Thursday, April 30, 2020

Unknown World (1951)

Sometimes, allegories are subtle.  The story makes a point without much effort.  Other times, the story is so strange that the point may be lost in the details or to time.  It’s been a few days and I have yet to figure out what Unknown World was trying to say.

The story is about a group of scientists trying to find a suitable place to live below the surface of the Earth.  They do this by going to the top of a volcano and burrowing down with their ride, the Cyclotram.  Two people die during the expedition.

After not finding anything at all for a while, they finally find a cave that’s perfect.  It has everything a group of people would need to survive indefinitely.  The bad news is that one of the scientists, Dr. Joan Lindsey, brought some rabbits along and they’re all sterile.  This means that the area wouldn’t be suitable.  The survivors are able to ride an underground ocean current back to the surface, where the movie ends.

I’m assuming that a lot of the context has been lost to time.  The main motivation for doing this is the threat of nuclear war.  If we destroy the surface, we’ll need someplace underground to live.  It’s not clear why they have to enter through a volcano.  They have this big drill.  Why not a mountain?  Even the name Cyclotram seems odd.  It’s like something Disney would name one of its rides.

The production also seemed to put very little effort into shots of the vehicle.  It looked like forced perspective of a toy.  Given that the drill was smaller than the width of the rest of the vehicle, I’m not sure how it was supposed to drill.  And when it did drill, how did it drill so quickly?  Modern drills can’t go that quickly and need to be replaced or recalibrated often.  I didn’t see any spare drill bits anywhere.

Also, it’s really lucky that they find a cave that’s almost perfect.  There’s plenty of light, water, food and space.  The only downside is that the rabbits can’t have kids.  It’s kind of a leap to assume that it will mean the end of humanity.  I’m not even sure how they knew the cave was the culprit.  For that matter, there was no concern about testing any of the humans.

The acting and writing are about what you might expect from an independent movie of 1951.  A lot of it is stiff and underacted.  There are a few scenes that make little sense, like one character going down a ladder to find water.  The ladder happens to be the exact length he needs to reach the bottom of a cliff.  He then looks around from where he’s standing before going back up.

Also, how are you going to convince that many people to live underground?  Granted, they found a well-lit area, but you’re going to have to do a lot of rebuilding.  I can just imagine trying to put a Starbucks in there somewhere.  It’s not the most appealing prospect, just like watching this movie.


Janne Wass said...

Remember, this was just after WWII, efter the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in the first years of the Cold War. The point of the expedition was not just to go and find a place to live underground for fun, but, as clearly stated in the opening scene -- to find a place where humanity can survive a nuclear winter. The moral of the story, as I see it, is that we can't run away from ourselves and hide in a cave, but must instead better ourselves and make sure that the surface of the Earth remains habitable. It's an anti-war and anti-nuclear bomb movie.

Brian Kuhl said...

A lot of that would be lost on today's audience.