When Worlds Collide (1951)

When Worlds Collide theatrical

I’m a sucker for a 50s sci-fi and this is a beauty – gorgeous to look at and filled with everything you expect from the era:  great design (although crucial mattes had to be replaced by less expensive sketches), daft romance, a madman in a wheelchair, a sense of jeopardy – extinction! – and a winning optimism about life outside Earth. Producer George Pal could be considered an auteur in this area and the source material is a couple of novels from the 1930s by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer adapted by Sydney Boehm. Pilot David Randall (Richard Derr) has top secret photographs which he brings from South African astronomer Dr Emery Bronson (Hayden Rorke) to American scientist Dr Cole Hendron (Larry Keating) confirming that the planet is in the path of rogue star Bellus. The world is going to end in 8 months and Hendron goes to the United Nations to let everyone know and pleads for space arks to transport a limited number of humans to the passing planet Zyra which orbits Bellus, realising it is humanity’s only hope. He’s not believed and has to get money from wealthy and disabled industrialist Sydney Stanton (John Hoyt) to build the vehicles but Stanton wants to choose the people instead of just being allocated a seat. Meanwhile Joyce Hendron (Barbara Rush – wahey!) falls for Randall, forgetting about her boyfriend.  Everyone is building rocketships, people are being evacuated and the world is about to end:   who will survive the impact of Zyra as it first approaches Earth and causes volcanoes and crashing buildings?  And who will make it onto the arks in this lottery for survival? Soon as anything, there’s a riot going on. Great fun. Directed by Rudolph Mate.

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Contact (1997)

contact-movie-poster

In between paying the bills, dealing with people, learning stuff, surviving illness, being distracted and getting through the day, everyone is trying to figure out what we are, why we are here and all that good stuff. There are many of us who would leap at the chance of getting off the Earth and into the galaxy for a bit. No?! Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) has been trying to make contact with people since she was a kid and her father (David Morse – what an apposite name) supplied her first with radios then telescopes and now that she’s an orphaned adult she’s a hugely important research scientist with SETI battling for funding until she can finally make contact with extra-terrestrial life:  people on Earth are just not as fascinating, when you get down to it. And funding’s a bitch as far as getting the Government to back you. The publicity attaching to her private project when static is finally revealed to be the first ever TV pictures being beamed back to Earth (Hitler at the 1936 Olympics) – along with plans to build a bloody huge machine for goodness knows what purpose – elicits scepticism, terror and hostility, especially from the religious nuts. She argues with theologian Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey) about the differences between facts and articles of faith and the film is really a disquisition on the politics of belief. She misses out on the first supposed opportunity to travel to meet the alien life forms, in favour of her game-playing boss David Drumlin (Tom Skerritt); while the original project is actually being backed by a reclusive billionaire SR Hadden (John Hurt) who has his own very personal reasons. Science versus religion is the heart of this superior production from Carl Sagan’s novel which he based on a story devised with his wife Ann Druyan, originally a treatment for a film at Warners. It was adapted by James V. Hart and Michael Goldenberg and directed by Robert Zemeckis. Foster is perfectly cast in this story of grim determination. If you’ve been to Cape Canaveral you’ll wonder at the possibilities, as much as you laugh at the rockets and paraphernalia that seem to be made from egg boxes and tinfoil. But all it takes is a leap of faith … Marvellous, in every sense.

Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953)

Abbott and Costello Go To Mars poster

In which our bumbling twosome don’t actually go to Mars but accidentally blast off and stop in N’Orleans at the Mardi Gras where a couple of gangsters hitch a ride. Then they all fetch up on Venus (stop the John Gray jokes there in the back) where Mari Blanchard, Martha Hyer and their exclusively lady friends have seen it all before. If you look fast you can spot Anita Ekberg as a guard.  Sci fi was a hot topic so the duo was bound to have a go and indeed this might have been inspired by Robert Heinlein’s 1950 film treatment in which they go to the moon … Some good sight gags (moon boots, the Statue of Liberty) and wisecracks about Miss Universe (Ekberg – or Ekborg?! was Miss Sweden!) but nothing to get hung about.

 

Bridge of Spies (2015)

Bridge of Spies poster.jpg

Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, a Coen Brothers rewrite and a Cold War story nobody really knew much about. Atmosphere, slick decisions and great shooting magnify this episode which played out as the sideshow to the U2/Gary Powers drama in 1960. The decision not to show the trial of Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is a surprise and a good one because the real drama is the collegiate relationship with lawyer James Donovan (Hanks) and the heat he takes for defending him at the government’s request. His negotiating skills are demonstrated when it comes to a so-called spy exchange with the Soviets in Berlin and this is when things get murky and nobody is really who anyone else thinks they are. There are some good jabs at everyone involved, a nice touch with a cinema in Berlin showing (amongst others) Spartacus and One, Two, Three (Wilder’s great modern Berlin comedy which was only released in December 1961 in West Germany) and one wonders was it lateral thinking that made someone think of the U2 singer’s daughter in the role of Donovan’s child. A great sequence downing the bomber, some subtly good instrumentation in the score and convincing setpieces in Berlin as the Wall goes up make this a terrific, intelligent entertainment. There were a lot of tissues at the screening I attended – Donovan’s sniffles are contagious.