Friday, February 14, 2020

World Without End

World Without End
Edward Bernds

A group of astronauts are heading to Mars when an engine malfunction sends them hurtling at incredible speeds. They wind up on Earth in the distant future and discover that the planet is finally recovering from a massive nuclear war. Horrible mutant cavemen roam the surface while deep underground the last civilized humans face a dwindling birthrate and potential extinction.

World Without End shows a lot of promise early on. We have a group of 1950s adventures facing mutants and giant spiders in the year 2058 and then… the movie just stays stuck with its underground hijinks for too long. There is a whole planet of post-nuke exploration to engage in and instead, we spend most of our time watching meetings and court proceedings. It feels like a wasted opportunity. Post-apocalyptic adventure would become a genre standard eventually and here we can see the seeds of that subgenre but things are too limited in scope to make much of an impact.

"I'm sorry did you just say you had Toaster Strudels?
It is difficult to watch World Without End in the 21st century without observing its particular brand of morality. We are presented with a group of people so shocked and horrified by the war that they have retreated to a place of safety and seem happy to remain there. The end result is presented not as a well-reasoned pacifist stance but that this act has made the men (and specifically the men) weak-willed and soft. The protagonists also note the women are still vibrant and full of life, yet World Without End doesn’t dare to show them taking charge, that society still exists under the yoke of these lifeless men. The travelers from the past rationalize that the only solution is to bring back war and colonization. The solution isn’t some kind of enlightenment brought on by witnessing the destruction of life on Earth it is to go outside and blow up mutant cavemen with a rocket launcher. I understand that sometimes you need to fight against an aggressor in order to survive but the people living underground here have every advantage save for the will to fight back. It seems disingenuous to not even consider a peaceful solution, but World Without End is a product of its time and the idea that you should go out and beat the ‘savages’ back with your superior technology feels odds especially when This Island Earth (1955) pulled off a much more thoughtful response to war.

"Ugh these allergies are murder on my eyes."
All that aside, the look of World Without End is beautiful. Shot in Cinemascope and Technicolor, the film has a big vibrant look. The interiors of the human’s underground shelter have a big bold 1950s design and the outdoor shots are lush and rugged by turns. Even the giant rubber spider looks great, the red of its bulging eyes out really pop on the screen. World Without End joins Forbidden Planet (1956), and This Island Earth (1955) in the triumvirate of iconic 1950s SF aesthetics.

Although it definitely has its share of story problems and it isn’t quite the thought-provoking meditation nor rip-roaring adventure it could have been, World Without End is a serviceable enough SF story and a great looking piece of genre cinema.

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