Beyond the Earth…Beyond the Moon…Beyond Your Wildest Imagination!
Boring Buck Rogers kitsch, '70s style, which should have H.G. Wells spinning in his grave that his good name ever got attached to The Shape Of Things To Come. Send your thank you cards to the fine folks at Blue Underground!
Facts of the Case
Sometime in the future, the moon is covered by domed cities and the Earth has been devastated. (How? Don't ask. It just is.) The prime colony of New Washington is having an otherwise idyllic day when a robot-piloted cargo ship decides that it would rather try to fly into the colony than simply orbit. (No, the robot is not from Lost in Space, why do you ask?) This unfriendly act is followed up by a message from power-crazed Ormus (Jack Palance), who has taken control of a planet that is the sole source of a wonder drug required to sustain life on the moon as well as Earth: Surrender or die!
The moon men aren't too keen on dying, but dithering Senator Smedley (John Ireland) (from New Paris, perhaps?) and the omniscient computer that seems to rule the moon aren't keen on the plans of Doctor John Caball (Barry Morse), either. Dr. Cabal wants to take an untested super ship to go and defeat the dastardly Ormus. He wants it very badly indeed, and ends up disobeying the stiff-and-chip duo with help from his son Jason (Nicholas Campbell) and his friend Nikki (Carol Lynley). All they have to do is get to Ormus' planet (Delta Three), let some more Lost in Space robots wave their arms at them, meet some locals, defeat Ormus, reprogram his robot army, and flee with a load of wonder drug. Simple, right?
When faced with a tough spot, many Star Trek writers revert to the tried and true escape hatch: lots of hand waving dressed in techno speak gobbledygook. I could only wish that the writers of The Shape Of Things To Come had bothered trying to explain hard questions with hand waving. They simply decided to skip the hand waving, throw in a shower of impressive but meaningless pseudo-scientific words, and pray no one noticed. They should have prayed harder. Much harder. (Then again, even the Catholic patron saint of lost causes, St. Jude, might have given up!) When you see a blatant typo in the opening seconds of a film, that is a sure sign your next hour and a half is doomed to become an adventure in despair.
How/why is humanity now living in huge domed cities on moon? How was the Earth devastated (and why)? Why is the wonder drug needed by both Earth and moon residents? Why is Ormus' planet the only source of the drug? Is there any possibility of an alternative to the drug? If humans have the ability to colonize another planet (hence Ormus), why is finding a reliable ship able to reach far enough to go fight Ormus and his robot army a problem? Why is a super smart computer in control of the New Washington colony? Who is this limp woman running around Delta Three with a band of intrepid souls, avoiding the Ormus Chunky Robot Army? Why am I asking you all these questions? Because you will hardly find the answers (or the questions, for that matter) in this script, and therein is a serious flaw in The Shape Of Things To Come, but sadly not the only flaw.
Nobody expects a twenty year old sci-fi film to have stunningly realistic effects, but to keep things into perspective, Star Wars came out two years earlier. By comparison, The Shape Of Things To Come has effects that seem to have been put together by a gang of two year olds wielding cans of paint, a few model kits, glue guns, and cast offs from Lost in Space and Dr. Who. The costumes are only modestly less silly, with a strong Buck Rogers flavor (in other words, eschew practicality or style—go for silliness!). You have to love sci-fi babes with perfectly coiffed hair and make up running around planets with high-heeled boots and pajama uniforms.
One wag, I believe at IMDb, refers to the pairing here of Jason Cabal and Nikki as Ken and Barbie in Space, and that's spot on! Then again, considering the wooden acting in The Shape Of Things To Come, the plastic talents of Ken and Barbie may very well have been an improvement. Sometimes, when the director has little to work with in the meat puppet department, you expect a painfully amateurish effort, but The Shape Of Things To Come does not even have that excuse.
Barry Morse (The Fugitive, Space: 1999) has established a solid career after transplanting to Canada in the 1950s, and at times in The Shape Of Things To Come you see flashes of his quality. Sadly, moments of poise and thoughtfulness are smothered by his painfully overacted torture scene (reminiscent of Harry Dunne in Dumb and Dumber) and the generally awful props and dialogue he must use. Likewise, Jack Palance (Shane, Batman, City Slickers) has the maniacal glee and rough look to play a heavy, but when you dress him up in slick fabrics, put a Plexiglas blender over his head, and get him to babble at his "army" of Lost in Space robots, shaking with laughter, not fear, is the probable result. Morse and Palance disappoint, but even their failure is worthier than the simply banal performances from the rest of the cast, except perhaps Sparks, the robot. Such a solid, steely performance!
The anamorphic video looks fine for its age, with soft grain and sprinkles of blips, letting you see the film in full glorious cheese. The typical mono track, tinny and flat but otherwise clear, as you might expect, is par for the course.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Perhaps the bounteous extra content will intrigue you, making you forget the exquisitely painful film? Ah, well, you see, funny thing about that, but a French theatrical trailer and a TV spot for The Shape Of Things To Come and a small gallery of photos (color and b&w) and posters are all we could unearth.
Embarrassing acting, mysterious scriptwriting, and ultra-cheesy effects are potentially forgivable, but the worst sin of all is that The Shape Of Things To Come takes itself seriously. If insomnia rules your world or you have a need for an emergency coaster, then try The Shape Of Things To Come. Otherwise, put it down, and pull slowly away. How far? How about Cleveland?
I've seen The Shape Of Things To Come, and it's not pretty. I order this defendant confined in solitary confinement lest its horrible visage turn an unsuspecting viewer to stone. Meanwhile, I demand 98 minutes of my life back!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
• French Theatrical Trailer
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