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H.G. Wells' The Shape of Things to Come

Blue Underground // PG // September 27, 2016 // Region 0
List Price: $30.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 20, 2016 | E-mail the Author
Dateline! The tomorrow after tomorrow. What's left of mankind has largely shuffled away from a no-longer-habitable Earth -- great robot wars will do that -- and has largely relocated to a series of domed cities on the lunar surface. Even many of those who survived didn't escape from those wars unscathed. Radiation poisoning runs rampant, kept in check only through the miracle of RADIC-Q-2: a drug produced solely on the far-flung planet of Delta Three. Oh, look! Another shipment of RADIC is arriving in that massive space-freighter right now. Wait, the ship isn't responding to hails. There's no trace of life aboard. It's loaded with explosives and (gulp!) bearing down on the capitol of New Washington. A speedy evacuation underground keeps the body count to a minimum, but the city lay in ruins. That's all according to plan. Omus (Jack Palance) doesn't want to slaughter those who call the moon home; he seeks to rule them. He will be declared Supreme Commander of the moon, what's left of Earth, and all extraplanetary colonies and outposts. Otherwise, more freighters will make a suicide run towards the moon, and not so much as a single tablet of RADIC will ever find its way off Delta Three.

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What should we do, LOMAX? The governing super-computer advises against retaliation in favor of...well, nothing, I guess. Dr. John Caball (Barry Morse) has never been one to march in lockstep with the rules, so he swipes an experimental space craft and makes a beeline towards Delta Three. Joining him are his son Jason (Nicholas Campbell), the daughter (Sledge Hammer!'s Anne-Marie Martin) of one of his most vocal opponents, and their cloying, doofy robot pal Sparks. This untested ship probably wouldn't survive the trek to Delta Three under the best of circumstances, and it wouldn't be much of a space opera if everything went according to plan. Thrill to the discovery of what survived the robot wars on Earth! Witness the unjustly ousted Governor Niki (Carol Lynley) mount a rebellion on Delta Three against the nefarious Omus! Look on in awe of Caball and company as their every moment is slowed through the wonder of magnetic field-induced time dilation!

Bearing borderline-zero connection to the H.G. Wells novel or its most enduring film adaptation, The Shape of Things to Come cries out to be either a whole lot better or a whole lot worse. Failing to even be accidentally fun, it's as lazy and shameless a stab as they come at cashing in on Star Wars' staggering success, complete with an expository opening crawl, a ssssssslllllllllooooooooowwwwwwww unveiling of a gigantic enemy spacecraft, and a precocious robot. Its premise is near-total nonsense. The Earth we're shown is far from uninhabitable. Since mankind hasn't terraformed the moon and is forced to live in domed cities, why couldn't they just build those same cities back home on Earth anyway? Why can RADIC-Q-2 only be produced on Delta Three? Since Delta Three has a breathable atmosphere, plenty of plant life, and even an established colony there, why doesn't man just gradually move that way? If civilization is in tatters due to robot wars, why do the survivors blindly put all their faith in a super-computer? How can LOMAX not even have a plan of its own to fend off Omus, even if it's ultimately not the right one? That's not even getting into what the future holds for supplies of RADIC-Q-2 with the way the flick ends.

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There really aren't any standout action setpieces, which typically amount to the same tiny handful of Niki's rebel forces gently poking waddling robots with big, plastic sticks. It's poorly staged, ineptly photographed, and inertly directed. The kit-bashed spacecraft look passably okay, but there's not a single dogfight to be had, and The Shape of Things to Come recycles the same few shots of 'em over and over and over and over. "Lather, rinse, repeat" seems to be director George McCowan's mantra. I didn't keep track of how many times Niki's guards square off against the same few 'droids in the dry ice-blanketed cave entrance to Omus' stronghold, but if it's fewer than four, I'd be astonished. The robots are Lost in Space knockoffs from another era that can't be bothered to evoke any dread. Jack Palance gnaws mightily on the scenery in his purple cape but doesn't make for much of a master villain. No effort is made to ensure that Earth looks ravaged, that Delta Three and Earth are two distinct planets, or...well, effort in any capacity at all, really. Nothing about the film works, from its cut-rate special effects to its excruciatingly leaden pace to its clumsy dialogue. Even the ticking time bomb in the opening sequence lacks any urgency or intensity. Characters disappear for incredibly long stretches, it has little interest in letting any momentum build or trying to establish any intrigue, and, the too-precious Sparks aside, it takes itself entirely too seriously. There are a few scattered moments where things liven up -- the revelation of what Kim's earthly kidnappers are, Sparks flailing his rubber arms around while showing off his ability to teleport, a howlingly ridiculous slow-mo sequence, an enormous hologram of Omus spinning around slowly on a lazy Susan for whatever friggin' reason while delivering a threatening monologue -- but The Shape of Things to Come is too tedious overall to even work on a so-bad-it's-yadda-yadda-yadda level.

