The Shape of Things to Come (1979)

ShapeOfThingsToComePosterI think that space stud Jason Caball summed it up best when he gasped, “what the hell just happened!” during this film which was distinctly un-inspired by anything H.G. Wells ever penned. While Jason was technically referring to the mysterious magnetic storm that his star ship (the prissily-named Star Streak) had just endured, he could have simply been referring to everything else that happened in this late seventies spasm of deep space spunk that made you wonder whether Jack Palance’s character was wearing an evil sneer or simply a barely suppressed grin.

On one level, I admire a film that manages to let us in on the fact that it’s going to be inducing our gag reflex right from the beginning when one of those dopey bits of background text scrolls by on the screen. It informs us that the time is the tomorrow after tomorrow and that Earth has been wrecked by the last of the big robot wars. Crap! The tomorrow after tomorrow you say? That gives me like only 48 hours to get all joined up on the war against robots, doesn’t it?

For those of us lucky enough to survive the last of the great robot wars, civilization has been rebuilt on the moon. But now everyone requires a special drug to combat radiation and this drug can only be found on the planet Delta III!

Here’s the only real hitch in this little future of theirs. As you have no doubt probably already guessed, the movie eventually ends up on Delta III. Guess what type of planet Delta III is? It looks pretty much like Earth does and people run around the wilderness without problems or need for space suits!


So why would you use all your resources to build special domes on the moon and worry about shipping all this anti-radiation drug back to the moon and then on to Earth to assist the survivors? All that time and money could have been spent sending everyone to Delta III. This also avoids another problem. Namely, a crazed blue cape wearing Jack Palance declaring himself the dictator of the planet.

Let’s just say though that I can ignore the glaring stupidity of the movie’s central concept and evaluate it solely based on everything that occurs after the first sixty seconds. First of all, when your movie begins with Dr. Caball (space stud Jason Caball’s father) arguing with Senator Smedley of the Moon Council about his experimental spaceship, the Star Streak, you aren’t exactly breaking a sweat trying to draw me into things.

This movie had three writers credited to it (not counting poor old dead H.G. Wells) and the best they could come up was a Moon Council and Senator Smedley? Whether you find Palance’s character’s name of Omus or the name of the master computer (Lomax) worse is a matter of personal preference. And I’m sure a fair portion of you will feel like you just took a ride on the vomit comet when the robot sidekick is christened “Sparks” by a giggly Kim Smedley (daughter of Senator Smedley).


You could probably forgive poor character names though if the rest of the movie wasn’t even worse. The theme music is that disco space-stuff that was also used to such ill effect during other projects like the next year’s The Martian Chronicles miniseries. Everyone is decked out in those ugly jumpsuits all morons who make cheap sci-fi movies seem to think we’ll be wearing in ten years. The sets are embarrassing in their primitive display of electronic equipment, and all the chairs look to be office furniture. (Except for the chairs in the Star Streak which look like office furniture that have over the shoulder seatbelts installed on the them.)

Most egregious though has to be that despite the fact this was made in 1979, it easily looks worse than movies made one and two decades before. The special effects are like something cobbled together for an Italian space movie and don’t come close to what was accomplished more than ten years before in movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey or the later Silent Running, let alone the more contemporary Star Wars. And just like an Italian space flick, they aren’t shy about lingering on the bad effects.

The robots, who play a major role in things, look more primitive than Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet, which came out in the 1950s! Watching folks alternately pretend to be beaten up by these things and just ducking under their floppy arms and running off only makes you think that maybe the great robot wars weren’t really all that great.


The movie takes all these technical deficiencies and wraps them around a story that will leave you wishing there was a suspended animation option the audience could select for the duration of the movie. After a way too long set up on the moon, the Star Streak flies off for Delta III to fight Omus, but makes a completely needless and really long detour to Earth for spare parts or something.

Sparks’ doltish attempts at comic relief along with old Dr. Caball’s speechifying about ancient Greeks and the vastness of space make for one of those long trips where you wish you had an in flight movie and a pair of headphones. That it was all building toward a confrontation with a cackling Jack Palance and his army of six clumsy robots, made it all the more painful. This is a movie only a dude named Smedley could love.

© 2014 MonsterHunter

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