Review Date: December 6, 2001
Released by: Paramount
Release date: 9/25/2001
Region 1, NTSC
Full Frame 1.33:1
50s sci-fi movies are just great. The world had just learned of the amazing capabilities of the atom, both good and bad. Space exploration was imminent, and no one knew whether or not there were other life forms out there (I'm sure a lot of genre fans were quite disappointed when we found nothing but rocks). The movies of the time bore a knowledge of dangerous possibilities mixed with a childlike innocence. A watershed film from this era is 1951's When Worlds Collide, an Oscar winner for it's pioneering special effects. While primitive by today's standards, it's still an interesting movie for serious sci-fi fans, who will definitely want to get their hands on this Paramount release.
Our story begins in a South African observatory. Two astronomers have found a rather unsettling discovery. But for the sake of suspense, we're not gonna find out what that discovery is until we meet a few more characters and pad the story a bit. So they hire David Randall (Richard Derr) as a courier to fly their findings to the United States and have more scientists analyze the data.
Randall delivers his top-secret package to the Big Important Scientist, Dr. Cole Hendron (Larry Keating). He also meets Dr. Hendron's lovely daughter Joyce (Barbara Rush), who will serve the role of love interest in the film. Unfortunately, she's engaged to Dr. Drake (Peter Hanson). I smell a love triangle a'brewing…
What was in that package again? Oh yeah, they've charted some star called Bellus and a small planet orbiting it called Zyra, and both just happen to be on a direct collision course with Earth. First Zyra will pass, resulting in serious floods and earthquakes. Then, Bellus will smash into Earth. The only plan is to build a rocketship, and try to land on Zyra.
This plan does not go over well in the United Nations, who doubt that the Earth has but days left. Dr. Hendron goes on ahead though, convincing grumpy millionaire Sydney Stanton (John Hoyt) to bankroll the project. Stanton warns that the competition for seats on the Space Ark will be worse than pre-teen girls sold out of a Britney Spears concert, but the scientists plow on obliviously. When Zyra passes, destruction reigns supreme, and the clock really begins to tick on Mankind.
Will Joyce and Dr. Drake get married, or will Randall spoil the whole affair? Just who is the Noah to lead mankind away from his destroyed planet? Can Stanton possibly be more of a curmudgeon? And what about the poor little orphan kid? Tune in, space cadets, and find out what happens….WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE!!
Man, I love old movies. Sure, I may poke fun at the hokiness of When Worlds Collide, but that's what makes it so darn enjoyable. This movie is everything you expect from films of this era. It's totally melodramatic and hammily overacted. The special effects, despite being Oscar-worthy, are still kind of funny. And perhaps it's a bit naïve too. I mean, wouldn't anyone in their right mind expect mass riots if you decided to have a lottery to determine which people get to survive? But not the supposedly intelligent scientists here.
Still, this movie is worth watching for every reason spelled out above. Even though it's rather slow, and takes a rather circuitous way of getting to it's point, the slower development of the plot leads to an interesting character development. Too many of today's movies just go straight to the point, and we don't care about the characters as much. Here, they put a lot of time in the basic premise and really flesh out the story. I enjoy the slow-developing plots and emphasis on people, a staple of older films. Instead of just a film about a crisis, we have a film about peoples' reactions to crisis.
What you also might not see in a contemporary film is the comparison of religion and science that you get here. The movie opens with Bible quotes, and since this movie is about building a ship to survive a devastating disaster, Noah's Ark references are inevitable. Hell, they even bring along pairs of animals on the ship. But the controversial aspect is that this devastation from above is not forewarned by God, but rather by scientists. Here, it's scientists that predict the destruction of Earth, and suggest the "proper path", but those ideas are shot down by the other nations' leaders. Is there a suggestion that Science is the new God? Funky stuff for 1951.
When Worlds Collide was filmed in the old Academy aspect ratio of 1.33:1, so no widescreen here. Obviously no 16x9 enhancement either. As far as the picture itself, it varies quite a bit. Most of the film looks great, but several scenes have some fairly obvious print damage, as we get white flecks all about. The colors seem a little washed out too, but then we are talking about a film that's half a century old. I don't know how much, if at all, better it can get. Still, I'm sure it's better than the late-night TV versions fans have pretty much been stuck with for so long. Could be better, but I'm sure it could be worse.
Naturally, for a 1951 film, we're in mono here. But I found the soundtrack to be quite well done, at least for such a simple mix. The flooding and destruction scenes, as well as the rocketship at the end, provided quite a bit of low end in the subwoofer. I mentioned above that the special effects are not on par with today's films, and neither are the sound effects. But it is still better than one might expect. And the dialogue is well represented, an important point since this is a rather talky film.
Just the theatrical trailer here. 50s trailers are a lot of fun, with the large print and hyperboles galore. Now, I'm not one to criticize studios for skimping on extras, but with a $29.95 MSRP, I think fans should get a little something more than a trailer. With the history of this film, I think there should be some interviews, documentaries, or maybe some information about the miniatures used. Paramount did do a great job with the transfer, and bringing classic movies to DVD is more than welcome, but at this price, the disc won't sell much outside of serious genre fans. Studios can then use low sales figures to justify the exclusion of classic films from release. Just because the movie's old doesn't mean people won't want more supplemental material.
Even though this is an end-of-the-world movie, and there's a major plot involving man fighting his fellow man for basic survival, When Worlds Collide falls right into the science-fiction setting, not the horror section. I can't say it's required viewing for horror fans, though people who enjoy 50s style movies will see that this is easily one of the better films of that decade. The special effects alone are worth watching. A must for science-fiction and old movie fans.
Movie - B+
Image Quality - C+
Sound - B+
Supplements - C-
- Running Time - 1 hour 22 minutes
- Rated G
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital Mono
- French Dolby Digital Mono
- English Subtitles