Arch 443/646: Architecture and Film
Fall 2010

Things to Come, Just Imagine


Discussion Questions:

Please answer the questions below. Use paragraph form. The answer length will vary for grad and undergrad. The questions are all graded individually so extra effort in preparing your answer is rewarded.

Email me your responses in Word .doc format to: I will be posting these each week after the class. You should be prepared to deliver your answer in class -- but paraphrase, do not read it. Please only send to my sympatico address as I use this for the film course so that I run less of a risk of misplacing your answers.

Feel free to include internet reference links in your answers.

These responses will be discussed on Friday, October 15 prior to our Final Cut Express seminar.


updated Monday, December 27, 2010 8:15 PM


1. Question: Unlike Just Imagine, Things to Come was not intended to be a mockery of Metropolis. Why then the comments from the people of the future about the ridiculous nature of people living in skyscrapers (image of the New York skyline)?

Elaine Chau: Answer:

The metropolis that is constantly undergoing change is called Everytown. Throughout several decades, the town experiences war, sickness and rebellion. Science and technology is seen as the solution to restoring civilization back to a better state. Things to Come was produced right before the eruption of WWII and it can be seen as a propaganda film about saving humanity. Throughout the movie, there is a strong emphasis on the importance of progress. Progress is something that cannot be at a stand-still. Once it begins, it needs to continue growing. The quest for knowledge is what differentiates humans from animals.

When society is stagnant for too long, internal struggles start to build up. Humans desire war and inhumanity between men. An apocalyptic war paves the way for technological progress. Everytown transforms into a utopian society and by 2036, it reaches its peak. Every aspect of life is in a great state as a little girl of the future states, “people keep on inventing things and making life lovelier and lovelier.”

This vision of Everytown is far more articulated and advanced than the mega-city that is depicted ina metropolis. The progression of Everytown from a cluster of fragmented communities into a utopian society is highly accelerated and unnatural. Their society is completely subterranean and highly organized. Ornamentation and individuality is not expressed in the architecture as all buildings are simple, white and geometric. Transportation networks are clearly defined as well. The architecture is expressed as multi-intelligence structures that rely on one another to function. These built forms relate back to the ideals of Everytown – that humanity should be seen as a cohesive unit and that it should take precedence over individuality. Even though the entire city is underground, it remains light and open because it is able to stimulate its own “natural” light. Everytown is able to surpass all limitations, even those set by Nature.

A metropolis of skyscrapers is viewed as poor way of structuring society. It is criticized for its inefficiency in transportation and use of space as it is essentially a sparse collection of units in comparison to Everytown. One can clearly identify the individual skyscrapers that define a skyline. Hence, a skyline is a celebration of difference, which contradicts the city structure of Everytown. The skyscrapers are mocked for their excessive use of windows, which was necessary at that time because artificial sunlight had not been invented. The old metropolis is seen as an unfortunate set of circumstances because people were living in conditions that were limited by their environment - progress had not been pushed to reach its potential.




2. Question: What do you think could be behind the mocking intent of Fox Film's Just Imagine in taking on Fritz Lang's quite serious proposition in Metropolis?

Anne Cheung: Answer:

Fritz Lang’s Metropolis was one of the most influential futuristic films in the 1920s. Some people might have taken Lang’s proposition about the future quiet seriously and, was convinced that The Metropolis will become a model of the future cities. Four years after Lang’s take on a futuristic metropolis, Fox’s production “Just Imagine” portrayed that the vision of The Metropolis was nothing more than an imaginative dream by Fritz Lang. Fox also proved that the imagination could be elaborated to a higher and more complete level than the one Lang presented.

"[…] drew inspiration from a number of sources: from the proposals of New York architect Harvey Wiley Corbett, from the visionary drawings of the Italian Futurist Antonio Sant'Elia, and especially from the work of the architectural delineator Hugh Ferriss, whose book Metropolis of Tomorrow, published the same year as the miniature's design, reiterated the vision of widely spaced towers rising from lower buildings, all linked by multi-level walkways and bridges (Sanders). Fifteen thousand tiny light bulbs brought this futuristic city to glittering life. Celluloid Skyline also points out that where Metropolis seems inspired by lower Manhattan, with its angular streets and closely packed towers, Just Imagine's city suggests midtown, its layout of buildings and avenues more regular and widely spaced."

Fox’s mocking intends seemed to be an interest in demonstrating their power and ability to “build” a more advanced future metropolis, as well as to make comments on the lost of value in humanity and social moral in a society like The Metropolis. In comparison with The Metropolis, Just Imagine’s skyscrapers were taller; people were travelling by planes instead of cars and the designs of home appliances were much more automated and computerized. In fact, Fox’s investment on the city model for the movie was more expensive than Lang’s model. Fox believed that imagination could take us so far that things like the invention of food capsules, and vending machine babies could become the norm.  Yet, Fox also reminded us that everything is just an imagination after all.



3. Question: Compare the attitude towards cars in Things to Come and Berlin/Man with a Movie camera. How does this impact the reading of the film?

Andrew Dadds: Answer:

The attitude towards cars in Berlin/Man with a Movie Camera is one of a growing dominance. Berlin first presents a city of desolate streets, void of activity. The introduction to the chaos of the factories then sets the mood to introduce vehicles and turmoil to the city. It begins with images of cars being in the background of shots, the salient content in the images are not of cars and traffic. Cars and horse drawn carriages begin to dominate shots of the city’s streets. At first cars and carriages have nearly equal ratios to one another, existing in a state of harmony. As the film progresses, the growing dominance of cars takes over the carriages and automobile congestion rules the streets. Pedestrians who earlier walked freely on streets now have to adjust there pace to move between vehicles. Pedestrianism begins to be shown on a level of importance secondary to that of automobiles. This enforces the view of the city becoming a mild dystopia, further enforced with the use of spiraling shots and blurring effects.

Things to Come portrays the future attitude towards cars quite differently then that of Berlin/Man with a movie camera. In the beginning the city is a vibrant metropolis of vehicles and activity, much like the later shots of Berlin. However the future portrayed in Things to Come actually takes its appearance from a past way of life. There is a return to city-state style living where technology is almost extinct. The automobile is actually portrayed as only useful as a carriage drawn by horses. This is a much different reading of the future than Berlin portrayed with automobiles replacing carriages. Even when Things to Come’s setting is relocated to the new city where technology is present, the idea of cars being a progressive technology is eclipsed by technology pertaining to flight and space travel. The director only portrays cars once, far in the distance of the shot within a Corbusian like urban plan. Overall the attitude towards cars in Things to Come is much less apparent as an important force in the city as that of Berlin.


4. Question: Compare the evolution of transportation as illustrated in Things to Come with the evolution of transportation types in Metropolis and Just Imagine as it impacts future societies. How is is the same? How is it different? Emphasize the role of the automobile versus the airplane.

