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The sci-fi benchmark The sci-fi benchmark
by Asa Butcher
2007-09-22 08:53:47
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Film
When Worlds Collide
Directed by Rudolph Mat
Paramount Pictures, 1951

Hollywood in the 1950s generated a number of superb science-fiction productions that are not only worthy of repeat viewings today, but are also prime material for remakes. It was a decade that brought us The Day the Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet and The War of the Worlds but it was Rudolph Maté's award-winning When Worlds Collide that set the benchmark that the rest would have to follow.

The film, based upon the 1932 novel co-written by Philip Gordon Wylie and Edwin Balmer, takes a significantly different take on the usual invading alien scenario by formulating an apocalypse caused by a rogue planet that will crash into the Earth. Dr. Cole Hendron (Larry Keating) tries to convince the world of the discovery, but he is labelled a headline hunter and ignored. A number of private investors believe him and fund an "Ark" that will allow a few to escape and try to land on the planet scheduled to collide with Earth.

If we ignore the fact that the film has more holes than a string vest, such as two suns in our solar system would make the destination planet rather hot and nobody had noticed, even the 1950s, that a large mass was heading our way well before the year in the movie, we can settle down, crack open the popcorn and enjoy ourselves. The film has a great balance of humour, drama and, unsurprisingly, romance, plus the use of Technicolor brings further depth to the award-winning special effects.

Rudolph Maté had accumulated almost thirty years as a cinematographer before becoming a director, with his first Academy Award nomination for Best Black-and-White Cinematography coming in 1941 for Alfred Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent. Maté knew what would look good on camera and this is certainly proved throughout When Worlds Collide, plus it also garnered an Academy Award nomination for John F. Seitz and W. Howard Greene's colour cinematography.

However, it Gordon Jennings' win for Best Special Effects that the film has become known, yet the whole film's look is completely undermined in the final scene as they walk out onto the face of the new planet and discover they have actually walked into a painting… and not even a good one. When Worlds Collide was released ten years before Yuri Gagarin would orbit the Earth for the first time, so it was hard to contain a laugh when they managed to build a spaceship in under a year, stock it with animals, supplies and people and successfully launch and land at the first attempt. Classic!

You can't help falling I love with many of the ridiculous aspects of this film, such as David Randall (Richard Derr), who happily goes from flying a plane to piloting a spaceship to another planet, the wheelchair-bound millionaire Sydney Stanton (John Hoyt) who almost drowns in the rich bastard stereotyping, Dr. Hendron's daughter Joyce (Barbara Rush) who happily forgets that her father and 2.5 billion people have just died and the classic apocalyptic scenes of tsunamis, earthquakes, fires, floods and deserted streets – each of which is unintentionally hilarious.

As I said in the opening paragraph, these 1950's sci-fi films are worthy of repeat viewings and are prime material for remakes, so it is no surprise that Steven Spielberg has announced that he will be the executive producer of a new version of When Worlds Collide to be released in 2008. I only hope that director Stephen Sommers patches up some of the outrageous plot holes, but maintains some of the 1950's kitsch for which these films are so infamous.


    
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Emanuel Paparella2007-09-22 11:20:18
Indeed, a classic science fiction movie can always be viewed again and again even if decades old, if nothing else to see how its vision of the future stacks up against the past and the present. There is indeed a genre of science fiction afoot that I’d characterize as “prophetic science fiction.” One of its practitioners is the Canadian Margaret Atwood (her latest work is “Oryx and Crake”); she does not invent science, she simply takes science as is and develops a plot trying to envision what the future prospects of civilization may be. Jules Verne’s future was rosy, Atwood is black showing a rather bleak tomorrow where genetic engineering, global warming, epidemic viruses spin out of control and threaten the very existence of humankind. A sort of prophet of doom ruining the party going on in a brave new world one might say, but then again, the true role of a prophet is not that of a futurist looking into crystal bowls, but that of sounding the alarm and giving pause with visions of a future which hopefully will not come to pass because humankind having been warned has learned to seriously ponder the genuine nature and purpose of science and use it ethically.


Asa2007-09-22 15:02:24
Watching these 1950's sci-fi movies certainly explains why Earth has never been visited by aliens.

It is always a case of shoot first.

Hardly a warm welcome when you are staring down at the US Army.


Emanuel Paparella2007-09-22 16:27:50
Indeed, as Scarecrow points out to Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Toto the dog has revealed that the Great and Powerful Oz is just an ordinary man standing behind a curtain. The apocalypse does not have to happen. Yet Dorothy has to learn to trust the voice behind the curtain in order to trust herself (by finding the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West) and so trust herself to find her way home. Like The Wizard of Oz, those movies are us with our visions of doom, or our visions of hope beckoning the self home. It all depends on the ideological-political lenses we happen to be wearing, whether or not we interepret them for our self's ultimate salvation or for for its ultimate perdition.


Asa2007-09-22 18:41:48
There's no place like home.


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