This is one of the greatest (and highest budgeted) British films of the 1930s, certainly the most spectacular in terms of visionary production design. It offers nothing less than a future history of mankind, starting with the devastation of civilization as a result of a Second World War (which had not yet occurred when the film was made), followed by a Dark Age in which the world is ruled by fur-wearing tribal leaders like “The Boss” (Ralph Richardson in his first great screen role), and concludes with the restoration of civilization under the enlightened leadership of technocrats like Oswald Cabal (Raymond Massey). The last sequence shows the first steps toward space travel with a manned vehicle launched to the moon by a gigantic “space cannon.”
The problem with all of the DVD and other versions of this public domain feature presently in circulation is that they all seem to have been copied from the same “dirty, blurry, over-contrasty 16mm print” (to quote a reviewer at Amazon.com). Surely there are one or more decent 35mm prints of this acknowledged classic somewhere in the world from which a “restored edition” could be made. Some sources even note a significant difference in running times between the original release print and the version we usually see.
Another essential element that could be addressed in a restoration is the film’s groundbreaking musical score by Arthur Bliss – good enough to have warranted at least a half dozen CD recordings, including one conducted by Bernard Herrmann. There have been versions of Chaplin’s City Lights, Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky, and Welles’ Othello in which rerecorded versions of their respective scores have been combined with the original dialogue and effects tracks. Things to Come begs for similar treatment.
Finally, Wikipedia notes that several “discarded sequences” of this film have been found. In an ideal “restored edition” these would be included as extras. Perhaps someone might even find footage of the scenes in which Ernest Thesiger (Bride of Frankenstein’s Dr. Pretorius) plays the leader of the anti-technology party that tries to prevent the moon launch, a role played by Sir Cedric Hardwicke in reshoots. One can only hope.