David Domanski: Answer:

The evolution of transportation as illustrated in each film is comparable by similar projections of monumental urban scale in the future. Contextualization of the city gives the impression of masses of people living in a dense downtown organization, which has made more space by building up above or down below. The networks of transportation linking people and place in the city evolve to make these connections, developing a hierarchy of transportation (pedestrian, automotive, locomotive, aerial) from underground arcades and squares, to ground level street traffic, to elevated highways and rails, to virtually defined highways for flying vehicles. These models also take overwhelming organizational precedence from 20th century transportation infrastructure. The state-of-the-art in transportation makes utility of new technologies and efficiencies imagined in the future. However, the nature of use which these futuristic machines differs in Things to Come significantly from Metropolis and Just Imagine. There are advanced pedestrian elevator tubes, modern cars, elevated highways and railways, sophisticated aircraft, even rudimentary attempts at spacecraft; yet in Metropolis and Just Imagine these technologies and shown in an array of urban congestion. The airplane is as limited as the automobile in the sense of being able to maneuver around the city. Air circulation is organized into highways just as the cars, and subject to the same issues of traffic and restricted speed for life safety. Things to Come, on the other hand, gives the airplane free reign as a method of transportation. It is a symbol for human advancement. It allows the characters in control of them to instantly move from one place to another, fleeing dangerous situations or reaching cataclysmic ones just in time. The technology has the effect of teleportation in this sense. Aircraft is free, free from the ground, from speed limits, from negotiating terrain and cities, colonies. The impact of future technological development is much more profound in Things to Come because of its transcendental quality in the context of its story than in Metropolis and Just Imagine, cities of the future slowed to the same pace as traffic of "the past".


4b. Question: Comment on the approach to space travel in the film, bearing in mind the timing of the making of the film as well as the fact that it drew its inspiration from H. G. Wells' book The Shape of Things to Come, published in 1933.

Mark Kim: Answer:

The approach to space in Things to Come takes a quirky and amusing, and very non-scientific approach. The idea of a space gun that fires a capsule with people inside have been used in number of early science-fiction stories, including this film. This is interesting in that people have known since the time of Newton this would be impossible as the g-force created by acceleration require to put man in space would crush all living things inside. It appears that even in 1933, people thought space travel was still had a very long way to go. This is revealed by the very liberal approaches that directors and story writers took, from impossible space guns to lack of space suits or highly stylized space crafts. People back then would have been much less exposed to the limitations in space travel, which we now know, and would have bought into those seemingly silly ideas. It is only after the first landing of the moon that the people realized the extreme harsh conditions of space, from near absolute freezing temperature to deadly vacuum of space. But at the same time, the liberal approach to space travel allowed many film makers to talk about interesting philosophical topics without being bogged about scientific accuracy. And in Things to Come, it raises the question of whether venturing out into space would cause the same effect that airplanes did to human race. Though the question is left unanswered, it is clear that the intent of the director is to leave the viewers with the idea that in order for human race to survive, we much keep pushing on beyond the boundaries of our current mindset.



5. Question: They attempted to procure the support of Le Corbusier in the development of the futuristic sets for Things to Come (but failed). Do you think that the sets produced succeed in reflecting Corb’s design ideals nonetheless? Explain. What is your feeling about the need to involve a "named" Architect in set design?

Peter Kitchen: Answer:

Le Corbusier was approached for the set designs during the development of ‘Things to Come’. However, Le Corbusier turned it down and stated that the people of 2036 were too old fashioned in their lifestyles and values.

The sets include flying walkways for the 2036 version of ‘Everytown’, as well as elevated terraces and lifts in transparent ducts. It also features motorized and moving pavements similar to an escalator as well as transit tubes. This futuristic city is built on modernist lines and a technological, futuristic foundation. I would agree that the sets succeed in reflecting Le Corbusier’s design ideals to a certain extent.

I think that the sets reflect his design ideals through the geometric layout and urban planning of the ‘utopian’ city, similar to a lot of urban planning in the 20th century that was becoming realized. It is believed that rational planning can cleanse and eliminate many of societies problems, even though the public was rarely consulted about urban planning during the time. Also, the main character’s villa [John Cabal] has an interior of clean, white volumes echoing the modernist style of Le Corbusier. One of the large glazed walls opens up to a view of the city in the distance where the geometric and rational plan of modernism can be seen.

I do not however think that there is a need to involve a ‘named’ Architect in set designs all of the time. It may be useful to adapt their design ideals, as they did for Things to Come, but I do not think that in every case a ‘named’ Architect is the best way to approach set design. Film and set design may echo the conceptual ideals of an architect but it would not perform in the same way as a real building or structure. And in the end, the film is not all about the sets. They encompass plot, emotion, acting, sets, special effects etc. and if you have a ‘named’ architect design the sets, in some cases, you could end up with something overpowering.

I think it is beneficial to adapt the design ideals of an architect and perhaps consult them but not have them design the sets.


6. Question: Comment on the cinematic portrayal of the passage of time in Things to Come as compared with the methods used in Berlin and Man with a Movie Camera.

Lu Liu: Answer:

As to the aspect of time, the key difference between Things to Come and the other two movies is the former is a science fiction which depicts the imagined future while Berlin and Man with a Movie Camera are documentary movies which portray the daily life happened at that time. The difference in setting makes the cinematic portrayal of the passage of time in Things to Come very much different from which in the other two movies.

There is a big jump in time in Things to Comes which covers a totally 100 years’ future history in 97 minutes’ film, in which H.G. Wells constructs a storyline as follow:
1936 - The year the film is taken.
1940 - The outbreak of warfare.
1945, 1955, 1960 – these years pass fast while the war is going on. H.G. Wells employs the changing signage of the year numbers to indicate the passage of time.

Snapshots from Things to Come

1966 – The war is approaching the end.
1970 – The beginning of a new civilization.
2036 – Time of the setting is again indicated through the signage of the year numbers.

Snapshot from Things to Come


As we can see, there are two major jumps in the passage of time. From 1940 to 1966, 26 years passed only in 48 seconds of cinematic time (21:50 – 22:38); from 1970 to 2036, 66 years are depicted within 5 minutes in the movie (1:04:34 -1:09:37). The duration of time is selectively presented longer or shorter in order to make the story clearer and more understandable within the limited 97 minutes.

Comparing to 100 years’ passage of time in Things to Come, Berlin only reproduces a single day within 72 minutes’ cinematic time. The film is composed from five acts: very early morning, early morning, late morning, noon, and night. Similarly, the clock, instead of the year numbers in Things to Come, is employed as a signage of time through the movie. In Things to Come, the passage of time serves to organize the story; however, in film Berlin, there is no obvious story or plot going on, therefore all the purposes of organizing the movie is determined by the passage of time. The cinematic time in Berlin pays more respect to the passage of time in reality. The film is divided almost the same way to the happening of a day.

Snapshot from Berlin: Symphony of a Great City



Man with a Movie Camera is different from both Things to Come and Berlin in terms of time. It is a break from the linear film which follows an obvious storyline in Things to Come or an obvious timeline in Berlin. The cinematic time of Man with a Movie Camera is totally independent from the passage of time of any form.


  7. Question: What do you feel are the most positive aspects achieved with life in the city of the future as presented in the architecture and environment of Things to Come?

