When Worlds Collide
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When Worlds Collide

Whenever I find myself weary of the daily grind for something version that can restore the level of enthusiasm I had as a child. Having neither the physical capability nor inclination to go to sea is Herman Melville’s most famous character Ishmael suggest I instead turned to the wall of DVDs I have collected in search out something in the unique category of 50s Science Fiction. As with many film buffs by lifelong love of cinema was sparked by watching these movies in the theater and on the family television set. One of my all-time favorite films of this era was the 1951 classic ‘When Worlds Collide’. The executive producer of this memorable movie was George Pal would be most preeminent directors and producers during the Golden age of science fiction. His dream of manned exploration of stars was infused in his films just as the race to the moon will make such fanciful thoughts into reality. Directed by Rudolph Maté from a screenplay co-authored by Sydney Boehm and Edwin Balmer this team was reunited after just one year previously creating a movie that remains to this day a song that is the epitome of film noir, ‘D.O.A.’. This was not unusual to find such well-known and respected filmmakers involved with Science Fiction projects. Undeniably there were some schlocky offerings of this beloved category of movie but they were certainly more than enough well-crafted movies to make up for them. In the case of ‘When Worlds Collide’, the dependency on special effects that continue to be so common in this genre was kept to a bare minimum. The emphasis of storytelling is employed here was character development.

A well respected astronomer South Africa he takes a pair of previously unknown rouge planets. At the calculating the trajectory to the heavens he comes to the horrifying conclusion that the two planets passed close enough to earth to inflict catastrophic damage. By his calculations the world has only eight months before the before the effects are initially felt. The peril planets will then slingshot around the sun as the first planet, Bellus crashes into the earth destroying it completely. However there is a chance that the second planet, Zyra, may survive and remain in a stable orbit around the sun. The services of a pilot, David Randall (Richard Derr), are engaged in order to quickly bring the evidence to the United States to be scrutinized by the leading authority on celestial mechanics, Dr. Cole Hendron (Rachel Ames) confers with his colleagues and completely agrees with the doomsday scenario. An assumption is made that Randall was privy to the information and by not correcting the misconception manages to become part of the inner circle of people who know about the count down to the end of the world. Dr. Hendron makes an attempt to warn the nations of the world but is dismissed as a crackpot. Maintaining complete faith in the calculations he plans to build an atomic powered spaceship that will bring some small portion of mankind to the safety of Zyra. The nations of the world so dismissive of him Dr. Hendron is forced to seek private funding. Most significant source of funding comes from the exceptionally ropey industrialist, Sydney Stanton (John Hoyt) who, confined to a wheelchair, as his personal assistant, Harold Ferris (Frank Cady), always close at hand.

In a remote location the assembly small city of volunteers to concentrate their efforts to build the space ark with those involved offered a seat on the finish ship, selection subject to a lottery. Only those with the physical and intellectual capacity are allowed in the workforce and hope to be is sufficient for section of humanity retain the species vitality. The work progresses of a fevered pitch signs prominently placed all over with such encouraging slogans as "waste anything but Time". There is also a large calendar counting down the number of days left until the catastrophic weather caused by Bellus pounds the planet. In most science fiction films of this time there was usually a romantic subplot to keep the ladies interested. This is manifested by a romantic triangle between Dr. Herndon’s beautiful daughter, Joyce (Barbara Rush), the group’s physician, Dr. Tony Drake (Peter Hansen) and Randall, who was tasked with piloting the ship. In a rare move for such films the integrity of both men are depicted as exceptionally noble. Randall, feeling that he has such a limited role offers to give his spot up so that another couple would not be separated. Dr. Drake contrives some excuse to prove to Randall he is actually necessary. The only one who proves to be evil millionaire’s assistant who tries to force his way on at gunpoint. Suddenly, as the morning is about to be completed the previously handicapped Mr. Stanton miraculously rises to his feet and demands his spot. Dr. Hendron subdues him emphatically stating that this journey is not for them it is for the young and vital.

Actual takeoff sequence was considered reasonable special effects for that time but for anyone born around the time of the first DVDs, they are laughable. The obviously toy spaceship descends down the ramp to the loop but the bottom propelled it up with along a track. This might be ridiculous, retrospective viewpoint today but apparently there was some consideration in the American space program to launch and just that fashion. After the passing of the first planet does cause widespread global calamity there were people storming the gates to get on the ship them off to turn to a Ray with a minimum of violence it is obvious that the world is in the grip of panic as people realize the end of the world truly is near.

There were a few noteworthy aspects of this movie that should be considered even today over 60 years after its release. During World War II science was co-opted into the creation of newer and more lethal weapons up to and including the A-Bomb. Aside from some of the technological advances that made household life easier, there was a prevailing fear of technology going too far instead of spending on knowledge of the secrets of nature would be instrumental in our ultimate doom. Many science fiction movies of the 50s endeavored to show how science cannot only make our lives easier but can deal with anything that threatens us in the future. Will be the scientific community banding together to save mankind. One of the most notable examples of this is the sonic trucks used to defend our planet in ‘Earth Versus the Flying Saucers’. In this movie it may not have been possible to save the entire world at such short notice but a combination of science, unselfish dedication in the human to succeed and survive manages to provide an opportunity our species to thrive on a new world. Younger viewers need to realize is that no matter how corny the effects story may be the people sitting in the audience is with my peers just happened to grow up to become people that change the face of cinema such as George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and James Cameron. With these movies lack the sophistication, at least by today’s advanced standards, they more than made up for in spirit, ingenuity and drive. This is why I know I can always re-watch one of these classics from my youth be revitalized of spirit.

Posted 07/24/2015

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