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Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Day the Sky Exploded

This Italo-French production was actually produced in 1958. The American release did not hit theaters until the autumn of 1961. Even though Il Morte viente dallo spazio (Death Comes From Space) was produced in 1958, the American release came in the autumn of 1961. As The Day the Sky Exploded (DSE), it formed the third version of an intriguing co-incidental theme of sudden global warming. The first (of '61) was the British film, The Day the Earth Caught Fire. The second was an American film, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Like the other two, DSE blames nuclear energy for earth's trouble, and uses nuclear weapons as its savior.

Quick Plot Synopsis
An international space agency is about to launch a manned moon mission using the atomic powered XZ rocket. American astronaut John McLaren is tapped for the job. The launch goes smoothly enough, but when he goes to throttle-up for leaving earth orbit, one of the engines misfires. He cannot correct the errant rocket's course. He ejects the capsule and returns to earth safely, but the atomic powered XZ continues on into space, exploding among some asteroids. The dislodges them into an orbit that will strike earth. Worse yet, they've clumped together to form a giant asteroid. If it hits the earth, all life will be doomed. As the mega-asteroid approaches, it causes climate disasters. Tidal waves, freak winds and oppressive heat. The only hope for earth is to fire all available nuclear missiles at the mega-asteroid in hopes of blowing it up. The nations of earth unite to set all missiles ready. The base at Cape Shark is to supply them all with firing data, but the heat is too much for their super computer. One of the scientists named Randowsky has gone wacko. He shut off the air conditioning to prevent the launches. Everyone should just accept their doom, he says. There's a fight. He kills Herbert, but dies too. The others restore power to the air conditioning, so the computer is able to calculate all the data. All earth's missiles are fired. They do the job and blow up the asteroid into small bits. Earth's climate pretty quickly returns to normal. All are happy. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
It was interesting to yet another global-warming disaster film in the same year. Again, it was oppressive heat caused by improper nuclear power.

Cold War Angle
The sometimes contradictory attitude towards nuclear power (and weapons) is captured in DSE. They threaten to destroy the world (as in the XZ causing the mess in the first place), yet they can save the world (all the missiles that blast the asteroid). Note the subtle details. Mishandled nukes cause trouble. Rightly-applied nukes save the world.

Internationalism -- A recurring trope in later Cold War films, was the international team. Here, the mission team includes an American, a Russian, and a smattering of other nationalities. The future was imagined to have moved beyond the caustic nationalism of the day.

Mad Scientist(s) -- It was interesting that the scientist named Randowsky loses his cool (pun intended) and rants about people getting the fate they deserve for messing with nuclear power. He sabotages the rescue effort. In this, he is reminiscent to the two saboteurs in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. There, the religious zealot Alvarez does the ranting, but it was the scientist Dr. Hiller who actually sabotaged the missile firing to save earth.

Acting Odd -- As an Italian film, the acting and direction can look a bit odd to American eyes. Paul Hubschmid plays a strangely wooden astronaut. He gets better when back on earth. The developing love between Katy and Peter comes across as dysfunctional, at best.

Safe for Boys and Dogs -- The heavily symbolic ending asserts that all is well again on the earth. Young Dennis runs through a tranquil meadow, chasing the dog named Geiger. The earth (trees, grass, sky) recovered almost instantly from the massive heat. Oh, that global warming could so quickly be reverse, eh?

Bottom line? DSE makes a good triple feature with Voyage and Caught-Fire. It is the lesser of the three, in terms of quality. Yet, it is also an ancestor to the modern "Deep Impact" type disaster movies of later decades. Not great, but worth watching.

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