A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

When Worlds Collide

August 17, 2010

When Worlds Collide

We continue our theme of celestial bodies today with the classic sci-fi adventure When Worlds Collide. This represents yet another movie that I bought on a whim in spite of never having seen it. I knew, of course, that it was a major milestone in science fiction, but I had only the most vague notion of what the movie was about.

What was odd for me was that my reaction was so colored by other films I’ve seen. In 1998 this movie was re-made as Deep Impact (one of two end-of-the-world-meteor movies that summer.) Only it wasn’t until I was watching this tonight that I realized that Deep Impact was a re-make. So I kept comparing the two movies in my head as I watched this, and had to keep reminding myself that THIS movie was the original and the other was the knock-off. The other movie I found myself comparing this one to was This Island Earth, which I have only ever seen in its MST3K form. This Island Earth came out four years after When Worlds Collide but it shares some of the same fifties technicolor sci-fi feel.

Just like in This Island Earth our hero today flies a plane. Only this time he’s no scientist (a major plot point in the movie.) He’s international courier and womanizer David Randall. Randall is tasked with bring to America a set of observations from an observatory in South Africa where a group of astronomers fear that they have discovered something dreadful. In America Randall meets Joyce Hendron, her fiance Tony Drake, and her father Cole Hendron. Joyce and Cole confirm the findings of the scientists in Africa: a pair of rogue planets are headed to Earth, and our planet is doomed.

There are a lot of plots here, all mixed up in this end of the world scenario. Dr. Hendron and his colleague Dr. Fry have a plan to build a rocket ship to bring some people from Earth to colonize the planet that is set to destroy our own. To do so he has to seek financial help, and ends up going cap in hand to the nasty industrialist Sydney Stanton, who eventually agrees to fund the expedition only so that he has a way to survive the coming apocalypse. Joyce unaccountably falls in love with David, which seems kind of odd (I guess he just has a kind of animal magnetism.) Then David actually turns out to be a reasonably nice guy, his earlier carousing and womanizing apparently having been cured by a desire to save some little part of humanity. Of course this doesn’t sit well with Tony, who also turns out to be a nice guy.

I was particularly impressed with the way that this movie attempts to be a little multi-cultural. Oh, sure, all of the lead characters and all of the technicians and scientists enlisted by Dr. Hendron to go to the new world are pasty white, but Hendron first brings his plea to the United Nations and there’s a lengthy scene where people of many races and languages debate the nature of the threat to Earth. Then as the apocalypse approaches we’re treated to news reel footage of the attempts to evacuate coastal cities accompanied by newspaper headlines in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese (I think.) For a movie made during the fifties at least there’s an acknowledgement that the rest of the world exists outside of the U.S.A.

The effects in this movie also stand out. I’ve seen a LOT of fifties sci-fi in my day, and this movie clearly had a budget to dwarf your average film of the day. There’s a couple very impressive sets for the rocket ship itself, as well as an absolute ton of great miniature work. You can clearly see the seeds of the work of Roland Emmerich here. (It’s not much of a leap from this movie to the ludicrously silly 2012.)

The movie also manages to work in some cool speculation on how people would react to such a disastrous event. The character of Mr. Burns, I mean Sydney Stanton, acts to represent the mercenary dog-eat-dog contrast to the self-sacrificing good-guys in the movie. (Note that near the end of this movie, as people are storming the spacecraft and panicking because they realize that they’re being left behind to die, there’s a considerable amount of material that Emmerich would blatantly steal for 2012.) The whole constructions and provisioning of the Arc is very quickly touched upon, but is interesting nonetheless. (Amanda was particularly pleased to see a large detail of women being put to work transferring selected books to microfilm for preservation in the new world.)

I do enjoy a good end-of-the-world movie, and this is the grand-daddy of them all. As such I’m really glad that I finally got a chance to sit down and watch it. I can easily state that its reputation as a classic and important part of the genre is well deserved.

August 17, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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