George Pal Presents: When Worlds Collide (1951)

When Worlds Collide (1951)


Mankind’s total destruction becomes a possibility when scientists discover that a planet is in route to a direct collision with Earth. As experts try to convince the international community of the impeding doom, engineers work on creating a space ship that could take a handful of people to another habitable planet.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Producer George Pal was a master at developing great looking, grandly produced fantasy films that served not only to stretch our imaginations, but also to further push technological advances in the film industry, especially in the optical effects department. The War of the Worlds, Tom Thump, The Time Machine, and The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao are among Pal’s most interesting and successful productions, and they all share the same ideas — fantastic stories vividly told using an array of visual imagery.

When Worlds Collide was Pal’s third production, and his obsessive good eye for detail pays in big dividends -– the slow disintegration of the planet is neatly realized for maximum impact. Full of great (for 1951), goofy visual effects, this film could be considered the granddaddy of all disaster films, decades before the genre acquired popularity in the 1970s with films like Airport (1970),  Earthquake (1974), and The Towering Inferno (1974).

When Worlds Collide was imaginatively directed by cameraman-turned-director Rudolph Mate from a screenplay by Sidney Boehm based on the sci-fi novel by Edwin Balmer and Philip Wylie, and lavishly filmed in Technicolor by John F. Seitz and W. Howard Greene. The over-emphasized primary colors make the thing look like a live-action cartoon, which is something that adds, not distract, to the overall playful tone of the film. The strong Christian subtext, something that tends to appear in a lot of sci-fi of the ’50s, is curious to say the least.

The film’s then innovative, Oscar-winning special effects blend exceedingly well with the actors and the sets, creating a believable futuristic atmosphere — every detail of the models and matte shots used are shown with clarity and precision. I’m a big fan of miniatures — Ray Harryhausen is one of my idols — so it goes without saying that I greatly enjoyed the technical aspects of the movie.

During the collision of planets, some of the optical effects show their age. However, a possible hokey sequence becomes an imaginative way of presenting two planets on the verge of destruction. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tidal waves are presented with ample fidelity and good synchronization, especially during the film’s recreation of massive tidal waves and earthquakes. Although, the effects don’t look as fresh as it did almost 60 years ago, When Worlds Collide provides a good alternative for those of you tired of the highly digitized films Hollywood has recently released. Only the final shots are a disappointment — a cheesy painting that doesn’t fit with the rest of the film.

The actors take a back seat to the visuals. Richard Derr (American Gigolo) and Barbara Rush (The Young Lions) are okay in the leading roles. John Hoyt (Spartacus) is a great villain. Stuart Whitman (The Comancheros) has a bit role. Film debuts of Rachel Ames (TV’s General Hospital) and Mary Murphy (The Desperate Hours).

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

When Worlds Collide is one of the most influential science fiction films ever made, and it continues to inspire new filmmakers, most recently in films like Deep Impact and The Day After Tomorrow. Although the technology is dated, this is an essential movie for those movie buffs that treasure classic science fiction. This is a delightfully corny film that the entire family can enjoy. There are rumors that Steven Spielberg is currently working on a remake. Color, 83 minutes, Not Rated.


10 responses to “George Pal Presents: When Worlds Collide (1951)

  1. I only know George Pal’s name from the opening theme of Rocky Horror Picture Show, believe it or not… “but when worlds collide, said George Pal to his bride…” I need to start learning more about him and his production as I feel I’m seriously missing out on good stuff here. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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