The Shape of Things to Come

Director: George McCowan
Screenplay: Martin Lager (based on the novel by H.G. Wells; adaptation by Mike Cheda and Joseph Glazner)
Stars: Jack Palance (Omus), Carol Lynley (Niki), Barry Morse (Dr. John Caball), John Ireland (Sen. Smedley), Nicholas Campbell (Jason Caball), Anne-Marie Martin (Kim Smedley), Greg Swanson (Voice of Sparks), Mark Parr (Sparks), William Hutt (Voice of Lomax)
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 1979
Country: Canada
The Shape of Things to Come Blu-ray
The Shape of Things to ComeAfter the phenomenal box-office success of George Lucas’s Star Wars in 1977, opportunistic producers scrambled to churn out their own throwback space epics, virtually all of which were severely compromised by lack of budget, tight production schedules, and an utter lack of imagination. These films ran the gamut and came from all over the world. Italy produced Starcrash (1978), Battle of the Stars (1978), War of the Robots (1978), and Star Odyssey (1979), while Japan gave us the relatively big-budgeted Message From Space (1978), which combined elements of Star Wars and Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954). Meanwhile, in the U.S., Disney jumped on the bandwagon with The Black Hole (1979), a serious-minded space exploration film that was the first Disney production to earn a PG rating; Italian superproducer Dino de Laurentiis gave the old serial Flash Gordon, one of Lucas’s primary inspirations, a campy overhaul in 1980; and B-movie maestro Roger Corman served up Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), which was written by indie filmmaker John Sayles and featured special effects by a then-unknown James Cameron. And, lest we not be thorough, mention must be made of Dünyan Kurtaran Adam (1983), better known as Turkish Star Wars, an ultra-low-budget production that simply lifted shots directly from Lucas’s film—copyright be damned—and combined them with shoddy new footage.

Which brings us to Canada and its schlocky contribution to the Star Wars knock-off parade, H.G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come, which, title notwithstanding, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Wells’s 1933 politically minded history-of-the-future novel, which he had previously adapted as Things to Come in 1936 for producer Alexander Korda (it was not a very good film, either, but for entirely different reasons). The Shape of Things to Come was the brainchild of prolific low-budget producer Harry Alan Towers, whose previous credits included an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians (1965) and nine films by the notorious Jess Franco. Towers was looking to take advantage of Canada’s immense tax incentives for feature film production, and The Shape of Things to Come was one of three productions he packaged together, the other two being the adventure film King Solomon’s Treasure (1979) and the Jack London biopic Klondike Fever (1980).

Screenwriter Martin Lager, a veteran of documentary and television who had written three episodes of the ill-fated Canadian sci-fi series The Starlost (1973), worked from an adaptation by Mike Cheda and Joseph Glazner that jettisoned pretty much everything from Wells’s novel, except the character name Dr. John Cabal, which in the film gains an extra “l” in its spelling. Instead, the film imagines a near future—“tomorrow after tomorrow,” as the grammatically challenged opening scroll tells us (there’s a difference between its and it’s, people)—in which the Earth has become a radioactive wasteland after the “robot wars” and humankind has left in a mass diaspora to populate the moon in a giant colony protected by a geodesic dome. To continue surviving, humanity requires a special anti-radiation drug that is manufactured on the distant planet Delta III.

Unfortunately, Delta III has been taken over by a mad roboticist named Omus (a paycheck-cashing, scenery-chewing Jack Palance), who sends a robot-piloted cargo ship on a crash course toward the moon colony. This spurs Dr. John Caball (Barry Morse) to take matters into his own hands, launching his experimental deep-space ship the Starstreak along with his son Jason (Nicholas Campbell) and his girlfriend Kim (Anne-Marie Martin), who is the daughter of a senator (John Ireland) with whom Dr. Caball disagrees politically. No matter—the goal is to make it to Delta III to stop Omus from sending more destruction toward the moon colony, although it first requires a stop-off on Earth for repairs (which, in one of the film’s most egregious plot holes, never actually happen), where they meet the planet’s remaining mutant children. Meanwhile, on Delta III, the deposed President Niki (Carol Lynley) is trying to wage her own revolt against Omus, who, in one of the film’s more laughable moments, appears as a giant, building-sized hologram that slowly and inexplicably rotates.

Plot aside, The Shape of Things to Come is pretty much a big ol’ mess, although not one that isn’t enjoyable at times in a sloppy, cheesy kind of way. The special effects are a mixed bag, with some of the miniature work looking half-decent (including the opening shot of the cargo ship flying over the camera, a visual grab from Star Wars that was common among all of Lucas’s copycats), while others are embarrassingly amateurish. There is some good use of existing locations, particularly Toronto’s Cinesphere Dome (home to the world’s first permanent IMAX movie theater) as a stand-in for the futuristic moon colony, although other locations seem woefully inadequate to depict the intended environment (just because all the grass in a forest is brown doesn’t necessarily make it look like a post-apocalyptic wasteland).

Director George McCowan, a television veteran who had previously helmed the revenge-of-nature thriller Frogs (1972) and the western sequel The Magnificent Seven Ride! (1972), does an adequate job managing the action, although there is little he can do given the resources at hand; visually and aesthetically the film has much in common with various sci-fi television series of the era, includingSpace: 1999 (1975–78), Battlestar Galactica (1978–80), and Buck Rogers in the 21st Century (1979–81), which shouldn’t be surprising given McCowan’s television background and Harry Alan Towers’s stated hope that it would spin off into a TV series (not surprisingly, that did not happen). Most of the acting is either flat or over the top, and the attempts to create a memorable artificial intelligence computer named Lomax (voiced by William Hutt) and an endearingly clunky robot named Sparks (voiced by Greg Swanson) have little impact. And, while it is hardly the worst of the Star Wars knockoffs, The Shape of the Things to Come is memorable primarily for its various failings, which at best will carry some nostalgic power for those who grew up in that era and perhaps even saw it during its brief theatrical release.

The Shape of Things to Come Blu-Ray

Aspect Ratio1.66:1
  • English DTS-HD 5.1 surround
  • English DTS-HD 1.0 monaural
  • Subtitles English, French, Spanish
  • Video interview with actor Nicholas Campbell
  • Video interview with composer Paul Hoffert
  • French trailer
  • TV Spot
  • Poster & still gallery
  • Pressbook gallery
  • DistributorBlue Underground
    Release DateSeptember 27, 2016

    Blue Underground improves on their 2004 DVD (which, shockingly, was the film’s first home video release in the U.S.) with the 1080p/AVC-encoded presentation on this Blu-ray. Scanned from the original negative, the image looks as good as it ever will, which is to say it’s very clean and free of wear and tear and dirt. The cinematography leans toward the slight soft focus look that was so popular in the 1970s, which means that detail will be a tad hazy, except for the scenes involving miniatures, which are much sharper (and therefore stand out from the rest of the film even more). Colors look natural, and black levels are solid. The disc features a brand new 5.1-channel remix presented in DTS-HD Master Audio, as well as the original monaural soundtrack for purists. The six-channel track expands the soundscape nicely, making effective use of the surround channels without pushing it too much.
    While the 2004 DVD had only a few supplements, the Blu-ray adds two new video interviews, one with actor Nicholas Campbell and one with composer Paul Hoffert, both of which are entertaining and informative, and an extensive pressbook gallery that gives quite a bit of insight into how the film was marketed. The French theatrical trailer, TV spot, and poster and still gallery are taken from the DVD.

    Copyright ©2016 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Blue Underground

    Overall Rating: (1.5)

    James Kendrick

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