazing movies and great entertainment, but I think Things to Come (discounting the specifics of the dates) is a truer, more accurate vision.

Both great, but Wells' crystal ball was less cracked.