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Things to Come

16 October, 2011

I could not sleep right away last night so I watched Things to Come. Or, rather, I watched half of things to come. The screenplay was written by H. G. Wells in 1936 and was rather loosely adapted from his novel The Shape of Things to Come.

This was a vastly different time in regards to storytelling. Scientific Fiction (the genre that would become Science Fiction) was still relatively new and film was really still in its infancy, barely out of the silents and a long way from colorization. The audience was more patient then. In part because film was scarcely out of the silent age and just being in the theater and hearing the sounds and dialogue was a marvel. (Remember, The Jazz Singer—the first flicker with synchronized dialogue, and the horribly black-faced Al Jolson, seriously different times,—had come out just nine years earlier.) But during this time people were not as inundated by so many things demanding their attention. Movies were the modern technology demanding their attention; now, we have to remind people several times before a show to leave the modern distractions of Tweeting, Facebooking, FarmVille-ing, YouTube-ing, texting, IMing, Pinging, iPod-ing, smart phoning, and a slew of others I do not understand in the lobby. We need to be reminded to focus on the movie, you know, that flickering light-image we paid thirty-eight bucks for our significant others and ourselves to see. Without all those distractions people came to the movies expecting a well-paced, enveloping experience that wrapped them in the warm glow of light dancing through celluloid and brought them to a new and wonderful place for the afternoon.

The scripts from this time reflect that expectation. Now we consider them slow and ponderous. But then, the gradual building of plot, the subtle creation of tension in worlds like and utterly unlike our own, was an experience to be cherished, to be stored up in the treasure room of the soul.

Now we want immediacy. If it moves slowly or takes more than ten minutes to cut to the first action sequence our interest wanes. If the movie opens with a rising sun over a horizon wavering in the heat, then it better have an airplane come roaring past and if the plane explodes mid-flight, even better! I am just as guilty of this as everyone else. Things to Come cured my insomnia, I did not even make it half way before I was out cold. I had to finish this morning, and even then I was on the computer looking at several websites simultaneously and only half focusing on the movie.

The film itself was true marvel given when it was made. The special effects were incredibly advanced. The flying machines and space gun were brilliantly conceived and executed. The space gun being a fantastic advance in filming since the one displayed in La Voyage dans le Lune (A Trip to the Moon—1902) based on the work of another early Scientific Fiction writer, Jules Verne, where they launch their rocket into the face of the moon’s eye. It is such a shame that we have reached a point in our technological advancement that classics like this are seen as obscure cult films instead of a link to who we were and a milestone along the path of writing. Given what we have become, would Wells still have his characters stating science and progress are the betterment of man and that technology will give us the marvels of the universe to ponder or would they just turn to their iPhones and fertilize each others’ digitized crops?

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