By the mid ’30S, many thought another world war was inevitable – and that it would mean the end of civilisation.
H.G. Wells thus wrote The Shape Of Things To Come, foretelling the catastrophe and what might follow it. Producer Alexander Korda, who never lacked ambition, invited Wells to adapt his own book. The result was both a triumph and a disaster.
The triumph is the film’s exalted sense of purpose and its awesome set designs, from Korda’s art-director brother, Vincent, and SFX wizard Ned Mann.
The bombing of ‘Everytown’ (London) prefigures the Blitz with accuracy, and the soaring art-deco city of the future in the film’s final section even outdoes Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
Alas Menzies had little clue about directing, hence stiff, stagey performances from the likes of Raymond Massey and Cedric Hardwicke. Wells, who had never scripted before, created one-dimensional characters given to didactic, sententious statements: “If we don’t end war, war will end us!”
His vision of a technocratic future is chillingly arid. The sole success in the acting department is Ralph Richardson’s tinpot Boss, closely modelled on Mussolini. Still, for all its flaws the film’s iconic standing remains intact – even in this 92- minute cut, the longest surviving version.
The original ran 130 mins; text and images from long-lost scenes are included in the DVD’s virtual extended edition, alongside a decent array of extras.