Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Top 100 disaster movies: The Day The Sky Exploded & The Night The World Exploded

The Day The Sky Exploded (1958)
The Night The World Exploded (1957)

There's nothing that 1950s science-fiction films did better than moralising. Today's two disaster movies both teach us about the evils of technological progress and conclude that if we carry on the way we are, we're all doomed.

The Day The Sky Exploded is an Italian film, dubbed into English. Unless you watch it in Italian, of course. It is a parable concerning the birth of the space age, Sputnik having gone up into orbit the year before. The film deals with the first manned mission to space, as American pilot John McLaren (for the dubbed version, his voice is provided by Shane "Scott Tracy from Thunderbird 1" Rimmer, a bonus) sits atop his giant atomic rocket to see what's what up there. However, when he loses control of the rocket in orbit, he ejects (which is only sensible, let's face it) and his pod returns to earth. However, faulty radio communications mean he doesn't hear the messages from base as to what to do with the atomic-powered boosters, which plough on into the beyond and cause an explosion with a giant asteroid belt, sending all its very best rocks in Earth's direction. Only some carefully targeted nuclear missiles can save us now. That's right, the same technology that caused all of humanity's problems is now its only salvation. This is irony for the atomic age.

The Day The Sky Exploded: This is why we should be more bloody careful

It's fairly standard stuff for the time. Nuclear weapons are bad (they are), the dawning atomic age is strange, frightening and dangerous (it was) and sending loads of shit into space is a great unknown (it still is). If 1950s science-fiction films have ultimately achieved anything, it's to make any number of serious points and objections seem like trite cliches. So, thanks for that, the 1950s. I can't recommend The Day The Sky Exploded with any real gusto as a result. The best actor in it was a dog, who was presumably an Italian dog. I give The Day The Sky Exploded a dreary THREE out of 10 disaster points.

It wasn't just in the day that things exploded in the 1950s, though, nor was it confined to the sky. In 1957 the whole bally world exploded, at night. There was barely a time of the day left that humanity was safe. The Night The World Exploded sees a dedicated seismologist called Dr. Conway build the most sophisticated device for predicting earthquakes ever seen and immediately it predicts that there's about to be a significant seismic event. There is, thus proving that his device must be well skill. But it doesn't stop there: there is an outbreak of savage earthquakes, all across the world. The earth's axis shifts as a result, meaning that cups and saucers all slide off tables. Scientists from around the globe descend on America, which is of course the best country, and during their experimental prodding around Carlsbad Caverns they discover an element previously unknown to science.

The Night The World Exploded: point it out the window and see if you can squeeze out a few drops, love

This element has a number of alarming properties, the chief amongst these being that, upon exposure to nitrogen, it expands and then explodes with enormous force. Scientists quickly realise that this Element 112 festoons the Earth in quantities which make you suspicious of why no-one has ever discovered it before. Volcanic activity is forcing it up towards the surface all over the world, causing it to dry out and then react with the nitrogen in the air. This is to blame for all the earthquake activity. Bleak news, especially after a supercomputer calculates that the final, cataclysmic quake that will destroy the planet is due in just 28 days. The scientists have just four weeks to cover Element 112 with water, stop the reactions and save the Earth. This they just manage to do, although not until Dr. Conway hatches the bright scheme to use Element 112's explosive force to blow a dam. That's right, the thing causing the problem proves to be our only salvation.

Presumably now safe, with government pamphlets distributed worldwide telling householders to just piss on any 112 that crops up, Dr. Conway is free to get balls deep in his glamorous assistant, Laura Hutchinson. No doubt to the chagrin of her fiancé. But what was to blame for this frightening state of affairs? I'll tell you: mining and oil drilling. Extraction of fossil fuels had raped Mother Earth into producing this violent counter-reaction. Quite how jetting hundreds of geologists around the globe to discuss this further will ultimately prove of any constructive use is one for the sequel.

The Night The World Exploded is another predictable, preachy 1950s sci-fi by the books. I give it FOUR out of ten disaster points.

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