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When Worlds Collide

Entry updated 23 February 2017. Tagged: Film.

Film (1951). Paramount. Directed by Rudolph Maté. Written by Sydney Boehm, based on When Worlds Collide (September 1932-February 1933 Blue Book; 1933) and After Worlds Collide (1934) by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer. Cast includes Richard Derr, Peter Hanson, John Hoyt, Larry Keating, Hayden Rorke and Barbara Rush. 83 minutes. Colour.

When Worlds Collide, which helped spark the 1950s sf-movie boom, was George Pal's second sf production, made after his Destination Moon. South African astronomer Emery Bronson (Rorke) detects two wandering planets, which he names Bellus and Zyra, and calculates their courses; Zyra will miss us, though the near miss will cause planet-wide Disasters including tidal waves and earthquakes, but Bellus will make a direct hit, causing the End of the World. American Scientists confirm Bronson's findings (though they are mocked at a special session of the United Nations in soon-to-be-destroyed New York). The governments of the world refuse to take action, but prescient millionaires, dominated by the wheelchair-bound Sidney Stanton (Hoyt), finance the building of a new Noah's Ark in the form of a Spaceship capable of carrying a handful of survivors to safe haven on Zyra, which boasts vegetation. The ark, launched on an upwards slanting railway line, duly carries forty representative human beings to safety. A routine love interest, and melodrama about who gets on the ark and who does not, may have diverted the film's intended audience from noticing that all forty representatives of our species are white (see Race in SF). Even for later viewers, however, the single-minded thrust of the film remains relatively undamaged; it continues to grip.

Scientific Errors do, all the same, proliferate (the paths of the two planets in particular are described with profound contempt for elementary Astronomy). A low budget meant that the near-miss of Zyra was montaged largely (and effectively) from stock shots – though the image of the Statue of Liberty about to be submerged by a great tidal wave, and the famous shot of ocean liners afloat in the streets of New York, are new. Earth's actual death from the impact with Bellus is over in an eye-blink, and the new planet – all too obviously represented by a bright green painting (by Chesley Bonestell) – proves livable. The religious subtext – Earth wiped out for its sins, and new Adams and Eves (see Adam and Eve) in a new Eden – is presented with no great moral conviction. [PN/JC]

see also: Holocaust; Post-Holocaust.


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