Andrew Ng: Answer:

In H.G. Wells’ presentation of the future in Things to Come, due to the war, the old world is almost completely destroyed. Everytown in 1966 is in shambles, with all of the buildings bombed out; its people dying to disease, and by 1970, humanity begins to return to the way it lived before. While humanity has regressed to a state much like the middle ages, a group of survivors continue to technologically advance themselves, building new planes even while the rest of the world has regressed.

One of the most positive things achieved in this new technologically advanced life is the idea of the community, especially with the architecture and the environment. In 2036, Everytown has become an extremely well built city underground, becoming extremely efficient and dense. As suburbia no longer exists, the community is not only well-knit; there are a lot of open spaces to enforce this community. No longer out-doors, the entire environment became open with lots of balconies and a lot of exterior open space.

The “exterior” environment then allowed all the citizens to interact with one another in many public areas. Multiple circular areas with all paths converging to it are filled up during the revolt, and one can only imagine how the large areas are used when the time is peaceful. These areas, while so large in surface area, are probably used as playfields and for leisurely activities for children and other users. In addition, all of the buildings look down towards these open areas, enforcing the idea of the community.

In addition, there are no longer places to hide from the outdoors because the entire city is built as a bubble underground. This, while not explicitly shown in the movie, breaks down the idea of the closed home and blurs the programmatic classification between public and private space. Since individual shelter no longer serves to “shelter” from the elements, the amount of time spent at home would probably be highly decreased. In addition, they noted being able to simulate the sun, potentially also blurring conventional time schedules that exist presently. This allows for more time outside and interaction with the community outside of the home.

The balconies that overlook all of the void spaces also bring the community together as the people are more aware of what is happening in the city around them and also of each other in adjacent balconies. Large public pathways also act like balconies, overlooking lower levels of the city with views of larger public spaces below. Although the city is still organized with a vertical hierarchy, the community as a whole is brought together much easier with the existence of these public spaces.


  8. Question: What do you feel are the most negative aspects achieved with life in the city of the future as presented in the architecture and environment of Things to Come?

Connor O'Grady: Answer:

The negative aspects of the future in H.G Wells’ Things to Come are mainly focused on the paradox of progress including the recollection of the events of the war.  After the War ends and the “wings of the world” start a revolution predicated on progress, the entire future is developed in a sophisticated industrial underground that resembles an inverse type metropolis.  The Architecture contains material use and geometry significant of future technologies. The use of glass and curves and steel truss systems is a testament to the forward progress and of a modern era. They leave behind the archetypes of past historical significance in development of a new style that would aid in creating a new narrative for a new city. It ignores economy and community due to a narrow minded focus of the political power.

However, the architecture and environment are both clearly marked by past experience. With the failure of automobiles in the past and the emphasis of the airplane and its relationship to war, it seems obvious that the war times instilled a fear of the past reoccurring. The underground architecture eliminates the use of nature as part of community and also avoids building large buildings up into the sky. The underground architecture also makes transparent an unnecessary need to boast the use of new technology, as building down into the ground (particularly at such depths) is much more difficult than building on the surface. It also, as the movie states, emphasizes the accomplishments of humans for artificial sun and proves that natural daylight is insignificant for the continuation of man.

The sky seems to play a particularly important role in the development of the city as it becomes representative of that which is bigger than humans and becomes the ultimate goal for those who are in charge of this new environment. The focus on progress seems to portray a disregard to the importance of the well being of humanity and the culture of the city. Although the future seems much cleaner it becomes a parallel to the war times when the people had all abandoned the ground plane in order to save themselves from being gassed.

There are some buildings that do rise above the surface, containing glass elevators and are mainly associated with buildings for technology and space travel. The environment that began its development as a stand against stagnant action or perpetual sameness begins to instill this exact same fear of progress again by ignoring the balance of technology and culture.


  9. Question: What do you feel are the most positive aspects achieved with life in the city of the future as presented in the architecture and environment of Just Imagine?

James Strong: Answer:

For all the crazy inventions that exist within the conjectured future world of Just Imagine, the makers of the movie seem to have gotten one thing right; density.  At a number of points in the movie inventions are mentioned or seen that, extrapolated from the context in which the movie presents them, points towards an extremely dense living situation; which would theoretically reduce the future societies impact on the natural world.

First and foremost it is evident that everyone lives within the metropolitan core.  Everyone (at least all of the characters depicted in the movie) lives in something much like an apartment unit, with many floors of units stacked on top of each other; a model that contrasts the suburban desires of today.  In the particular case of the movies protagonists we notice that the size of the apartment units are particularly small; further contributing to the notion of high density by restricting the apartment unit to the basic needs of its owner.

Another interesting aspect of the future presented in Just Imagine is that, because the city doesn’t depend on an infrastructure tailored to the automobile, people are able to live at extreme heights and use their hover-planes to travel through the city.  This form of travel, as seen in the movie, requires its own infrastructure but it’s nice to think that there is no longer the wasted space afforded roads and highways.  We never once see an automobile in the course of the movie, and street level seems to be tailored specifically to pedestrian traffic.  One could imagine that in this model, despite a growing world population, natural areas of the world could be preserved as cities expanded upwards instead of outwards.

Another interesting invention that comes up in the film is how the people of 1980 eat.  Food is somehow artificially compressed or manufactured into small pellets that are ingested.  At first this notion seemed preposterous, who would want to substitute eating an honest meal for something like this?  But thinking about the grand scheme of things this idea could mean that agriculture no longer exists.  Humans might not need to exhaust vast amounts of land for the purpose of growing and raising our own food sources.  Likewise enormous supermarkets are no longer required as people simply approach vending machine inventions that spit out a persons desired food choice.  One wonders, when even babies are deposited from such machines, where does the infatuation with them end? 



10. Question: What do you feel are the most negative aspects achieved with life in the city of the future as presented in the architecture and environment of Just Imagine? Why?

Eric Tai: Answer:

Considering the physical factors of Just Imagine, I think the overall loss of human sensuality with their primeval habits is one of the most negative aspects of society.
People are completely disconnected from the world which provides for them—there is no instance of nature in the metropolis, save a few potted plants and shrubs. Nature was only shown at the launch site, and on Mars. Considering the extreme urban situation, especially privatized air transportation, I wonder how the city deals with air, noise and garbage pollution.

Aside from the natural environment, citizens are also disconnected from their own bodies. Food and drink are reduced to marble-sized capsules, and whether the capsule tastes as good as the equivalent meal is arguable, but there is no experience of connection while seeing, preparing, and consuming food. Singolo summarizes nicely: “There was something to eating/drinking then. I don’t know boys, give me the good old days.”

The social environment also portrays humanity in a mockingly dystopic manner. Individuality is severely compromised; this is most obvious from the use of numbers instead of names. The upper factions also view citizens as test subjects—the marriage application is a social experiment, and the scientists did not even consider giving Singolo an identity number proceeding the success of the experiment, showing absolutely no concern for his future. If we look at the living spaces, we can see that despite the grandeur size of the apartments, there are no bedrooms. In Just Imagine, there is nowhere to hide from each other, and nowhere to hide from the law.

