Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 25, 2022)
Apocalyptic movies go back nearly as far as moving pictures themselves. For one of the more noted examples, we head to 1951’s When Worlds Collide.
Astronomers in South Africa discover that a star and a planet rapidly approach Earth. This comes with implications that reflect the possible end of life on Earth.
With the population threatened, leaders attempt to find a way to continue the survival of humans – some of them, at least. While calamity ensues, authorities attempt to find methods to save some of the world’s inhabitants.
Over the 70-plus years since Collide hit screens, we’ve seen many of its descendants. While it clearly doesn’t offer the first of its genre, it feels like a very prominent semi-early example.
And to my surprise, it actually holds up pretty well. While more recent films eclipse Collide in terms of technical merits, the 1951 flick brings a fairly tense and dramatic experience with much less cheese than anticipated.
Really, the film’s most eye-rolling elements stem from the inevitable romantic scenes. Apparently no movies of this era felt they could exist without an appeal to the stereotypical “female interest” crowd, so Collide involves a tacked-on love triangle.
Which seems like a shame, as this theme distracts from the main story. At least it doesn’t fill too much of the flick’s running time, and playboy pilot Dave Randall (Richard Derr) – one-third of this triangle – acts as a surprisingly robust lead.
Collide finds ways to involve Dave in the story, and these also allow him to act as the “everyman” who can give the audience a way to connect to the narrative. Virtually all movies of this sort include roles like Dave, but Randall seems unusually compelling, and he helps make the potentially tedious romantic moments more tolerable.
Derr’s take on the part helps. He gives Dave some of the typical arrogant hot shot feel but he adds depth and grounding to the part, all of which help involve the viewer.
Though far from modern standards, the film’s visual effects hold up pretty well. Of course, some fare better than others, but at the very least, the visuals don’t damage the story.
For 21st century viewers, that always becomes a threat with older films. Given how much of Collide relies on the ability to believe the threat, a movie with problematic effects would lose the audience.
The quality of the work here varies and comes with ups and downs, of course. However, at no point did the iff elements threaten to distance me from the narrative, and they usually remained more than competent.
Collide succeeds mostly because it gives its tale a high level of tension and focuses on the human factor. As mentioned, Dave becomes a good connection for the viewer, and the way the story develops the threat more as a personal tale than just a big “global destruction spectacular” gives it surprising emotional impact.
Honestly, I went into Collide with the expectations it’d offer a cheesy piece of 1950s sci-fi. Happily, I found a strong drama along with the anticipated effects extravaganza.