Verdens Undergang [DK 1916]

International title: The End of the World

Info: I embedded the full movie below.

THE PLOT

Verdens Undergang is an early science fiction movie about two daughters of a wealthy mine owner, Dina and Edith, and how they experience an imminent collision of a comet with Earth. Previously, Dina had left a small mining town to marry a successful stock broker, whereas Edith stayed in town. After Dina’s husband hears from his cousin, a well-known astronomer, about a comet which is to hit Earth in a matter of days, he uses his knowledge to become rich at the stock exchange. Together with his wife, Frank travels back to her home town, to hold out the catastrophe in the mines. However, the impending disaster also causes riots among the poor workers, threatening Frank and Dina’s plan.

WHAT I LIKE

The movie is obviously dated in presentation, production values, and visual quality. The presentation is slow and how dialogues and character interactions are shot, reminds heavily of stage plays. The image quality is, considering the movie’s age, good and features clear contrasts. Still, there are numerous visual artifacts (e.g., grain and hairlines) present at basically all times, and there are also several jumps, as probably pictures are missing from the raw material. Still, these technical features don’t distract from the movie itself and there are some nice shots, especially in the mining town or when characters are only seen as shadows (e.g., the sailors on the fishing boat), and the choreography is also great (e.g., the dancing scene at the end). Also, the catastrophe at the end is really well depicted, as the rudimentary special effects are largely effective in presenting the complete destruction of the town.

Technical notions aside, I liked the social commentary of the movie. Here, the rich and the poor are contrasted in clever ways, e.g. when the rich party in Frank’s mansion and claim to rebuild the world after the comet strike, whereas the poor are unprotected in the town. In short, the social commentary – which revolved around a society heavily traumatized by the ongoing World War I – is what makes the movie still intriguing for today’s audience.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

Although the movie can both be interpreted as a religious allegory and social commentary of the time, neither aspect is fully explored. This is partly due to the overly melodramatic first half of the movie, which introduces characters of little importance to the plot and makes heavy use of discussions that the viewer never hears. Together with the stagey presentation, this will turn off some viewers. Also, the plot is seemingly split between the two couples Dina/Frank and Edith/Reymers, however, the latter couple is largely irrelevant for the plot. In addition, some plot aspects also are illogical (e.g., Frank’s scam or the riot of the ship mates) – which could be because of how little the character’s motivations are explained. The uneven narrative focus and illogical elements ultimately culminate in an underwhelming open ending, which is neither satisfying to watch, nor furthers the plot’s allegorical meaning.

THE VERDICT

Verdens Undergang (international title: The End of the World) is one of the earliest preserved science fiction feature films. The plot is about an imminent collision of a comet with Earth, possibly resulting in a catastrophe in North-Western Europe. Due to the social commentary, the comparably well-made special effects, and the allegorical nature of the plot (cp., many have interpreted the social unrest as a result of World War I), the movie is considered a science fiction classic and is still an interesting watch. However, technically there are some drawbacks, not only regarding the visual presentation (e.g., heavy artifacts and muddy shadows), but also regarding the uneven plot and the disappointing character presentation.

Overall 6/10

INTERESTING FACTS

 – At the time, the film was immensely popular. This was attributed to Halley’s Comet in 1910 and the ongoing unrest during World War I.

 – In 2006, Verdens Undergang was digitally restored and republished by the Danish Film Institute.

 – The movie influenced La fin du monde [1931] and Melancholia [2011]. The former – although based on an older novel – also deals with a comet hurling towards Earth and a scientist who is concerned about mass hysteria; the latter deals with how two sisters experience the imminent collision with a celestial body and has the same ending shot.

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