222. When Worlds Collide (US 1951)

director: Rudoph Maté

producer: George Pal

starring: Richard Derr (the legendary), Barbara  Rush, John Hoyt               

novel: Edward Balmer        

                                                                                   

screenplay: Edward Balmer, Sidney Boehm                                 

A giant asteroid and rogue planet combine to destroy the Earth.

synopsis: An impending collision with an asteroid and a giant planet  signal the destruction of Earth. The governments of the world refuse to listen to their scientists, but private industrialists finance the building of a spaceship which will carry a limited number of people to another planet to begin a new civilisation.

As doomsday approaches, the chosen few race against time and the panicky behaviour of those who will be left behind. The approach of asteroid Zyra signals  massive tidal waves and devastating earthquakes. The various scientists, engineers and other 'breeding stock' passengers race to complete the space ark and its gigantic runway before doomsday planet Belus smashes the Earth to bits.

George Pal was a hands-on producer  who was largely responsible for a slew of high quality science fiction films in the 50s and 60s. His most famous The War of the Worlds, This Island Earth (See That Glow! Na-aa! Naa-aa!), The Time Machine and When Worlds Collide would all suffer badly from a Marxist analysis, but would score highly on cinematic spectacle.

A lot of recent science fiction blockbusters are just dreadful. I Robot, The Island and the new War of the Worlds are particularly ghastly, but pale into insignificance compared to the atrocious efforts of the Emmerich brothers (the modern heirs to Pal). I think Independence Day is the worst film I've ever seen - gung-ho, moronic and just piss-poor.

Some things are just plain wrong in When Worlds Collide. Lead actor Derr looks like a Danny Kaye/Jon Pertwee hybrid and has the acting skills of either one of the minor characters in BBC's Doctors or Todd Armstrong in Jason and the Argonauts. Rush is the token characterless woman. Her only saving grace is that she refused to pass on any of her better genetics to her retarded son, Ian:

The only credible performance comes from veteran actor Hoyt asSydney Stanton, a ruthless millionaire who finances the space ark to save his own skin. So the acting isn't great, but the film's strength lies in its palpable sense of dread (and its Reggae Reggae sauce) as the days count down until the asteroid Zyra and then its giant counterpart Belus are scheduled to hit the Earth.

Stanton: he's disabled! He must be a bastard!

The special effects are good for their time and the implications for whole planet destruction seem ever more prescient as time goes by.

Watch* the Sean Connery film Meteor or the Bruce Willis 'vehicle' Armageddon if you want examples of shitty versions of the same idea.

*Better still, just take my word for it and don't.