Things to Come

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

I recently watched H.G. Wells’ Things to Come, based on his book, The Shape of Things to Come, because I always enjoy a bit of paleofuturism.

A lot is made of the fact that the movie, made in 1935, predicts a second great war, starting in 1940 — off by only a few months — which seems almost silly as a prediction. Hitler and the Nazis take power, make loud threats, and it takes a prophet to predict another great war with Germany? But this makes the point that a second great war was not obviously imminent at the time; it only seems that way in retrospect.

In fact, in Prophets of Science Fiction, which I also just watched, one fellow mentions a conversation he had with Arthur C. Clarke, who saw Things to Come in the theater when it came out. Clarke said that the audience laughed at the scenes of the aerial bombardment of London, because it was so outlandish and unbelievable to them. How could this be? The Germans had already bombarded London from zeppelins in World War I! Odd.

Wells’ predicted war, which features WWI-style trench warfare and poison gas, goes on and on for decades and ends with a plague spread by aerial bombardment. This leads to a scenario surprisingly close to a zombacalypse — a new Dark Age, full of shuffling victims of “the wandering sickness” — and order is restored only when a new warlord ruthlessly exterminates all those wandering victims.

Then the utopian, progressive Wells comes out, as a league of super-scientists comes from the sky to unite the world, against the will of the petty warlords now in charge.

Eventually, in 2036, our super-scientist hero’s descendant sends the first people to the moon, via Vernesque space gun.

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