The End of the World (1916, aka Verdens Undergang)

Synopsis:

A newly discovered comet passing close to Earth threatens to destroy the planet. Various characters — an astronomer, a preacher, a wealthy man, a mine worker and his family — try to cope with the impending doom.

Reaction & Thoughts:

This Danish sci-fi production isn’t a great movie per se, but it is a fascinating snapshot of early nineteenth-century sensibilities. The film can be considered the great-grandfather of the modern disaster movie — The End of the World isn’t all that different from movies like Meteor (1979), Armageddon (1998), Deep Impact (1998), The Day After Tomorrow (2004) or 2012 (2009).

Halley’s Comet passed close to Earth in 1910, nearly six years before this movie was made. The much-anticipated event caused plenty of anxiety. Not long after the comet was seen, WWI erupted, causing economic and political unrest across the world. The End of the World (also known as The Flaming Sword) capitalized on people’s fears and anxieties about these two unrelated events — the film was a commercial hit.

Two-thirds of the screenplay is dedicated to character development. The last-third is composed of scenes depicting chaos and mayhem. Fast-forward 100 years, and incredibly, today’s disaster epics use the same blueprint — e.g. introduce a series of characters, then show them in perilous situations. Isn’t that something? More than ten decades of advances in cinema have not altered the familiar formula!

Most interesting is the film’s quasi-religious and moralistic tone. The comet is presented as a celestial agent who dispatches justice fairly and accordingly — sinners suffer horrible deaths while the pious and righteous inherit what’s left of Earth. Although The End of the World makes perfectly clear that a comet is a natural phenomena, the film implies that God uses this celestial object as a punishment tool (a flaming sword?) — it’s intelligent design, 1910s style.

It goes without saying that the visual effects are very primitive by today’s standards. Still, it’s fun to see the technical capabilities of cinema in the 1910s. Some of the visuals are pretty cool. A meteor shower, a flood and the destruction of buildings are all done in a relatively convincing manner. To paraphrase Norma Desmond’s famous line, “they didn’t need CGIs, they had imagination!”

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

The End of the World is one of the very first disaster films and as such it is a lot of fun for those of us who enjoy the sub-genre. The film was thought to have been lost, but it was recently discovered and restored. B&W, 77 minutes, Not Rated.

P.S. This is my contribution to The End of the World Blogathon, co-hosted by Movie Movie Blog Blog and The Midnite Drive-In.

10 responses to “The End of the World (1916, aka Verdens Undergang)

  1. As a film buff and a Dane, I ought to have at least heard of this Danish sci-fi, which I oddly haven’t. Perhaps I’ll be able to track down the restored print. Did you watch the English version?

    Liked by 1 person

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  4. I saw this movie on the discount page of Oldies.com when I was shopping on it last month. It wasn’t one of the ones I ended up buying, although I did consider it. I limited myself to speding $50 and had to cull a few selections before my final buy. Now I see what I missed

    Liked by 1 person

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