Friday, February 7, 2020

Unknown World

Unknown World
Terry O. Morse

With the ever-present threat of nuclear war coming, a scientist organizes an expedition to find a place deep within the Earth that can house humanity once the surface is destroyed. Their transport is a drilling machine called a Cyclotram. A rich industrialist, Wright Thompson (Bruce Kellogg) foots the bill for the whole endeavor. Soon enough the team is tunning through the crust and into empty lava tubes deep within the planet.

Back when I was younger and making my initial dives into cult film, b-movies, and the like, 1950s SF was really my entrance point. It wasn’t too difficult to find them on VHS or playing on cable, it was even more fun to spend too much money ordering titles from the Sinister Cinema catalog. Unknown World was an intriguing title. While most 1950s SF concentrated on going into space or a least dealing with threats that arrived on the surface of the Earth, there really wasn’t much in the way of traveling beneath it. I imagined there would be some sort of monster, dinosaurs, or alien threat lurking under the ground.

"I can't believe we wore the same outfit to work."
It turns out that that was the wrong way to approach this film. Unknown World makes an attempt to at least to approach its subject matter with a serious look at the lengths humans will go to absolve themselves of the responsibility for nuclear war. For a kid looking to see some rubber-suited molemen, this is absolutely not what I had signed up for and I  was disappointed as I watched it.

Now that I’ve had several decades between viewings, I appreciate Unknown World a lot more.  It follows the basic structure of many space travel movies at the time, a team wants to explore a distant place, a rich guy builds a thing, they get to the moon/Mars/an underground ocean, a bunch of people die in the process and the team returns a little wiser.

The boredom meter maxed out.
Unknown World isn’t a good movie, it is far too languid and dull with large stretches where you are stuck with unlikable identical-looking white guys being important at each other but the moment when our heroes reach what looks like a safe haven, it holds a bleak truth that really resonated with me.

The team arrives at vast cavern that holds not only a bright phosphorescent ceiling, plenty of volcanic ash in the soil, but also an underground freshwater sea. It seems the perfect place for humanity to hide out while the encroaching nuclear war comes on the surface. Dr. Joan Lindsey (Marilyn Nash) makes a terrible discovery, the test rabbits they brought along give stillbirth. Life cannot be made here and any group of people living here would be the last generation to ever exist. It is a horrifying prospect, but one that some people find more appealing than dying in nuclear fire. In the end, the survivors vote to leave and face a world that has the potential for growth or annihilation rather than one that would offer comfort but certain demise.

Still looks less stupid than the Cybertruck.
That's a heavy message for what could have been Saturday matinee fare it is a more memorable movie for it. So, Unknown World does have a reason to exist, but it is undermined (yeah, I just said it) by the sheer dullness of its production. Whether it is worth spending the time to unearth (did it again, oops) that message is really up to your movie-watching endurance.

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