I'm a sucker for other countries' low-budget takes on Star Wars: say, Italy's deliriously fun Starcrash or Japan's Message from Space. This Canadian space opera is an insipid, interminable slog to wade through. It's saddled with a presentation on Blu-ray to match, redeemed only by a couple of terrific interviews in the extras. Skip It.

So much of The Shape of Things to Come is cast in a diffused glow that I can't imagine it ever really looking sharp as a tack. This, though...?

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Honestly, if I hadn't handled the disc with my own two hands, I would never have guessed that this is a Blu-ray release. The image is excessively soft and all but devoid of fine detail. It's similarly lacking in anything resembling a filmic texture. Color saturation tends to be underwhelming. The flipside of the case notes that this high-def master was struck from the original negative, but by whom? When? I don't know if this is a holdover from a very distant era or if the licensor wholly mishandled it, but this presentation of The Shape of Things to Come manages to make an already lousy movie that much more grueling to suffer through.

The Shape of Things to Come is pillarboxed to an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The film and its extras fit comfortably onto a single layer Blu-ray disc.

Blue Underground has piled on two lossless soundtracks for this Blu-ray release. The original monaural track is preserved in 16-bit DTS-HD Master Audio, while a shiny, new 5.1 remix is lavished with the 24-bit treatment. Neither track is what I'd call dynamite, precisely. The mono audio is thinner and harsher. The six-channel remix sports some nice separation across channels, and it dips reasonably deeply into the lower frequencies, even if the bass has a tendency to sound kind of boxy. The film's dialogue comes through passably well, though its frequency response is so limited that it doesn't exactly belie its age. As a synth geek with something close enough to a bank of Moogs, I instantly swooned over the disco-inflected opening titles, and the rest of the score -- a mix of the electronic and orchestral -- is a lot of fun too. This Blu-ray release of The Shape of Things to Come sounds better than it looks, but still keep your expectations in check.

Subtitles are dished out in English (SDH), French, and Spanish.

  • Interviews (31 min.; HD): The best thing about this disc, bar none, is Red Shirt Pictures' fourteen minute conversation with star Nicholas Campbell. It's an infectiously fun look into the skeevy "dentist deals" in the Toronto film scene in the '70s, when the only way you know you'd get paid is if you got pretty much every cent upfront. This interview is wall-to-wall gold, including scoring weed for a not-exactly-appreciative Jack Palance, director George McCowan sucking in lungfuls from an oxygen machine in between his chainsmoking, and having to loop pretty much every line of dialogue in post-production. ...and hey! It's still some of the most fun he's ever had making a movie.

    "Symphonies in Space" (17 min.) chats up composer Paul Hoffert, who also touches on some of the shadier aspects of the production (such as the oddity of having his contract typed out by the producer in front of him!) but prefers to focus on the music. Hoffert speaks about the allure of scoring sci-fi, although The Shape of Things to Come marks his first and only foray into the genre. He also delves into the instrumentation that spans everything from the orchestral to toy shelves, some of the clever studio wizardry to evoke that otherworldly feeling, the 'freefall' cue making its way into championship figure skating, and toiling away on a score with no involvement from the film's producer or director. Well-worth a look.
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  • Image Galleries (HD): The first of the two galleries heaps on thirty or so production stills, posters, and scans from various newspapers and magazines. There's also an Easter egg from The Walking Dead lurking near the end, complete with an AMC bug still on the screen. A separate gallery features terrific scans of the film's entire pressbook, spelling out among many other things a reputed $3.2 million (CAD, I'm assuming) budget.

  • Trailers and TV Spots (3 min.): Also included is a French trailer with baked-in English subs, and it looks much the same in high-def as the film proper. Last up is a thirty second TV spot.

The Shape of Things to Come is an all-region release, and this single Blu-ray disc is it: no DVD or digital copy code riding shotgun this time around. The disc's twenty chapter stops are listed on the inner sleeve.

The Final Word
"Turn it ooofffff!"

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Yeah, I know the feeling. Skip It.

Hey, Some Leftover Screenshots!
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