What would you do if you knew the world were to end in eight months?
If the threat were a nuclear or alien attack, then one might hope for a last-minute peace treaty to Patch Things Up.
But what if The End were to be caused by an errant star?
Not that you need more reasons to lose sleep at night, but you may be interested in NASA’s log of Near Earth Objects (NEO). This log keeps track of the objects that zip by our planet each year.
“At the start of 2019, the number of discovered NEOs totalled more than 19,000, and it has increased to 22,776 at the time of this writing [April 28, 2020],” notes the site. It cheerfully continues, “An average of 30 new discoveries are added each week.”¹
It would appear our planet is a Sitting Duck.
Producer George Pal explored this concept in the Paramount film, When Worlds Collide (1951). This is no quick-and-cheesy sci-fi flick; indeed, it won an Oscar for special effects, and was nominated for colour cinematography.
The costumes are designed by the fab Edith Head, so there are no shiny, one-size-fits-all space uniforms. Nay, the space costumes here are Practical and Comfortable.
When Worlds Collide tries to be realistic concerning the Earth-vs.-Rogue-Star dilemma, except in one area: Everyone’s far too polite about the whole thing.
When a South African astronomer makes the startling discovery that a wayward planet and star are on a collision course with earth, he hires a hotshot pilot from Johannesburg (Richard Derr) to transport these classified calculations to a colleague in New York.
Naturally the American colleague has a beautiful daughter (Barbara Rush), who is a gifted scientist/mathematician. It is she who verifies the star’s ill-fated trajectory via the Differential Analyzer.
The outlook is grim. In eight months, a planet will narrowly pass by the earth, causing tidal waves and earthquakes. Then, eleven days later, the accompanying star will crash into earth, thereby Finishing The Job.
Fortunately, the visiting planet is able to sustain life, and scientists see an Opportunity to build a rocket and colonize the new planet.
Of course Rush is selected to go, because she’s a Smarty Pants – plus her father is in charge – which means boyfriend Derr is also chosen, proving once again it’s Who You Know.
The evacuees are chosen from an elite group of scientists, agriculturalists, and engineers working on the evacuation project. In order to determine Who Gets To Go, everyone draws lots, and it’s not until lift-off that the lucky names are posted.
One character predicts violent attacks by those not given a seat on the rocket, but, for the most part, folks are weirdly compliant about the incoming planet and being Bossed Around by scientists and the government.
However, the peaceful commune bursts into violence when these lists are posted. Those whose names do not appear on the lists seize weapons and attempt to storm the rocket.
Human nature being what it is, it’s a little hard to fathom that a hijacking would not have occurred earlier in the process, and by more than one group of individuals.
But soon it may be too late for everyone.
We (yours truly) are no rocket scientist – to put it mildly – but we do suspect that if large NEOs were moving closer to our planet, we would see far more dramatic side effects when it comes to weather, volcanic activity, etc. However, all of that would likely turn this film into a three-hour epic; as it is, the story is a brisk 83 minutes.
When Worlds Collide is based on the classic 1933 sci-fi novel by Edwin Balmer and Philip Wylie, first published as a magazine serial. A second film, examining life on the new planet and based on the novel’s sequel, never came to fruition.
The rights to the original novel were first purchased by Paramount in 1933 as a project for director Cecil B. DeMille, but it was scrapped.
As for the film, it ain’t perfect. Are there plot holes? Yes. Is it unrealistic? Yes.
Is it worth watching? Yes, because the story is engaging and the special effects are pretty impressive. Also: the actors’ performances are better than they need to be, which is always a treat.
Have we sold you on this film? Good, because you can watch it HERE for free.
When Worlds Collide: starring Richard Derr, Barbara Rush, Peter Hansen. Directed by Rudolph Maté. Written by Sidney Boehm. Paramount Pictures, 1951, Technicolor, 83 mins.