|When Worlds Collide|
|Directed by||Rudolph Maté|
|Screenplay by||Sydney Boehm|
|Based on||the novel When Worlds Collide|
by Edwin Balmer and Philip Wylie
|Produced by||George Pal|
|Cinematography||John F. Seitz|
W. Howard Greene
|Edited by||Arthur P. Schmidt|
|Music by||Leith Stevens|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$1.6 million (US/Canada rentals, 1951)|
When Worlds Collide is a 1951 American science fiction disaster film, produced by George Pal, directed by Rudolph Maté, and starring Richard Derr, Barbara Rush, Peter Hansen, and John Hoyt. It was distributed by Paramount Pictures. The film is based on the 1933 science fiction novel of the same name, co-written by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer.
The plot concerns the coming destruction of the Earth by a rogue star[Note 1] called Bellus and the desperate efforts to build a space ark to transport a group of men and women to Bellus' single planet, Zyra.
Pilot David Randall flies top-secret photographs from South African astronomer Dr. Emery Bronson to Dr. Cole Hendron in the United States. Hendron, with the assistance of his daughter Joyce, confirms their worst fears: Bronson has discovered that a rogue star named Bellus is on a collision course with Earth.
Hendron warns the United Nations that the end of the world is little more than eight months away. He pleads for the construction of "arks" to transport a lucky few to Zyra, the sole planet orbiting Bellus, in the faint hope that the human race can be saved from extinction. Other scientists scoff at his claims, and his proposal is rejected by the delegates.
Hendron receives help from wealthy humanitarians, who arrange for a lease on a former proving ground to build an ark. To finance the construction, Hendron meets wheelchair-bound business magnate Sidney Stanton. Stanton demands the right to select the passengers in exchange for financing, but Hendron insists that he is not qualified to make those choices; all he can buy is a seat aboard the ark. Stanton eventually capitulates.
Joyce, attracted to Randall, persuades her father to keep him around, much to the annoyance of her boyfriend, medical doctor Tony Drake. As Bellus nears, governments prepare for the inevitable. Groups in other nations begin to build their own spaceships. Martial law is declared, and residents in coastal regions are evacuated to inland cities.
Zyra makes a close approach first, causing massive earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis that wreak havoc around the world. Several people are killed at the camp, including Dr. Bronson after a construction crane collapses. Afterward, Drake and Randall travel by helicopter to drop off supplies to people in distress in the surrounding area. When Randall gets off to rescue a little boy stranded on a rooftop in a flooded area, Drake flies away, but reconsiders and returns.
As the day of doom approaches, the spaceship is loaded with food, medicine, microfilmed books, equipment, and animals. The passengers are selected by lottery, though Hendron reserves seats for himself, Stanton, Joyce, Drake, pilot Dr. George Frey, and Randall, for his daughter's sake. He also includes the young boy who was rescued, raising the number of passengers to 45. Randall, feeling he lacks any necessary skills, rejects this arrangement; he pretends to draw a lottery number, but Hendron knows better. For Joyce's sake, Drake tells Randall that Frey has a "heart condition" that may render him unable to survive the blackout during liftoff, convincing Randall he is needed as the co-pilot.
The cynical Stanton, knowing human nature, fears what the desperate lottery losers might do, so he has stockpiled weapons. When a young man turns in his winning number because his sweetheart was not selected, Stanton's much-abused assistant, Ferris, claims the number at gunpoint, only to be shot dead by Stanton. Hendron then agrees to the precaution of having the selected women board the ship, while the chosen men wait outside.
Shortly before blastoff, many of the lottery losers riot, seizing Stanton's weapons to try to force their way aboard. Hendron triggers the launch prematurely while he and Stanton are still outside so the ship will consume less fuel on the journey. With an effort born of ultimate desperation, Stanton stands up and walks in a futile attempt to board the departing spaceship.
The crew are rendered unconscious by the g-force of acceleration and do not witness Earth's destruction. When Randall comes to and sees Dr. Frey already awake and piloting the ship, he realizes he has been deceived.
As the spaceship enters Zyra's atmosphere, the fuel runs out; Randall takes control and glides it to a safe landing. The crew disembark and find Zyra to be habitable. David Randall and Joyce Hendron walk hand-in-hand down the ramp as a new day dawns.
Originally, producer-director Cecil B. DeMille considered adapting the novels When Worlds Collide and its sequel After Worlds Collide when they were first serialized in Blue Book magazine in 1933. Film rights accordingly were held by Paramount, who often worked with De Mille.
In 1949 it was announced George Pal had purchased the screen rights. The film was to be directed by Irving Pichel who had just made The Great Rupert for Pal and was about to make Destination Moon for the producer. In December Rip Van Ronkel, who wrote Destination Moon, was hired to do the script.
In February 1950 it was announced the movie would be made at Paramount.
In August Pal said the movie would be the first under a three-picture deal with Paramount, the others being The Last Man in the World and a musical. (The latter two were never made.)
When George Pal began his adaptation years later, he initially wanted to make a more lavish production with a larger budget, but he wound up being forced to scale back his plans.
Chesley Bonestell worked as an adviser. He is credited with the artwork used for the film; he created the design for the space ark that was constructed. The final scene in the film, the sunrise landscape on Zyra, was taken from a Bonestell sketch. Because of budget constraints, the director was forced to use this color sketch rather than a finished matte painting. The sketch has visible artificial structures in the distance to the left and right as David Randall and Joyce Hendron leave the ark, suggesting an alien civilization.
Filming started 14 December 1950 under the direction of Rudolph Mate. "I tried to make the story as realistic as I could," said Mate. Filming of the live action scenes took 27 days with the effects taking twice as long.
When Worlds Collide was reviewed by Bosley Crowther of The New York Times, who noted that George Pal had followed up on his other prophetic epic, Destination Moon: "... this time the science soothsayer, whose forecasts have the virtue, at least, of being represented in provocative visual terms, offers rather cold comfort for those scholars who would string along with him. One of the worlds which he arranged to have collide is ours". He reported that "Except for a rustle of applause to salute a perfect pancake landing, the drowsy audience at the Globe, where the film opened yesterday, showed slight interest. It appeared skeptical and even bored. Mr. Pal barely gets us out there, but this time he doesn't bring us back".
Freelance writer Melvin E. Matthews calls the film a "doomsday parable for the nuclear age of the '50s". Emory University physics professor Sidney Perkowitz notes that When Worlds Collide is the first in a long list of films where "science wielded by a heroic scientist confronts a catastrophe". He calls the special effects exceptional.
Librarian and filmographer Charles P. Mitchell was critical of the "... scientific gaffes that dilute the storyline" and a "failure to provide consistent first-class effects". He summarizes that "the large number of plot defects are annoying and prevent this admirable effort from achieving top-drawer status".
When Worlds Collide won an Honorary Academy Award for Special Effects at the 24th Academy Awards. John F. Seitz and W. Howard Greene were also nominated for Best Cinematography-Color, losing to Alfred Gilks and John Alton for An American in Paris.
The 1998 film Deep Impact originated as a combination of a remake of When Worlds Collide and an adaptation of the 1993 Arthur C. Clarke novel The Hammer of God, and the project was originally acknowledged as such, although the finished film did not acknowledge any of its sources since it was judged as being different enough to not require it.
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