So… if we’re gonna do a proper “End of the World As We Know It” festival this month, then it’s a given that I’m gonna have to do a review of the classic 1951 George Pal film, “When Worlds Collide”. (Psssst! It also lets me do a nostalgic “Lil’ Kitten Classic” Review too at the same time… Gotta love those nifty 2-for-1’s!! 😉 ) This granddaddy of cinema Sci-fi doomsday stories has it all… volcanic disruptions, forest fires, earthquakes, massive tsunamis and floods, along with the pre-apocalyptic breakdown of society right before our earth gets gobbled up by a rampaging alien sun. Yep… you really can’t get anymore “Doomsday” than that…
If you’ve been unlucky enough not to have seen this classic, then our synopsis for it goes as follows: “A dying star hurtles through space on an unavoidable collision course with Earth. The last hope of Earth’s citizens lies in the hands of daredevil pilot Dave Randall and brilliant astronomer Doc Hendron, who will supervise the construction and flight of an interplanetary rocketship that will carry a handful of lucky human survivors to start the race anew on a strange new planet.”
Now this one is a real classic. Schlocky and dated and oh, soooo darn melodramatic, it’s still manages to be a big screen cinematic experience that even today still holds up as great entertainment, at least in a certain goofy movie loving Catgirl’s honest opinion. What? You need convincing? Why then just “Read On” and let this wee Catgirl plead her case and perhaps make it one of your favorite “old movies” too! 😉
Ahhhh… George Pal… now there’s a man who loved the “classics”. Books I mean… especially the works of H.G. Wells, and he’s the showman who spent a good part of his career putting those old Sci-fi films on the big screen for a generation of people in the 50’s and 60’s in what were some of the most ambitious blockbuster films of his time. I wasn’t born early enough to see those films at the cinema, but by the time this wee kitten was an impressionable girl in the late 70’s and early 80’s, those very same films were running on practically every TV channel, staples on Sci-Fi movie marathons and Saturday afternoon creature features. “When Worlds Collide” was one of lil’ Miyuki’s favorites….
Now… it’s worth mentioning, that even then, that title was a bit deceptive…. no worlds actually collide… instead this one chronicles the destruction of Earth by a wandering red giant star named Bellus that hurtles through our solar system wreaking havoc as it whizzes through. But that’s a pretty minor story point… although even wee Miyuki scratched her head over it for a bit waaaay back when.
It’s a fairly simple story, in the beginning, daredevil pilot Dave Randall (played by Richard Derr) gets the job of flying some top-secret celestial photographs from South African astronomer Dr. Emery Bronson (played by Hayden Rorke) to his colleague Dr. Cole Hendron (played by Larry Keating) in America. Luckily for him this lets him in on the big secret that Bronson discovered… that a rogue star named Bellus is hurtling through the cosmos on a direct collision course with Earth. Awwww crap….
Now our hero is kind of bummed out by this news… especially after meeting Dr. Hendron’s brainy and pretty daughter Joyce (played by Barbara Rush). Nothing like Doomsday to put the damper on budding romance…. but Joyce really likes “average Joe” Dave, and manages to find ways to convince her dad to keep him around even after his delivery job is done. That’s to facilitate the old “love triangle” part of a good melodrama, since she’s already involved with hunky doctor Tony Drake (played by Peter Hansen). You just know that jealousy and rivalry over Joyce will ensue… but that somehow by the end of our film our two heroes will become best buddies and team up to save humanity. It’s just that kind of story.
We get the usual refusal to see the truth of the coming disaster when our scientists try to warn the UN of the inevitable destruction to come. (Sounds a lot like the “ostrich approach” to Global Warming we see at the UN today…) They get laughed at and promptly dismissed as quacks and doomsayers. But luckily for our heroes, self-centered, wheelchair-bound billionaire industrialist Sidney Stanton (played by John Hoyt) has enough sense to pledge his fortune to make their seemingly impossibly harebrained scheme to build a rocket ark to fly to Bellus’ companion planet, Zyra a reality. Just in case the smart guys are right….
Naturally billionaire Stanton insists that he’ll be the guy picking the lucky survivors who get space on the rocket ship, but eventually this gets vetoed by the good guys who actually intend on trying to be both democratic as well as smart in selecting only the best and brightest of people to be the Adam’s and Eve’s of a fresh start for mankind. For his contribution, our mean old industrialist gets his place assured…. even though he’s a major league a-hole. (Don’t worry… you just know he’s not gonna manage to make the trip… that’s also a given plot notion for a story like this… )
Next up… there’s the whole “love triangle” thing between our leads to work out as the plot moves along, and the Earth suffers all those preliminary disasters leading up to the final days. The guys even find an adorable waif and his lil’ doggie to oooh and ahhh over adding just the right amount of 50’s style family values to our story.
At our climax, all heck breaks loose… the best and brightest not selected to go all riot and try to seize the ship like rats fleeing a sinking ship. But… with only minutes to spare they launch themselves into space, narrowly missing sharing the horrible fate of the Earth, swallowed and BBQ’ed by Bellus. They make it to Zyra, crash land on a glacier, and then marvel at the alien vista of the strange new world that is now their home. Roll those credits!!
Like his other Sci-Fi epics, George Pal fills this one up with lots and lots of, for the day, pretty darn amazing special effects modeling to tell his story. Along with some creative use of old stock footage from news reels of natural disasters and the like to stretch the budget. 😉 For the most part, it works pretty darn well. The effects are, of course, no match for the CGI stuff you see today, but for me at least, it matches the overall feel and tone of the story really well. Yes, yes… at times it can be a bit dated and stiff with lots of very 1950’s American WASP notions about how society works, and a quaint “Buck Rodgers” gee-whiz kind of technology for the futuristic stuff on display, but even so there’s still a lot to like about the film seen as a whole. (Personally… I can’t believe that with WW2 so recent an event back then, there weren’t a lot of really smart German rocket scientists lurking around the launch site, but hey… there weren’t a lot of black people or Asians either… Hmmmm? I guess it really was a different time.)
Ultimately… this one has to be viewed as a product of it’s time. By today’s standards, it’s hopelessly dated and basically flawed in many ways, but despite that still makes for some really neat cinema viewing. There are a few old movies that I can watch almost each and every time they come on TV… and this is one of them. This wee Catgirl gives this one a hearty 4 “Meows” out of 5 and I can’t recommend it too much if somehow you’ve never ever managed to see it. It’s available on DVD… and usually for a really nice price, but if you like, wait for it to turn up on TV. Turner Classic and AMC run it regularly, and that perhaps capture the memories of the experience I have for it the best. Just be sure to have lots of cold soda and hot popcorn, dress up in your most comfortable PJ’s while you lie on a couple of pillows on the living room floor, and just put your common sense and grown-up notions on hold for a bit. Ahhhh yes…. that’ll do it…Nostalgia, it’s a wonderful feeling. 😉
Trailer? Why yep… of course Neko’s got that covered. 🙂