Alongside the loss of individuality, the essence of family is also destroyed. Never in the film do we see a family together (except Singolo’s reunion), which is further reinforced by the fact that babies are easily dispensed through vending machines. Pregnancy, and presumably childbirth, is extremely frowned upon, despite them being anthropomorphically critical for developing a bond between mother and child. Conveniently, the film does not show how children grow up—aside from that one baby, the youngest people portrayed have almost or already reached adulthood.

And despite this loss of individuality and family, sexism is wildly present in the world of Just Imagine. The image between men and women of the projected 1980 society has not changed much from the time of creation—for example, women are always gossiping about fashion and the latest trends, while it is the norm for men to be into cars and their flying replacements. Men were shown as distinguished members with power over women—according to the Just Imagine’s law, men are free to make marriage proposals, while women cannot, and in LN-18’s case, she is not even allowed to reject the proposal. With respect to roles in society, all the judges, scientists, and inventors were male, and women, if their professions were revealed to us, would either be a nurse or a census surveyor, and in all cases they were either overly sexualized or downright disrespected.

(these are my summarization notes)

Physical Environment:

Disconnect with nature—only “nature” left was the launch site and mars
(Combined with an extremely urban condition and abundance of vehicles)

Loss of connection between human senses and desires—food, drink

Social Environment:

Implied loss of individuality with numbers instead of names (although the numbers operate similar to the names)
Loss of Privacy—Grand apartment residences are extremely spacious but have no bedrooms
Experimentation with citizens—marriage law as an experiment, and resurrection as an experiment

Loss of family—vending machine babies & no children!

Sexism: men in positions of power (i.e. marriage applications)
Scientists, inventor, flight crew, judges were all men
Women: nurses, officials, if not sexual then men would be rude

Materialism—women on fashion, men on cars (also



11. Question: What aspects of the set design for the city of the future in Things to Come make the image the most believable?

Bei Wang: Answer:

Considering that the movie was made in 1936 and the futuristic scene in “The Things to Come” was set in the year 2036, much of their visions and predictions struck quite close to home. What amazed me was the way they exploited the use of glass and other transparent material to decorate the interior (especially the glass TV projection screen, considering what their television was at the time, see image). Its excessive use (such as a glass couch, although I would not be surprised if such a thing came into existence right next to the glass chairs and tables) alludes to a modern preoccupation with the reflective, refractive and transparent properties of glass. The metropolis of today demonstrates this preoccupation from our countless curtain wall towers to the tables, closets, lights, doors, and chairs with various types of glass framed into it.

german television
German Television 1958

And glass tube elevators for travelling up the towers? Almost bang on. Although much of the inventions proposed in the movie lacks the scientific, physical or mechanical systems to back it up, but for people who lacks the scientific knowledge of today, much of what is presented is not far fetched. And even for the contemporary audience, with modern technology, much of the necessary equipments to support the workings of such intricate systems are hidden from view, so that on the outside, to the average layman, things often appear seamless and an impossible feat.

But what impressed me the most was the way they depicted a spacecraft launching. Sure, they lack the necessary science to accurately portray the physics of a spacecraft launch, and hence the “space-gun”, but they have the idea to create a launch tower to lift the spacecraft. They got the proportion right, the idea that you need to produce enough thrust or propelling force to launch anything into space (unlike what we’ve seen in Just Imagine). And they got the idea that it needs to point straight up with a bullet shape vessel (unlike Just Imagine), its shape a fairly close approximation of the modern day spacecraft at launch site.

If I had not seen what the modern concept of spacecraft, I definitely would have bought into the concept of the “space-gun” pitched in this movie. With a lack of advanced scientific knowledge, it all seems believable, intuitively, to the layman. So in the end, it is dependent, partly, on the perspective of the observer or viewer. What may, or may not be believable to us as modern day audience, with our more comprehensive scientific knowledge, could be, and should be very different from the audience for whom this piece what directed.



12. Question: What aspects of the set design for the city of the future in Things to Come make the image the most UNbelievable? Why?

Stephen Wenzel: Answer:

The Set of “Things to Come” makes the movie somewhat unbelievable  by portraying the future though the lens of the 1930’s, through its tendency towards exaggeration and through its lack of attention to detail.

For the movie-goers of 1936 the set of “Things to Come” must have seemed fantastical and hard to believed when related  to their present reality. The three quarters of a century since the movie was released has only made  it more difficult to believe that the sets portray a realistic future reality. Humanity have seen a whole spectrum of technologies evolve over the last seventy five years which antiquate the set presented in the movie. Many mechanical and technological aspects of the set try to be futuristic, but end up being mere projections of 1930’s typologies onto proposed future ideals. The mining machines look lake a transformation of the common steam train while the giant projection in the underground city is run by film running over a light table set in front of an analog clock. Even the “futuristic” planes share genes with the aircrafts of the 1930’s. They are propeller driven and share a common, albeit mutated aesthetic with the planes of the period. The filmmakers minds were only  capable of carrying  recent innovations into the future; there was no way they could have accurately predicted undiscovered technologies such as the jet engine or the computer which would be discovered in the decades to come. Someone From today would likely find the future world in “Things to Come” bizarre  and hardly believable compared to where we expect to be in twenty-five years time when we catch up to H.G. Wells’ vision.

Even for the people of 1936, the sets tendency towards exaggeration may have contributed to its unbelievable nature. In an attempt to make the movie more dramatic, and to ensure that the films concepts were completely understood by the audience, the filmmakers represent everything on a grand scale. For example, the production facilities appear as  gigantic scientific laboratories, bubbling with frenzied energy. The focus is on visual dramatics, not on the efficiency of production, the true advantage that the machine brings. The sets seem like they are trying so hard to be believed that at a certain point they become unbelievable. They just seem too dramatic to be part of everyday life. Even something as simple as furniture is exaggerated. Curved sheet glass seen as the cutting edge of technology back when the movie was produced is used to create almost ever aspect of the interior futuristic set from columns to tables , to chairs and benches. Glass is used to a extent that it starts to become unbelievable in respect to its functionality. One has to ask oneself, would the future décor really look like this, or is the set just eagerly trying to convince the viewer of its own futuristic nature? Finally, The rocket launch is set up on a massive, exaggerated scale with endless bridges seemly passing and overlapping, leading nowhere, their only purpose to create spectacle. An enormous gun is used to launch a relatively minuscule space ship. Seeing the reality of NASA rocket launches, this idea seems preposterous to us now. The set’s attempt to sufficiently visualize the future though exaggeration comes at the price of believability.

Finally A level of unbelievability is brought about by the lack of attention to detail and resolution in the set design. Understandably the set designers were working with a limited budget and limited technology, nevertheless, the more detailed a scene is, the more the audience can relate to it and imagine themselves within it. The underground, future city was obviously a model with bare looking building facades, Elevators without any semblance of a mechanical system and balconies with fake trees and insufficient handrails. The interiors weren’t necessarily any more convincing with all surfaces covered in a homogeneous white plaster. The built environment appears more like a quickly constructed set rather than a meticulously planned reality. Compared to today’s science fiction, where lack of  physical detail can be fudged with computer graphics, the sets seem inadequate to portray a convincing view of the future, but  perhaps in another seventy five years people will say the same about our films.



