Val Guest's DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE
Movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
Val Guest’s businesslike direction and matter-of-fact approach to depicting extraordinary circumstances in a near-documentary style here yield a still-watchable and very entertaining thriller that takes place in London in the early 1960’s.
The premise is outrageous. Simultaneous thermonuclear test explosions at the Earth’s North and South Poles fling the Earth out of its orbit on a crash course with the sun. But instead of Armageddon style histrionics we have in its place a 1960’s newspaper story told from the perspective of the dedicated staff who rally to bring news of impending doom to the public. Guest filmed most of the film in black and white with portions in tinted red that depict the scorching atmosphere as the nations of the world unite to reverse almost certain doom.
The characters seem real. After a while you an almost smell the sweat as the temperature continues to rise. The newspaper setting is meticulously recreated and extends to employing a former chief editor in a key role. Special effects are minimal but effective.
As with QUATERMASS 2, the director’s commentary on this DVD is factual and very enlightening. I can’t help but think that the dramatic techniques employed and described here are still very relevant despite the passage of 40 years since the release of this film.
In summary, this is a quite enjoyable and thought provoking film. It holds up extremely well despite its age and is a good example of how respect for basic dramatic principles and character development transcend constantly changing styles. Despite the anachronistic emphasis on the roles and performance of print journalism, the central theme of the movie is timeless —- the viewer is forced to think about the end of the world.
The difference between this and a potboiler like INDEPENDENCE DAY is striking. Considering the pittance spent on DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE, you really have to wonder if the extra millions of dollars are worth it.
Review copyright (c) 2003 by Dennis D. McDonald