WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE
Richard Derr, Barbara Rush, Peter Hanson, Larry Keating, John Hoyt
1951, 81 Minutes, Directed by: Rudolph Maté
In this early 1950s movie the Earth doesn’t have much time left – in a
year’s time or so it will collide with a stray star that made its way into
our solar system. There is one hope for humanity though: a planet is
orbiting the star in question, and it just might be possible to actually
land some humans on it to start life anew there.
Thus, plans are hatched to build a modern “Noah’s Ark” (the movie is replete
with Biblical allusions and kicks off with a prologue that wouldn’t feel out
of place in The Ten Commandments) – a rocket uncannily resembling a
V-2, you know: basically a ballistic missile, developed by the Nazis
during World War II to bomb the crap out of England. (That producer George
Pal actually knew rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, one of the V-2’s chief
developers who after the war was spirited away to America to work on its
space program, should come as no surprise.)
The only problem is that once the giant rocket is stacked up with two of
every animal (I told you about the whole Biblical thing!) and other
materials needed to start a new colony on another planet, there isn’t much
room left – only 40 (see what I mean about the Biblical stuff?) human
passengers can be accommodated. Unlike the Vietnam draft, this is one lotto
draw that you would like to win!
What is striking about the movie is just how civil everyone is about the
whole thing. Until right at the very end, people faced with the extinction
of humanity itself do not panic and degenerate into selfish barbarism and
cruelty despite what later movies like The Trigger Effect,
A Boy and his Dog and Weekend
tell us. Oh well, I suppose the ‘Fifties must have been a more stoic and
kinder time than later decades . . .
Also, much like the folks in Independence Day
no-one seems to really pause and reminisce about the Earth’s destruction.
The entire New York has just been flooded and no one goes on about how
they’ll miss the jazz clubs, walks in Central Park (don’t be snooty: the
muggings in the Park back then was a lot lower than today) or whatever.
As you might have guessed When Worlds Collide is totally outdated by
now. The effects by stop-motion wiz George Pal (of War of
the Worlds and Time Machine fame) may
have been spectacular in its time and in fact won an Oscar, but just looks
old nowadays. The movie is fast-paced though and won’t bore even though one
has the nagging suspicion that it doesn’t quite deliver on its plot
potential. Then again, one wants to be spared the over-the-top histrionics
of something the similar and more recent Deep Impact.
To be honest I thought that the real story started when those forty future
colonists landed on their new world. Not just in terms of exploring a new
world and all that, but in terms of a study in human psychology – how would
you feel if you had to spend your entire life in the company of the same
group of forty people!