13. Question: What aspects of the set design for the city of the future in Just Imagine make the image the most believable?

Lisa Wong: Answer:

The familiarity, scale, and detail of the set design for Just Imagine are aspects that make the image of futuristic 1980s New York believable.

Firstly, the set design for the futuristic city of Just Imagine is believable because it retains the familiar image and qualities of New York City during the 1930s as well as presently. Notably, the set echoes the existing New York City skyline by including skyscrapers that resemble those of the actual city. For example, evidence of buildings similar to the Chrysler Building as well as other similar art deco skyscrapers can be seen throughout the set. The difference between the set for the future city and the actual city during the 1930s is the obvious multiplication of the skyscrapers, both in number and in size. This speculation further promotes the believability of the set. Because there was a competitive trend to build “the world’s tallest” building in New York during the 1920s and early 1930s, it is not unrealistic to assume that this trend would continue to the 1980s and beyond.

This topic of size brings to the second aspect of the set design that makes the image of the futuristic New York even more believable, which is the scale of the built set. Although a “miniature” of New York, the designers needed to create enough of the city at a large enough scale to portray the city as a whole as well as to show scenes in which the characters fly over, through, and towards it. In conjunction to and in virtue of its size, the set is also incredibly detailed and complex. This can be seen in the detail put into the creation of every building and infrastructural component. The scene in which J-21’s plane descends next to a skyscraper gives evidence of the large scale and detail of the set design and its success in creating a city that looks realistic.

In the end, the image of futuristic New York portrayed in Just Imagine is believable. Not only is its craft impressive to the point that it seems almost realistic, the design of the city also convincing. Its design both pays homage to the New York with which any viewer of any time or age may be familiar, as well as hypothesizes and imagines a world that, although changed, is still conceivable.



14. Question: What aspects of the set design for the city of the future in Just Imagine make the image the most UNbelievable? Why?

Shuyin Wu: Answer:

The order in the city makes it most unbelievable to me, because i do not think human beings can change so drastically as become like robots. Even if we do not think and just obey the rules or madly pursue some routine, our human instinct and emotion has chaos inside itself. So it is impossible for the city to be so ordered and cleanly layered and. The city almost seems like a diagram where everything is chosen to be an abstraction. The lack of complexity and chaos makes the set most unbelievable.

Also everything looks too formal, definite, and fake like in offices, while city in real life should be not only for working but also for living authentically. The whole set feels like an illusion to avoid real feelings by making everything scientific, eternal and timeless. In reality,we are mortal and city has its own cycles which remains in the city infrastructure.

The set has no texture, no dust and no dirt, therefore no time. It is like an ignorance and looks almost static which makes it fake.  Even though things are moving, the whole appearance is still too perfect to be dynamic and changing. There is no unexpected substances that are produced such as individual creativity which implies no freedom to be different. I think the indifference may be the purposely created in order to reinforce the theme of a future city that imprisons individual freedom.



15. Question: Compare the portrayal of future communication technology in Things to Come, Just Imagine, and Metropolis. How does this feed into the success/non success of the presentation of a plausible future life in these films?

Ying Xu: Answer:

Chronologically speaking, the three films came in this order: Metropolis in 1927, Just Imagine in 1930, and Things to Come in 1936. The development in the percepts of future communication by the creators of the films is very apparent in the presentation of the architectural sets and fashion.

The sets of Metropolis are illustrated with very little detailed, like a painting of the Art Deco movement. Buildings are irregular in shape and we never really see any of the characters really interacting with the futuristic sets. The main events were taken place in the “machine”, cave, and buildings of the “current time” which included the house of the mad scientist and the cathedral of the last fight. There is no real depiction of a plausible life in this supposed future world as all futuristic ideas were constructed as the backdrop. There is also no clothing consideration in the making of the film, which induced me to feel that its futurism is forced upon the people and has not experienced the passage of time and that the different aspects of a complex society did not grow simultaneously. This also contributed in the unbelievability of a feasible future community.

Next is Just Imagine. Similarly, it used little more than perceptions of the time to construct the film and the world in it. It tries a little harder than Metropolis with the new achievement of rear projection technology to portray a fairly realistic backdrop of the conceived future city. However, in the foreground, there is still little to touch that didn’t exist in 1930. The attempts at futuristic technologies and costumes are very theatrical and over exaggerated. It succeeds as a proposition for the future but is still not plausible.

In Things to Come, there is a very clear depiction of cause and effect which makes its proposition of a future world much more believable. Also, the set is brought forth in to the foreground where people actually interact with it. The future set is simplicity and minimalist, which could have been the result of a limit on budget and technological abilities of the time, however it is done with intent and purpose quite convincingly. Along with the change in the style of clothing, the people were really brought together in to utopia.

For me, Things To Come is most successful in portraying a feasible futuristic world because it is able to abandon everything that is old and construct a completely new world from a blank canvas. There is no sign of a single brick or stone from the historical site of Everytown and satisfies that little voice in everyone that wishes to start anew.



16. Question: What are the limits on presenting impossible or unplausible urban and architectural environments in film? When are they OK? When not? Why?

Yifei Yuan: Answer:

In Things to Come, most of the times I think that the buildings are like cardboard models. Not only the impossible architecture, but also the costumes and equipments (such as tanks) are highly unreal. One of the limits is that the set design of multiplying same model makes the scene less believable. For example, many broken two-story houses are piled systematically like products on the shelves, and they appear to be the same building material and design. Will there a city with all identical architectures exists in reality? This is more like a dream. Also, there are scenes where the surrounding buildings are like a classical Rome city except that they are broken columns and pavilions. I think the architecture in the firm needs more variety. Even if they are representing urban situations after a war, this is insufficient in presenting the detail. Everything is like a fake stage design.

Another factor is that the limits of showing the detail. Most of the buildings or interior furniture is like a 3D version cartoon. They do not seem to be alive, or at least physically holds. All those air plane, laser shooting machine, and spacecraft seems too simplified. They are like the parametric design which cannot be made in reality.  In Things to come, it seems OK when the scene shifts to interior, especially the interior of the futuristic living complex. Because interior has less unbelievable large picture of bird’s eye view, in which every piece of the object can be observed. The future living complex is like a big shopping mall designed by Zaha Hadid, with horizontal elevator flying in between buildings. The way they represent this interior feature is more realistic than Metropolis, and it is fine with less detail because they are showed in a style of highly fluidity, the numbers of concrete panel does not really matter. In Just Imagine, the interior is realistic in ways of how the setting engaging the activity. And more detail is showed on how and what they are.

In a film, the city cannot turn onto a reality as long as one-sidedness exists and viewer’s visual access is limited to a certain degree. When the environment is too simplified, there is a level of one-sidedness. It lacks shadow which makes the scene real.  Another limit is that the architecture is just an advanced miniature of a drawing, it lacks depth and layers. The worst is that they almost seems flat and without volume. They are like a wall paper hinging behind actors. Just Imagine gives a similar urban design as Metropolis, tall masonry building with road flying in between them. But a scene, where the air plane stopped at a building roof and the background is like a picture of buildings with flying planes, is completely unbelievable. Even the sky seems discontinued from the foreground. The architecture or setting cannot be realistic when events are not interconnected with the setting.  Flat background is fine for interior where less spatial actions are happened. In Just Imagine, the architecture is more focused on high technology of living.



