Megalopolis | Francis Ford Coppola’s risky epic takes inspiration from HG Wells

megalopolis hg wells things to come
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A reference point for Francis Ford Coppola’s $120m epic Megalopolis was the 1936 sci-fi classic, Things To Come, written by HG Wells.

Given its title and city-of-the-future setting, our initial assumption was that Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis took some inspiration from Fritz Lang’s hugely influential 1927 film, Metropolis. It turns out, though, that Coppola is drawing on a slightly less celebrated speculative sci-fi film – 1936’s Things To Come, written by HG Wells.

It’s a small yet intriguing detail which emerged in Vanity Fair’s new piece on Coppola’s upcoming opus – a famously risky project with a budget of around $120m.

Although Coppola has drawn on a rich stew of writers and filmmakers for Megalopolis, about a visionary architect’s ambition to rebuild a Manhattan-like city shattered by disaster, Things To Come is one the director singles out for praise.

“The seeds for Megalopolis were planted when as a kid I saw HG Wells’s Things To Come,” Coppola told the outlet. “This 1930s Korda [Alexander Korda, producer] classic is about building the world of tomorrow, and has always been with me, first as the ‘boy scientist’ I was and later as a filmmaker.”

Based on HG Wells’ 1933 novel The Shape Of Things To Come, Things To Come was an extraordinarily ambitious movie for its day. Beginning in 1940, it foresees a UK all but destroyed by a world war and a subsequent pandemic. Over the course of several decades, it then details how humanity gradually rebuilds, with a utopian city emerging and scientists eventually embarking on a Moon shot project in the 21st century.

Directed by William Cameron Menzies, Things To Come is packed with some unforgettable images, including fighter planes gliding over British fields – seemingly anticipating The Blitz – and a svelte futuristic city to rival the one seen in Metropolis.

In Megalopolis, Coppola fuses this utopianism with a story from ancient Rome, in which an economically ailing empire was almost brought down by the insurrectionist, Catiline.

“I settled on the idea of a Roman epic,” Coppola said. “And then later, a Roman epic set in modern America, so I really only began writing this script, on and off, in the last dozen years or so.”

It’s quite a heady, grand-sounding film, then, and one that has already left studio heads nonplussed at early screenings. Megalopolis has found distribution in France, while streaming giants Amazon and Apple could still be in the running to distribute it elsewhere. All the same, there’s a general feeling among those who’ve seen the movie that it faces a difficult commercial future ahead of it. Megalopolis makes its debut at Cannes on the 17th May. Its future prospects are likely to hinge on its reception at the festival.

In the meantime, do check out Things To Come. It’s a frosty yet fascinating vison of the future.

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