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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Crack in the World

Paramount distributed this big-budget production by Security Pictures in the spring of 1965. Crack in the World (CW) was partially a sci-fi movie and partially a disaster movie. Like many of the disaster-genre that would follow, the destructive power of nature itself -- rather than a giant reptile -- is the monster. Solid actors, a decent budget and ample action make CW one of the mid-60s' big A-level sci-fi movies.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Project Inner Earth, headed by Dr. Steven Sorensen, plans to tap into the molten core of the earth to supply unlimited power for mankind. Their problem is that they've encountered an extremely tough shell around the core which no drill can penetrate. Sorensen wants to use a nuclear missile to punch through that shell. Dr. Ted Rampion is worried that the earth's crust is too fragile, due to all the previous nuclear weapons tests. Some complex back story about Steve's wife Maggie (a much younger woman) being Ted's former girlfriend clouds the issue. Steve finding out that he has a terminal illness clouds his judgement too. Steve convinces his bosses to let him fire the nuke and does so. All seems to have gone as planned. The magma wells up and everyone is pleased. That is, until massive earthquakes start wiping out towns and a giant rip in the earth's crust appears. To make matters worse, the rip lengthens steadily. If it goes all the way around the earth, it could break in half and disintegrate. Ted and his team plant another nuclear bomb in a pacific island volcano to stop the rip. This seems to succeed, but the rip turns back towards its origin. More earthquakes and destruction. Steve is a jerk to Maggie. Ted is heroic. Steve is almost too ill to continue. The project base is wracked with tremors. Ted and Maggie escape, but Steve remains behind to record events. The crack meets its origin point. A glowing ball of magma rises into the fiery night sky. Earth now has two moons. A squirrel comes out of hiding in a hole. Ted and Maggie hug for joy. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
CW is an action-packed disaster flick. Lava, landslides, train wrecks and lots and lots of explosions. Any 12-year-old boy cannot help but love this film.

Cold War Angle
CW is a strong example of the Nuclear Caution branch of Cold War morals. Man, recklessly misusing nukes, sets off a chain reaction (much like modern wars have been) which threaten to destroy the world as we know it. A "counter strike" of another nuke (in the volcano) averts total annihilation, but leaves millions dead and the earth scarred forever. All this makes for quite a blatant nuclear cautionary tale.

Cracked Science -- Sci-fi, as a genre, is hardly famous for strict scientific accuracy. Aliens who look perfectly human and speak English? Big monsters who can eat whole cities, yet never have to poop? But never mind. CW's flawed scientific premise is that the earth's crust is an integral shell. The integrity of this shell is what keeps the earth from flying apart due to centrifugal force. Of course, if that were true, us unattached humans ought to be flying off into space. But never mind. Knowledge of Plate Techtonics was not new in 1965, but it had not filtered down to the popular level yet. Modern viewers will scoff at CW. The earth has always had cracks in it, and works rather well that way. But, to non-scientists in the mid 60s, with a hard-shell view of the earth, the premise was more credible and pretty frightening.

More Mad Scientist -- Dr. Steve Sorensen fills the customary role of misguided (mad) scientist in several ways. He wants to do some beneficial deed for mankind, but miscalculates and causes destruction. In this case, it is nature (the earth) who becomes the monster. Per the customary role, poetic justice prevails. The monster kills the offending scientist for his haste or hubris. Once he's dead, and his sin atoned for, the rightful order is restored (lovers kiss and small furry animals emerge from their burrows)

Tedious Triangle -- Many a sci-fi movie has been hobbled with tangled drama. CW is no different. In the midst of the impending destruction of the earth, Steve can still be a petty jerk to his young wife. Maggie can still be conflicted over her less-cerebral lust for Ted. Ted can still show off his big biceps, etc. This seems quite reminiscent of Catwomen of the Moon, where upon meeting another race of beings who are openly hostile, the main characters obsess over who loves whom. Perhaps astute movie producers knew that their young audiences were likely still mired in that high-school drama mindset, in which who liked whom and who was being a jerk to whom, etc. was more important than anything -- even the destruction of the earth.

Going Together -- Movie goers of the early 60s would probably have "felt" that Ted and Maggie really belonged together anyhow. Kieron Moore and Janette Scott had starred together before CW, as lighthouse-bound husband and wife biologists in Day of the Triffids ('62): another Security Pictures film. They would team up again in Security Pictures' Bikini Paradise ('67) -- a comedy outside of this study's scope.

Bottom line? CW is a well done disaster flick with ample entertainment value. There is plenty of action and the special effects respectable enough. After a steady diet of ultra-low budget movies, CW plays like an epic blockbuster.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent review. Another thing to add is the awesome score. The music really helps elevate this terrific film. I recommend this one to all my friends on Netflix.