was the second of George Pal’s sf classics of the 1950s,
made on the tail of the success of Destination Moon (1950).
It was as big a success as Destination Moon had been and,
like Destination Moon, went on to win that year’s Academy
Award for Special Effects. It has all the same high points
and all the faults of all Pal’s productions - an emphasis
on effects and wondrous spectacle but with a rather mawkish
and wooden human element, as well as the same political
naivete and religious underpinnings of any Pal production.
But also, sitting among the horde of B-budget sf films of
the 1950s, it is an undeniable classic.
Pal and the directors who worked for him had, and in none of
Pal’s films more so than here, was an eye for spectacle.
The shots of the rocket towering above the camera as it is
being built on the mountainside, of the camera panning along
a bookshelf taking in the collected literary works of the
human race as they are photocopied - all of it is
constructed with a feel for the momentous. And of course the
film’s images of mass devastation - waves crashing through
the streets of New York, ships floating on their sides
between skyscrapers - have an incredibly potent resonance.
Stills from both these scenes have been reproduced an
enormous number of times in books and the images have an
ability to speak all on their own without people having seen
the film. (What is perhaps surprising - one supposes in
seeing this after countless Irwin Allen-styled disaster
epics - is the sparingness with which actual disaster scenes
are shown. And most surprisingly of all is that the titular
collision of worlds takes place entirely off-screen).
Throughout the 1960s George Pal attempted
to mount a sequel to When Worlds Collide, which would
have been adapted directly from After Worlds Collide
(1934), the sequel that the original book’s author’s
Balmer and Wylie wrote. However in the 1960s Pal’s
importance as a producer began to wane and the project never
got off the ground.
Dave Randall is given the job of transporting a parcel of
astronomical observations from Mount McKenna Observatory in
South Africa to the US. Journalists are desperate to find
the contents of the parcel, even offering him bribes.
Afterwards he discovers that the parcel contains
calculations that prove a wandering star Bellus and its
orbiting planet Zyra are on a collision course with the
Earth. But when Dr Hendron announces his findings before the
UN he is denounced. However a private group of financiers
come to him offering to finance the building of a space ark
so that a selected few can relocate on Zyra after the
destruction of the Earth. As the astral bodies near they
cause mass tidal waves as Hendron's team race to complete
construction on the ark. Hendron then announces a lottery to
select those to go aboard.