Epic H.G. Wells sci-fi film restored

Raymond Massey stars as Oswald Cabal in the futuristic sci-fi film "Things to Come" from 1936, based on an H.G. Wells story that he adapted.
Raymond Massey stars as Oswald Cabal in the futuristic sci-fi film "Things to Come" from 1936, based on an H.G. Wells story that he adapted.
Posted: August 10, 2013

H.G. Wells' remarkable popularity shows no signs of diminishing nearly 70 years after his death. It's nowhere more apparent than in Hollywood, which continues to churn out adaptations of  the science-fiction pioneer's output, which includes The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), and The War of the Worlds (1898).

Yet Wells' later, politically charged work is virtually ignored today. A committed socialist, he wrote passionately in the 1920s and '30s about the dangers of extreme nationalism, and called instead for a united world government organized around Marxist ideals.

Wells' utopian vision of a socialist future is hardly persuasive today, but it fueled one of the more unique science-fiction films produced during his lifetime, William Cameron Menzies' 1936 epic Things to Come, which Wells wrote. A newly restored edition of the film is now available from the Criterion Collection.

Adapted by the novelist from his polemical (even baldly propagandist) 1933 work, The Shape of Things to Come, and featuring a stellar cast, including Raymond Massey and Ralph Richardson, the film is a historical chronicle of humanity's progress from 1940 to 2036. Made on the eve of a cataclysmic battle, it opens with a savage war that goes on for decades. The killing ends only when a daring visionary unites humanity through the power of rationality, science, and technological progress. ( www.criterion.com; $29.95 DVD; $39.95 Blu-ray; not rated)

New documentaries

Tales of the City: 20th Anniversary Edition. Laura Linney, Olympia Dukakis, and Thomas Gibson star in this groundbreaking mini-series adapted from Armistead Maupin's novel. Due Aug. 27 from Acorn Media, this special edition includes audio commentaries by Maupin and the cast and a making-of video. ( www.acornmedia.com; $49.99; not rated)

War on Whistleblowers: Free Press & The National Security State. Robert Greenwald's documentary focuses on four whistleblowers who tried to expose government wrongdoing - and the costs they had to pay for their honesty. A welcome addition to the debate kicked up by the headline-making activities of WikiLeaks and the Edward Snowden case. ( http://disinfo.com; $19.98; not rated)

The Gatekeepers. Israeli director Dror Moreh interviews six former heads of Israel's Secret Service in this eye-opening documentary about Israel's part in the war on terror. ( www.sonypictures.com/movies/discanddigital; $30.99 DVD; $35.99 Blu-ray; not rated)

London: The Modern Babylon. Filmmaker Julien Temple ( Absolute Beginners) tells the history of his home town with this playful film that includes interviews with musicians, artists, and political radicals. ( www.docurama.com; $29.95; not rated)

Other DVDs of note

Banshee: Season One. Created by Six Feet Under wunderkind Alan Ball, Cinemax's violent, sexy, gritty, and strange epic is set in Pennsylvania Dutch country and features Antony Starr as an ex-con who cons his way to becomes the sheriff of a small town filled with home-bred evildoers and gangsters. ( www.hbo.com; $39.98 DVD; $49.99 Blu-ray; not rated)

The Thick of It: Complete Series 1-4. Armando Iannucci's hysterical political satire stars Peter Capaldi as the British prime minister's enforcer, who needs to keep in line a series of incompetent ministers who oversee the redundant, useless, and unliked Ministry for Social Affairs and Citizenship. If you enjoyed The Office, you will fall in love with this show. ( http://press.bbcdvd.com; $79.98; not rated)

Shameless: Seasons 1 & 2 (Original UK Series). Showtime's hilarious sitcom starring William H. Macy is based on a brilliant, long-running British series that's even funnier and raunchier. It finally is being made available in America. This four-disc set features 18 episodes. ( www.millcreekent.com; $24.98; not rated)

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