[November 10, 1961] EARTH ON FIRE (UK Sci-fi Report)


By Ashley R. Pollard

Last month, I wrote about the shocking explosion of the world’s largest atomic bomb.  Now, I plan to entertain and delight you all with a review of the film The Day the Earth Caught Fire, which will be on general release in Great Britain from the 23rd of November.  Its subject matter is serendipitous, if not unnaturally timely, cast in the light of recent events.  This can’t hurt its chances of doing well at the box office, and if you’ll pardon the levity, it’s surely guaranteed to become a blockbuster.  This early review has been made possible by influence of the Traveller, who has gone to great lengths in assisting me with gaining the credentials to see a pre-release screening of the film. 

The Day the Earth Caught Fire stars Edward Judd, Leo McKern and Janet Munro and starts in a most striking manner with Judd’s character walking in sweltering heat through the deserted streets of London.  The story then flashes back to how it all began when both the Americans and Russian simultaneously exploded atomic bombs at the Earth’s poles.  This caused both the axial tilt to change and also shifted our planet in its orbit around the Sun.

The effects of the axial tilt mean disruption to the regular weather: torrential rain and floods for example.  It’s only later we find out that the Earth has also been pushed closer to the Sun, which means the planet will soon become too hot for human life.  Unlike other nuclear horror stories, the emphasis here is on the hero discovering what is happening by putting together the bits of the puzzle, using his skill as a Fleet Street journalist to tell the story.  The way the film is shot has an almost cinéma-vérité feel to it, and arguably, the story pacing has produced a very British end of the world as we know it.

I was very much reminded of the Hollywood adaptation of Nevil Shute’s On The Beach as both stories deal with the anxiety generated by the existence of atomic bombs in the world.  However, while the former ends with the impending death of mankind, The Day the Earth Caught Fire has a more ambiguous ending, leaving us with the news of the detonation of bombs set to reset the Earth’s orbit, but without telling us whether the plan succeeded or not.

My understanding is that the film will be released in the United States in May of next year.  Also, for those readers who are concerned about atomic bombs knocking the Earth out of orbit, I have it on good authority that the energy required would be far greater than is currently achievable with our technology.

Now, last time I also promised to finish my summary of A for Andromeda.  We left-off waiting for what would happen to Fleming, Dawnay and Professor Reinhart in the next episode called, The Murderer. This episode gripped viewers around the country as the series premise of alien’s sending us the means to create life, and what that would mean for humanity, chilled people to the bone.

Christine, the character played by Julie Christie (who died in the previous episode) is re-created when the computer give the scientists the code for creating the next alien life form, which produces a clone of her called Andromeda.  The performance by Christie in her new role as the computer’s cat’s paw is compelling, and I expect she will go on to star in other things.  Now that the alien intelligence is embodied in Andromeda, the original cyclops creature host is killed by the computer.

In episode six, called The Face of the Tiger, Andromeda is put to work on developing an orbital missile defence program for the British government.  Further developments also include the producing an enzyme that will aid in healing injuries.  But it soon becomes clear that humanity is in peril of coming under the influence and control of the computer, which is using Andromeda to further its own agenda.  The computer reveals itself when opposed by Fleming by making Dawney, the biologist working on the project, sick.

In the final episode, called The Last Mystery, the story is moved forward into the year 1972, when the signal from the Andromeda Galaxy has stopped.  The military are now in full control of the project, and the computer having failed to kill the other scientists, tries to kill Fleming by using Andromeda.  This plan fails, and Andromeda is revealed to be a slave of the computer; the scientist agree that it must be stopped, otherwise the world will fall under the alien computer’s control.

Fleming is able to release Andromeda from the computer control by destroying it with an axe, and Andromeda burns the plans for the machine.  The pair try to make their escape, but Andromeda falls into a pool and dies, while Fleming is captured by the military.  As endings go, this is great for mankind, but a bit of a downer for the hero.  Still, there’s always the possibility of a sequel, because, after all, this is science fiction…

5 thoughts on “[November 10, 1961] EARTH ON FIRE (UK Sci-fi Report)”

  1. The Day the Earth Caught Fire sounds like an interesting movie, even if a tad unrealistic. Leo McKern is always a treat.

    A for Andromeda sounds good as well. It’s too bad that we here in the ‘States can’t get access to all of its episodes. I’ll bet that even having a time machine would only make that inaccessibility situation worse.

  2. Most people don’t realize how tight the connection between Hollywood and American theaters is.  Back before the war United States vs. Paramount Pictures broke up the direct ownership of theaters by the studios, but that simply meant that the new independent and chain theaters signed contracts to show specific studio films.  It’s all different legally, but there’s not much difference at the theater-goer level.

    In practice, this makes most theaters “closed shops”, and as long as the theaters are making money, they’re not going to object to it.  So you’re not likely to see a small-studio or foreign film in a good theater; just the little ones that aren’t connected to a studio already.

    What this comes down to is that while many Americans would like to see a particular foreign film, most foreign studios have no way to connect with American theatergoers.

    There are exceptions, of course.  One of my wife’s movie magazines had an interesting article (er, well, it was handy when I needed something to read…) about a British studio which is in production of a movie based on Ian Fleming’s “James Bond” character.  But the article was mostly about how the studio was negotiating distribution rights for the film, which is supposed to be released *worldwide* on the same day.  In English-speaking markets, anyway.  Apparently the studio is signing a raft of “partnerships” with local studios in order to gain access to their captive theaters.

    Fleming’s books sell well and spy stuff is “in”, so it might work out…  and if it does, there’s no reason other studios couldn’t do something similar.  But, alas, while the BBC is a big player, they typically consider little niche programs like “A for Andromeda” as being throw-aways, and it’s unlikely they’d put forth the effort for such a small production… but one could hope, anyway.

    1. This definitely seems to be the strongest (civilian) impetus for communications satellites.  There is some debate over whether these should be publicly funded or not, however. 

      Hughes and RCA and AT&T all have plans to launch “comsats” in the next year or so!

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