When it comes to When Worlds Collide, my opinion once again diverges from the popular consensus. Whereas many in the Science Fiction, Fantasy, and critical community consider it a bona fide classic, I honestly just consider it “good.”
Now, none of that is intended to take anything away from the 1951 flick. It certainly deserves all of the high marks it’s received in history, including the 1952 Academy Award win in the category of Best Special Effects. Those were certainly a bit groundbreaking for their era, and I’ve no doubt that the motion picture went on to inspire many, many other filmmakers and storytellers to spin a bit more yarn about Earth’s future and mankind’s quest to move from having the dirt under his feet to floating weightless in the final frontier.
I think my reservations with the film largely are owed to the way I experienced it. For years, it was one that I just couldn’t find on any channel. (Yes, kids, I’m talking about back in the days wherein regular television was the only outlet for home-based entertainment.) I’d often stumble upon it well after it had started, meaning I was joining the film in progress; and I’ve never been a good watcher of things that way. I end up asking myself a lot of questions about what I’d missed, and the end result really wrecks the experience for me. I did eventually rent a copy in the late 80’s or early 90’s (I think it was), and – outside of the effects work – I just don’t recall being all that interested in it. The characters all seemed a bit flat to my tastes, and – sigh – I’m rarely a fan of the forced love interests of the bygone era.
More than anything, I bring up my opinion of the film because it surprises me. When Worlds Collide was produced by the late, great George Pal (1953’s The War Of The Worlds and 1960’s The Time Machine), whose stuff – even the weaker entries – I usually love. Pal was the George Lucas and Steven Spielberg of his day – I’ve heard Spielberg speak very highly of the man’s body of work – and his track record for quality storytelling of its day is incredible. The guy was nominated for a total of seven Oscars over the life in the business – along with a few Hugo Award nominations – but even those credentials fail to convince me of Collide’s greatness.
As I said, I just find it “good.”
For those who missed it, the story is about Earth’s impending demise: there’s an impending stellar catastrophe that spells certain doom, and – in order to survive – mankind will have to take to the stars in a rocketship bound for a sister planet, one that scientists believe can sustain our race in a bid to start over. Collide’s script by Sydney Boehm (adapting the novel of the same name by Edwin Balmer and Philip Wylie) could’ve easily descending into dramatic speeches of doom and gloom, but the tale as constructed only circumstantially flirts with the obvious existentialism. Instead, the characters mostly possess a strong work ethic, one that keeps them committed to carrying on only our culture’s best traditions … despite the eventual rising panic in society’s mad rush to live on we’re treated to in the last reel.
I’d read somewhere once that Pal had intended to produce a sequel to the film, one that would’ve depicted the trials and tribulations of men working to survive on the alien world seen in Collide’s closing moments. While I’m unaware whatever happened with that possible effort, I think I’ve made peace with my feelings over the original as I’m not sure a follow-up really was all that necessary.