18. Question: Comment on the portrayal of machinery in Things to Come in comparison with that in Metropolis. How are they the same/different? How does this impact our reading of society in the respective films?

Jian Zhao: Answer:

The social collectives of Things to Come and of Metropolis viewed the functionality of machines/technology very differently. In Things to Come, machines were used as a source destruction. Their society viewed it as a method of expanding their power. The machines were often referred to as clumsy things, and often the result of use was very chaotic. Their belief was that through the deconstruction of old civilizations, new civilizations can built in its place.  The social values of this particular film placed importance on progress and on constantly making the push for human advancement.

In Metropolis, the quest for “Paradise” was already achieved, thus eliminating the need for further technological advancements. The city was in a state of peace with no external conflicts from the outside world. In fact, life from outside the walls of Metropolis was never mentioned in the film. Machines in this respective film were utilized to sustain civilization, rather than to destroy it. The hand of power is also different between the two films. Metropolis is visualized as a living entity, one massive machine that thrived off of its workers. The city was constructed in a very systematic way and the workers that sustained the machine reflected that ideology. They often functioned like machines themselves.

However in Things to Come, mans relation with the machines were as their tools. Its respective society showed of more natural instincts. They had desires to expand their territory, to create their own identity and then to protect it.  This sort of behaviour in Metropolis ironically was what that destroyed it. The rebellious acts of the workers resulted to the city’s demise, and ultimately their own when the city was submerged in water. When the workers failed to do their part, the city crumbled as a result. When technology failed in Things to Come, civilization ultimately crumbled.

A similarity of the two films was the presences of class differentiation. The civilians of Metropolis were separated in two classes, the workers and members of management. The workers were in direct contact with the machines while the people of management lived high up in their skyscrapers, far away from what was happening below. This division of society is also evident in Things to Come when warlord “Boss” forces the local mechanic to repair his airplanes. However this interaction was at a much more intimate level.



19. Question: In Things to Come, given its point in history, why do you feel such focus has been made on the importance of gasoline powered transportation and the impact that the lack of fuel will make on the future of civilization?

Carlo Pasini: Answer:

The film: Things to Come, was made during the Interwar period, on the outset of a possible second World war. The development of gasoline powered transportation in that time enabled the use of greater speed and performance; it helped build the inertia to, and created the difference in purpose for the Second World War. Such importance has been made by the film to focus on this central motif, because of its allusion to the relationship Metropolis has towards resources and usages of technology. As such, we can deduce some insight as to the impact that the loss of such a commodity would have on our future.

Following the first world war, there was a resources crisis, due to the land being ravaged by bombs and trenches and the pollutants like Mustard Gas. The empires during the interwar period saw the abundance of raw materials and food stock in Africa and other colonies as the solution. The question of mobilization of these goods became a central issue and stimulated a lot of research and technological development. The spark-plug, enabled more flammable octane-liquid fuel (gasoline) to be used in generating higher horsepower instead of its cetane (diesel) counterpart. The French spent their time during that period developing turbojet/prop/fan engines based on axial-flow for cargo planes that could use low flash-point fuels (kerosene).The British and Americans acquired the scientist from germany and italy to develop Nuclear technologies. 

This censored mobilization of goods also became a central issue of conflict; where as WWI was about re-drawing the boarders of East and West Europe and their colonies for resources, WWII can be seen as being prompted by fear and grudge that such access to abundant resources could create limitless expansion and monopoly on technological commodities.There was exceeding pressure over the oil resources in the middle east and transportation routes to Europe. The Germans began their railway from Bagdad to Berlin, soon before the French, British and Russians started the cross-Iranian railway. This relationship betweem fuel and stimulus and how “you can overdo a stimulus” is alluded to a lot in the beginning of the film. A pun on Mustard Gas and gasoline as over-stimulants, used by the Italians in starting war with Ethiopia and the German's expanding into France, is used in the double-entendre radio statement as to the cause for the war: “Orders for a general mobilization have been issued and the precautionary civilian organization against gas will at once be put into operation.”

Just like during WWI when the Allies cut of trade routes delivering fertilizer to Germany, and the Germans created synthetic industries to create nitrates from air: the Allies found reason with WWII to stifle their abundant resource of gasoline. This prompted  Germany to enter Poland and Scandinavia to secure resources in metal, food, and charcoal, to make synthetic fuels. The British and Americans, who had the un-interrupted flow of raw materials to build and fuel these gasoline-powered transportations and rockets, were ultimately able to end all of that development.

This central motif, of the cycle obtaining resources for development and then attempting to restrict it, is carried through in the rest of the film. Cabal's character returns on expedition, scouting the area for people, petrol and land. After dropping the sleeping gas to acquire these resources, progress is once again able to restart itself. This continues on for a while until people become fed-up and try to sabotage the moon program “to end progress.” The cold war saw similar attribution over liberated countries that had resources in cheap-labour, coffee, fruits and some oil, as well as the race to the moon for what was herald in 1948 as the place to most likely have abundant nuclear fuel which was confirmed after the first moon samples carried high levels Hydrogen-3. Current conflicts in Congo over Cobalt, because it fuels the Medicine industry, the Moon program, and CERN research programs, demonstrates the major conflicts are over resources that support the markets of developing technologies, because it is cheaper to conquer a place with existing abundant resources and ship them back, than trying to grow them in rations, recycle for them, or produce them synthetically.

This unbridled attempts for economic stability and improved livelihood for the masses living in the Metropolis at the expense of non-urbanized “friendly to foreign interest” states is still a real scenario. For people to enjoy commodity, the availability, production and distribution must meet the demand but not exceed the market's capability. As such, non-unionized parts of the world must remain independent sovereign states for their double-edge foreign policies unless the cost to do so is greater than tax-benefits from incorporating and protecting into the Union. If all fails, the status quo reverses, but the Metropolis continues – like Dubai. This irony in progressing such agendas is alluded to by the Enemy pilot.

Cabal says: “We don't believe in Independent sovereign states,” but the solution he presents is not marginalization of lands to people and Unions, instead: a mega-metropolis. The entire premise of a Metropolis, from the oil pipe-lines, to the shipping ports, to the central airports, to hydro/gas/water supplies that span entire continent from their source, is a places who's arteries extend out with waste, who's veins carry in refined good, for the possibility of the function of social/political and intellectual purposes that only serve meaning between the spectacles of metropolises. It is much like a person. Which is the real question discussed in the final lines of the film: “It is this, or that,” the impact of the lack of fuel will have on our society is either to use entire spans of land to service the few living in the metropolis, perhaps import fuels from outer-space, or simply not have metropolis cities anymore and return to snatch each scrap of happiness, and live, suffer, and pass, mattering no more than all the other animals.” 



