I have two words to describe "H. G. Wells' The Shape of Things to Come": oh, brother. I felt certain when I discovered that it was made in Canada in the wake of "Star Wars" with Jack Palance as an evil overlord, that the movie had extreme cheese potential, and not only was I right I had no idea how right I was. Of all the films I would have loved to see MST3K deal with this has to top the list.
The film starts with a ponderous crawler explaining the background of the film. In a nutshell we learn that the Earth has been destroyed in the great robot wars, that man has colonized the moon, and that (for some never explained reason) the human race is wholly dependent on the supply of a miracle drug, RADIC-Q-2, which is only made on distant planet Delta Three. What could possibly go wrong? After seeing the extremely cheesy credits (they are reminiscent of the original "Battlestar Galactica" without the realism), which reveal that the film stars Jack Palance, Carol Lynley, and Barry Morse, you get no extra points for figuring out that the correct answer is, of course, Jack Palance.
The film opens in "New Washington" the home of the new lunar government, headed by "The Master Computer" whose name is Lomax. The control center reminded me of the spaceship set from "Space Mutiny" (although, again, much less realistic), but I had no idea that was the tip of the iceberg of ludicrousness. There is political intrigue afoot (in a situation that actually does mirror reality) when boneheaded Senator Smedley (John Ireland) tells brilliant scientist Dr. John Caball (Barry Morse) that the defense budget is being cut as it's unnecessary, effectively canceling the nearly complete "Starstreak" project. Within minutes of the discussion, a robot plows a spaceship into New Washington. Fortunately the control center managed to get the entire city evacuated in less than nine minutes (!) and the damage repaired in even less time.
Senator Smedley's hot progeny Kim (Anne-Marie Martin, who using good judgment, is credited as "Eddie Benton") reassembles the robot that flew the spaceship and changes his circuits around until he speaks in poetry and flowery prose (he calls her "Dark Lady of the Sonnets," which gets annoying very quickly). Since he's so adorable, she names him "Sparks." Sparks can disappear and reappear at will using "Bi-Locational Transference" or "BLT." (Really.) It turns out that Sparks was created by Omus (Jack Palance) as part of his robot corps, and in a blackmail plot sent the ship to crash into the moon. All he wants in return for the lifesaving RADIC-Q-2 is to be made supreme commander of the moon. Senator Smedley tells him that's out of the question, but has no other option. (Thanks for cutting the defense budget, Senator.) Even Lomax has no ideas about what to do. Fortunately Dr. Caball does.
Dr. Caball exposes himself to radioactive Cobalt-60 in the Starstreak reactor, but doesn't bother with the necessary RADIC-Q-2 antidote, and is doomed to a painful death. Worse, we're doomed to watch it. He, plus his son Jason (Nicholas Campbell), Kim, and Sparks steal the Starstreak to mount a wholly unauthorized attack on Omus's planet. Meanwhile, Niki (Carol Lynley, who is one of the worst actresses in all of history), the overthrown Governor of Delta Three, along with her jumpsuited and feather-haired army of about a dozen extras armed with glow sticks, invade the Citadel of Omus (through a powerplant) to plea over the radio to the Moon for help.
Unfortunately the Starstreak is a bucket of bolts, and has to stop on Earth to fix its compass. (Again: not kidding.) So they get to Earth and it's a beautiful autumn day. So here's the question: why did they leave Earth exactly? It's pretty much easier to live anywhere on Earth that anywhere on the Moon, and is way less expensive. Believe me when I tell you that this visit to Earth is amazingly boring. Nothing happens. Well they get ambushed by children dressed in nets, but other than that, nothing. The children were survivors of the great robot war and have radiation burns. After much heavyhanded pontification they elect to abandon the children, but promise to return. In a plodding movie, this is by far the slowest part.
The intrepid explorers take off again, and through the magic of special effects, fly to Delta Three via a magnetic field. Let me say this: prepare to laugh hard enough that whatever you're drinking comes out your nose. The segment of flying through the magnetic field features some of the worst effects I have ever seen anywhere (and I have seen the entire Ed Wood catalog). The very worst "Star Trek" episode is approximately one trillion times more convincing than this. Of course despite facing certain death, they're fine, and Sparks helpfully explains "I believe we have been through time dilation." (Again: oh, brother.)
Throughout the film there are loads of inappropriate musical blasts, mostly orchestral machinations when nothing of any sort is happening. That does not help with the mood or pacing of the film, but it does foreshadow a question I never thought I'd have to ask, namely, "Hey! Who turned on the giant rotating Jack Palance?" Omus greets the landing party on Delta Three with a huge holograph of himself (with suitable soundtrack accompaniment, of course) to invite Dr. Caball, his mentor, to his office. Despite warnings from the others that it could be dangerous, he goes, and is promptly killed with the sonic disco ball of doom, which induces a death seizure in a scene that is not pretty, but also not realistic. Sparks' loyalty is sorely tested, as Omus plans to hijack the Starstreak back to the Moon, while destroying Delta Three. Does Sparks show his loyalty to Omus or Kim? You have one guess. The conclusion, which appears almost stapled on, shows Jason, Kim, and Sparks taking the RADIC-Q-2 to the children of Earth, while a horrifying 1970's disco tune plays over the credits.
As bad as I expected this film to be, it was much, much worse. So bad, in fact, that I think it's worth four stars for camp value alone. It features a horrible story, terrible acting, Palance at his scenery-chewing perigee (well, perilune, I guess in this case), utterly ridiculous robots, and a dreadful score. That pretty well sums up its good points. For lovers of camp, it doesn't get any cheesier than this. Of special note are the extras, which are just plain weird. There is a very 1970's television spot for the film, a mediocre still gallery, and an absolutely bizarre movie trailer from France. The French trailer is way shorter (and therefore better) than the film itself, but has some true oddities in its subtitles. Not only does it change the romantic male hero-love interest's name from Jason to Jeffrey, but it translates a couple of lines (when they are escaping the self-destructing Delta Three) as "We have to get back to Star Trek. Everything's going to explode!" I don't even know what to make of that, but if you watch that far, I'm betting you'll laugh.