Unknown World

July 3, 2012 at 2:35 am (3 Heads, Unknown World) (, , , , )

Unknown World – 1951 – United States

Producer Robert L. Lippert is responsible for several sci-fi classics: The Quartermass Xperiment (1955), The Fly (1958), The Last Man on Earth (1964), and Earth Dies Screaming (1964). However, unlike those seminal flicks, Unknown World is creaky, boring, and its speculative elements now seem outlandish. In short, it has aged poorly.

Unknown World opens to a newsreel about the horrors of atomic war. The familiar Bikini Atoll bomb test is seen. Later, a group of radical scientists build a mole-car (the “Cyclotram”) to burrow deep into the planet. Their mission: Find a subterranean home for refugees of Earth’s inevitable nuclear holocaust. The scientists explore endless gloomy caves while quarreling and falling in love for the sake of a few shoddy subplots. Eventually, they find a tremendous cavern with vast oceans and phosphorescent “sunless light.” Could it be…utopia? Unfortunately, no. After their test rabbits are rendered sterile by some indeterminate factor, the scientists deem the world uninhabitable. The lead scientist is especially despondent. As the other scientists flee a volcanic cataclysm, he stays behind. Who knows? He might still be alive down there.

Shot in Carlsbad Cavern in New Mexico and the famous Bronson Canyon in Los Angeles, Unknown World has cool underground locations. It’s a damn shame that most of the scenes are in the Cyclotram’s cramped cheap-looking interior. Likewise, much time is wasted on the scientists’ uninteresting relationships. Instead, the focus should be on the fantastic new land they are pioneering.

Once upon a time, Unknown World might have been scientifically and politically relevant. Now it just seems turgid. Regardless, I give the writer props for not predictably populating the hollow Earth with prehistoric beasts. Even in that more innocent time, Journey to the Center of the Earth (Jules Verne, 1864) and At the Earth’s Core (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1914) had been ripped-off plenty. Then again, battling stop-motion sea monsters might have provided some much needed excitement.

Rating: 3/10 Shrunken Heads. Considering my love of hollow Earth fiction, I feel guilty for not liking Unknown World more.

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