20. Question: Do you find the structure and hierarchy of the society of the future, as presented in Things to Come, believable in present terms? Believable based on the time of the writing of the script?

Nicholas Savage: Answer:

The future hierarchy of the world has been broken back down into its smallest components, as an anti thesis to a utopian UN style world govenment the UK has broken down into self regulating segments perpetually at war with each other. As a child of North America where conflict on our soil collectively amounts to almost nothing as compared to the destruction that europe felt over the course of the great wars It seems impossible to believe that society would scale back so drastically. This altered world view that forsees such a dark future can can be seen as an extension of what would have already seemed an impossibility the bombing of London, which at the time was still the centre of the western world. This apocolyptic view may have been closer to truth than fiction as the “blitz” that was to destroy millions more houses in London and kill hundreds of thousands was still five years away.

The utter brutality of the first world war and the fear of further confilict (which did eventually come with the second world war in 1939) puts the collective mind of Britain at 1936 in a very unstable world what was once thought to be impossibility now becomes possibility. The Flu Pandemic of 1918 less than 20 years past killed 100 million world wide, 6% of the global population, a larger number than the black plauge. The wandering sickness is the logical extension of the effect this disaster combined with the gassing in world war one, which started with the Germans but was adopted and even carried out by the British in 1915 in the form of chlorine. the attempt was a disaster, wind proved to be fickle and canisters that were unable to be deployed were later hit with german shells causing british casualties.

With all the catastrophe in recent memory and hanging above in the form of the coming second world war was more than enough to imangine a range of possible futures far ranging and affected by the potential blight of the world.


21. Question: Architecture, as it is presented in film, is able to propose and promote design in a way that is not realistically possible with actual building. Do you think that Things to Come exerted influence on the development of modern architectural projects of the 1930’s and 40’s. Can you cite any built examples that exhibit similarities with the presentation of futuristic architecture in the film?

Nicole Bruun-Meyer: Answer:

There is no question as to which architects and styles influenced the film Things to Come, however it is harder to answer the question about its ensuing influence on the built environment.  Vincent Korda, the Art Director and Production Designer for the film, was heavily influenced by Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse, as well as the Bauhaus style of design.  The Modernist and International style of Architecture, with their clean lines and minimalist aesthetic, were also used to represent Korda’s idea of the future.  Due to these strong references to existing ideas about design and architecture, it is hard to separate the influence of this particular film on the architecture of the time versus a general leaning towards the more modernist materials and ideals. 

Le Corbusier’s influence on the architectural style of the film is very apparent, even though he rejected the offer of designing them.  As well, the artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, known for his ‘futuristic’ pieces had been commissioned to design the sets for the making of Future Everytown, although most of his scenes were eventually left on the cutting room floor.  We can see by the use of glass, concrete and minimalist design that the ‘future’ that the film wanted to present is one of progress, technology and sterility. 

What was a new idea in the film was the notion of building the new city into the ground, rather than the tall skyscrapers that had traditionally been seen in this genre.  Compared to Metropolis, where only the working class lived below ground, under the city, Future Everytown has been completely rebuilt with a new ground plane under the earth.  By doing this, the buildings in the film needed a new ‘public space’ on the ground level, a way to create an exterior space within the confines of the building envelope.  This led to the large atrium feel of the main building, with balconies on each level that look out into this space and the glass elevator shaft that rises up.  It is this design feature that can maybe most likely been seen in the architecture following the making of the film.  With the increase in large office buildings and hotels, where gaining natural light into the middle of the deep floor plans were essential, there was an increase in the use of large communal atrium spaces that provided a place for social activity. 

However, most of the architectural projects, which may have been influenced by the film, did not happen in the 1930’s or 40’s, but rather later, as Modernism as an architectural style gained more popularity.  Buildings, such as many of John Portman’s hotels, seen above, Murphy/Helmut Jahn’s John Thompson Centre in Chicago or Lloyds of London by Richard Rogers all have monumentally large atrium spaces with overlooking balconies at each level and exposed elevators.  In an essay be Robert Craig, he says of ‘Modern Pop’ Architecture, “Exaggerated space design might present exhilarating urban canyons, gigantic lobby atrium spaces, or open elevator tubes in which to propel tourists to a cocktail bar in the stars, as John Portman’s resort hotels and convention centers have popularized.”  This statement can also aptly describe the ‘Monumental’ style of buildings in this film.

It is interesting that, with Future Everytown, the film Things to Come demonstrates a sort of war against Nature; that science will prevail over the natural world.  The act of designing these indoor atrium spaces, as if they were streetscapes or town squares, is significant in its removal of access to the outdoors for the citizens of Future Everytown. 

The buildings in the film also demonstrate to the audience an idea of the social structure of the town, with a sort of hierarchical strata of its citizens.  The walkways that crossed the atrium spaces allowed for a separation of circulation, which in the film separates the scientists, which rule the city, from the increasingly temperamental citizens who inhabit it.  This idea of separated circulation was used both successfully, and not, throughout the Modernist era.  The balconies that circle above the atrium space allow for the idea of transparency, as everyone can see each other, but it is also a modified version of the Panopticon, as those who run the city can look down upon the people below. 


Bergfelder, Tim et al. Film, Architecture and the Transnational Imagination: Set Design in the 1930s European Cinema. Amsterdam University Press, 2007

Craig, Robert M. “Making Modern Architecture Palatable in Atlanta: POPular Modern Architecture from Deco to Portman to Deco Revival”, Journal of American Culture, Volume 11, Issue 3, Fall 1988. Pg. 19-33

Craig, pg. 19



22. Question: Both Things to Come and Just Imagine take a different approach to describing the state of fashion in their respective times than might be said of the future as it is presented in Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Speak to the relative success/non success of the approaches to costuming in the films.

Andrea Nagy: Answer:

The costuming choices in Things to Come and Just Imagine, particularly in the latter halves of the films, depict a more or less futuristic view of the day’s fashion, which is taken at times almost to a point of absurdity. In Things to Come, the onscreen portrayal of fashion in the year 2036 has clearly been influenced by the art deco style of the 20’s and 30’s, as well as futurist techniques. For instance, as seen in the pristine, underground city of the future, most inhabitants wear similar Neoclassical-type costumes, albeit with a modern twist, such as togas, sandals, and tiara-shaped headbands, which obviously borrow heavily from the fashion of the Roman period. In fact, the only truly modern elements include the oversized metallic belts and shoulder pads. The historical references made with respect to costuming potentially illustrate the director’s admiration for the Roman Empire itself at the height of its power. A parallel can thus be drawn between the utopic, and holistic nature of the Everytown of the future to the strength, solidarity, and dominance of the Empire at its peak. The parallel is further reinforced in the emphasis the story places on the group rather than the individual, including when it comes to individual style.

