Star Wars, the low budget Canadian effort, The Shape Of Things To Come, is among the most derided. Borrowing the title from H.G. Wells' novel in an apparent, desperate bid for some sort of legitimacy, TSOTTC is frequently dismissed as one of the worst science fiction films of its era - if not one of the worst space flicks ever. And there is no question that it's a threadbare affair with a banal script right out of a 1950s comic book.
Okay, we all know that I am way too forgiving when it comes to 1970s space opera - hence, the existence of this blog. But I'm not going to apologize for trying to find entertainment in even the worst of the genre, nor am I going to feel guilty (well, not too guilty) when I actually kinda like a film like TSOTTC.
The Shape Of Things To Come bears no resemblance whatosever to the Wells novel, nor the 1935 Alex Corda movie classic of the same name. In fact, the plot makes little sense at all....
It's "the tomorrow after tomorrow," and the planet Earth is a wasteland, devastated during the great robot wars. What's left of humanity has colonized the Moon, living in great in domed cities, including New Washington. Presumably due to lingering radiation poisoning from the wars, mankind's continued survival depends on an anti-radiation drug called "Radic Q-2," which is regularly shipped to the moon from its planet of origin, Delta-3. Unfortunately, Delta-3 - evidently in another solar system entirely - has been taken over by Omus (Jack Palance, who played a similar character on Buck Rogers that same year), a nutjob robot scientist who has ursurped the rule of the legitimate governor, a platinum blonde named Nikki (Carol Lynley, The Poseidon Adventure). Omus remotely crashes a delivery ship into the New Washington dome and informs stately Senator Smedley (John Ireland) that there will be more such "attacks" if the lunar citizens don't cater to the would-be tyrant's will.
Barry Morse, Space: 1999), the scientist hero of the piece. Oddly, neither he nor the other citizens of New Washington seem to object to deferring all authority to their master computer, Lomax, though, which dismisses a proposed counterattack on Delta-3 on the grounds that it would be somehow "imprudent" (i.e. "prohibitively expensive").
Nicholas Campbell), beautiful cyber-tech named Kim (Eddie Benton, a/k/a Anne-Marie Martin), and an odious comic relief robot called "Sparks" set out on Caball's new and untested spaceship, the Starstreak, on an unauthorized mission to Delta-3, intending to stop Omus and rescue the red jumpsuited colonists from his waddling robot army.
moon? Couldn't domed cities be built more easily on Earth and offer the same protection? Or why domed cities at all? Earth still appears to be habitable. For that matter, if Ridic Q-2 is so vital to humanity's survival, why not just move everyone to Delta-3? After all, it looks to have an environment exactly like Earth's.
and the post-Apocalyptic Earth. While I do have to wonder why TV hack director George McGowan chose to use what appears to be the same autumnal fields and woods for both planets (don't they at least have rock quarries or gravel pits in Canada?), it's really no different than the mundane Canadian locations we recently saw ad nauseum in the Battlestar Galactica remake. In fact, the city of New Washington in TSOTTC looks a frak of a lot like Caprica on the new BSG.
Anyway, yeah, the script is stupid, and the locations are dull, and the robots are clunky as shit. The direction of the action sequences is flat-out awful. TSOTTC is - inarguably - not a good movie.
Buck Rogers or Space: 1999. Maybe a little cheaper, but not terrible. And, yeah, it's amusing that everyone's got Honeywell computers, but then, the original Galactica crew worked with Tectronics equipment - hey, you use what you can get.
Sledge Hammer! in the 80s.
Barry Morse, in an interview around TSOTTC's DVD release, admitted that the cast/crew were facing an losing battle. "It soon became apparent that it was a production that was, shall we say, reaching rather further than its financial facilities might allow," Morse explained. "I don't think anybody could have anticipated that certain effects would be so... unconvincing, I suppose is the kindest word."
Star Wars or Galactica quality, but they're about on the level of Space Academy or Space: 1999. The Starstreak is a good looking ship and nicely designed/detailed, the sequence where the New Washington dome is repaired by three little spaceships is kinda cool, and both Omus' base - and Delta-3 itself - blow up real good. It's a shame that they apparently couldn't afford any animated laser beams, though.
I vaguely recall reading in Starlog and/or Future magazines that Sylvia Anderson of UFO and Space: 1999 fame was originally slated to produce the movie in England (which may explain Morse's involvement), but she must have bailed early, leaving the production in the hands of schlockmeister Harry Allan Towers, who seized quickly on Canadian tax shelter laws that subsidized local filmmaking. Between his notoriously "economical" business practices and McGowan's lethargic, TV-movie direction, it's amazing that the film is as watchable as it is.
Well, I find it watchable, anyway. So sue me.
The Shape Of Things To Come on DVD with a really solid 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and Dolby Digital mono audio in both English and French. They even scraped up a few extras: a French theatrical trailer, an English TV spot, and a poster & still gallery. Although the company has been slowly re-issuing most of its library on Blu-Ray, there's been no announcement of TSOTTC being released in HD as yet.
Anyway, I'm not going to try too too hard to convince anyone else of the film's merits - although I clearly think it has a few - but I do enjoy pulling the DVD off my shelf every once in a while. It's not as much giddy fun as Starcrash, nor as slyly satirical as Battle Beyond The Stars, but I can find some pleasure in it.... and, you know, I don't really feel guilty about it at all.
BUY: The Shape of Things to Come