Just Imagine takes a slightly less radical approach to the costuming of the future, at least up until J-21, RT-42, and Single 0 reach the surface of Mars and encounter its inhabitants. As with all films made at any given point in time, the imagination of the director and costume designer will be limited to, or at the least influenced by, contemporary examples. In Just Imagine, this is evidenced in the pilot gear that people wear while flying their personal planes, as well as the latex space suits worn by the trio on their trip to Mars. In other words, if we were to compare the reality of aero- and astronautical flight wear of the early 30’s to how it is portrayed in the film, we would undoubtedly discover a striking resemblance between the reality and the fiction. There are a few specific moments in the film that perhaps best captures this discrepancy between a realistic representation of future fashion and the film’s biased one. The first occurs when RT’s girlfriend, D-6, shows off her new, revolutionary outfit, which is in fact nothing more than a reversible dress. And the second takes place at J-21 and RT-42’s pre-flight party, where a woman is seen wearing the so-called latest fashion of the day; a black dress cut so low that it almost reveals too much.

In Metropolis, Fritz Lang offers the viewer a significantly different version of the future, as well as future fashion. Other than in the case of the machine-man, there really is no futuristic undercurrent at play in any of the costuming choices as found in either Things to Come or Just Imagine. In fact, the various members of the ‘Club of Sons’ wear antiquated and almost Victorian-era inspired costumes. Here, the director may be making an allusion to the exaggerated notion that these elite few deserve to revel in a lavish and carefree environment akin to the kind that were occasionally found on wealthy estates during Victorian times. The rest of the costumes are quite generic and differ significantly only when representing differences in class. Ultimately, the costuming in Metropolis was clearly not seen as a crucial means by which to depict the future zeitgeist, as seems to have been the case in the other two movies.

In terms of the success of costuming in Things to Come and Just Imagine, I would argue that the former provides a fairly outlandish perspective of future fashion and thus does not fully succeed in depicting a realistic futuristic scenario. However, with that being said, the creativity in design, as evidenced for example by the square-shoulder togas and giant space helmet-look, should not be under-appreciated. The film does well in anticipating many events in human history, but I do believe that the over-the-top, utopic nature of its thesis eventually lowers its credibility on multiple fronts, including on the fashion one. As for Just Imagine, I would almost argue that the opposite is true in that the film could have been more ambitious in its portrayal of the fashion of the times. This theory again does not apply to the Martian costumes, though one could contend that their extravagance actually makes up for the lack of imaginative effort applied to the human costuming. Ultimately, I believe that the film’s portrayal of fashion is even less successful than in Things to Come simply because it is nothing more than a superimposed version of the off-screen situation at the time of its filming.



Things to Come

Just Imagine



23. Question: Compare the use of materials in Things to Come with Just Imagine as far as inferring a futuristic society as contrasted to the high end of Architectural design of the period in which they were filmed. Do you think one is more successful than the other? Why?

Ningxin Zhu: Answer:

The 30s was a period of dramatic changes in society.  The architectural designs of the time were products of the fast advancement of science and technology – the use of new materials such as glass, steel and concrete, the mode of mass production and the prefabrication of building materials. The films Things to Come of 1935 by H. G. Wells and Just Imagine of 1930 both presented a striking utopian futuristic city in accordance with the current trend of architectural style.

Influenced strongly by the masters of modern architectures of the time, Things to Come portrayed the future as an underground city with stark white skeleton “soaring skyscrapers” (in this case, underground) surrounded by weaving elevated highways, glass elevator shafts and organic forms.  Viewing Everytown in 2036 as the airplanes approaching from above, the city is laid out with a strong emphasis on geometry with its streets radiating from the centre – a layout similar to the idea of Ville Radieuse proposed by one of the prominent figures of modern architecture, Le Corbusier.  His conceptual design included dense living with sixty-storey towers, allowing an open park-like ground plane, with transportation systems relegated in the air – very much like the scene depicted in Everytown with the main open square and its enclosing “ribcage-like” high-rises.  The International Style was also a source of inspiration for the sets.  New materials, articulated construction techniques and forms, and the emphasis on simple white buildings that were devoid of ornament and the negligence of the local architecture were trademarks of the style.  The city of Everytown, at first glance, is a city of no walls but skeletons of steel, screens of glass and solid white panels, which closely evokes Mies van der Rohe’s theoretical glass tower that explores the new modern materials - glass, steel and concrete.  However, in the scenes depicting the construction of the 2036 Everytown, the actual materials are revealed.  The city is constructed not of metal and rivets, but by chemistry.  Liquids bubbling in giant retorts and are poured into moulding machines.  They emerge as great slabs, immensely strong, which are welded together into walls.  Cities are built out of test tubes, and mass produced prefabricated materials; the carpenter, bricklayer, and steelworker have long been relegated to the discard.

Similar to Things to Come, the futuristic city portrayed in Just Imagine also used the modern materials of glass, steel and concrete and showed a style remnisciant of the early fathers of modern architecture - strong emphasis on geometry in terms of street layout and soaring skyscrapers.  However, the proposition for the future took a road dramatically different from that of Things to Come.  Not built underground, the city of Just Imagine rose towards the sky.  Taking direct references from New York, Just Imagine depicted the character of the buildings as Modern motif.  The layout of buildings and avenues are more regular and widely spaced, showing all characteristics of New York in the 30s.  The buildings are taller and lighter with large glass expanses and steel structures.  Unlike in Things to Come, where there is a twist in the actual composition of the material used in constructing the city, the materials used in Just Imagine are in every way replicating the reality - the glass is made of glass; steel is steel.

Through the use of the modern materials, both films depict a futuristic society that resonances with the contemporary architecture of its time, however, put forth dramatic propositions for the future.  I believe in terms of contrasting the high end of architectural design of the period, Things to Come is more successful than Just Imagine.  The proposition was more visionary in Things to Come — instead of the ultra skyscraper that people have seen many times before, the city of Everytown is built completely underground.  Even through the built forms resonance with many aspects of the reality, a city like Everytown has yet to be built; it is something unprecedented.  In addition, because of the angles this futuristic city was filmed, only fragments of Everytown were depicted – the prominent urban square and the surrounding “ribcage-like” building structures.  The film never revealed the city as whole, other than the fact that it is underground.  Is that the entire buildup of Everytown?  How tall are the towers or in this case how deep underground?  And are there other pockets existing that are not shown?  The answers cannot be found in the film; it is all up to the viewer’s imagination in picturing the futuristic underground layout as a whole.  In terms of materiality, there is a twist in the actual composition of what is conceived as glass or steel, which evoke many possibilities of things in the future.  On the contrary, instead of contrasting the current style, the proposition in Just Imagine was more grounded in reality, taking many cues from New York City.  The film gave a complete picture of the city by showing grids and the skylines.  In that sense, the picture is given, and the viewers are able to make strong connections to the built metropolis of New York, even in the materials used.  Therefore, I feel Things to Come is more successful in challenging the vision of what a futuristic city should be in contrasting to what is already built.

Frayling, Christopher.  Things to Come.  BFI Publishing, London, Great Britain,  1995.
Le Corbusier, translated by James Palmes. Le Corbusier My Work. The Architectural Press, London, 1960.
Neumann, Deitrich.  Film Architecture from Metropolis to Blade Runner.  Prestel- Verlag, Munich, Germany, 1999.



updated 27-Dec-2010 8:15 PM

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