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The classic 1950's science fiction film of cold war paranoia,
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This review is from: The Thing [VHS] (VHS Tape)
"The Thing From Another World" remains the best of the 1950's black & white science fiction films, avoiding both the fake monsters of "Them," its ideological counterpart, and the piety of "The Day the Earth Stood Still." I still remember the first time I saw this movie and realized that here were characters who talked as fast as I did. I know Robert Altman and "M*A*S*H" get the credit for "inventing" over-lapping dialogue, but that seems a bit absurd to me after watching the conversation and group discussions throughout this film. I am teaching a Science Fiction literature class for the first time this semester and I wanted them to also watch an example of a classic 1950s science fiction film and this film was my immediate choice.
As John Carpenter reminded us in his 1982 "remake," the 1951 version is not even remotely faithful to John W. Campbell, Jr.'s classic sci-fi short story, "Who Goes There?" Campbell wrote of a stranger visitor from another planet who could take on human appearance, so that the problem was that you never knew if the guy sitting next to you was your buddy or the monster. "The Thing" offers a monster from outer space, but with atmosphere, pacing and wit rarely seen on the silver screen. Charles Lederer gets screen credit for the script, but we know know both Howard Hawks and Ben Hecht had a hand in the writing as well (you can find Lederer's original script on line to check out the differences for yourself), and it has been taken as gospel for years that Hawks had some hand in the direction as well (as did Orson Welles according to some). After all, this was Christian Nyby's first screen credit as a director and he went on to direct mostly television series from "Gunsmoke" to "Kojak." Whatever the background of the story, what is important is that this film manages to combine claustrophobia, xenophobia, paranoia and hypothermia into a first rate chiller.
The story is relatively simple. Something crashes in the arctic near a scientific station and Air Force Captain Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) and his crew fly on up to see what is going on. The station is run by Dr. Arthur Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite), who may well be the haughitest scientist on the planet. Just to make things interesting Hendry has a relationship with the good Doctor's secretarial assistant, Nikki Nicholson (Margaret Sheridan, technically the "star" of the film). The group heads out to the crash site, where they find something buried in the ice. In one of the most famous (not to mention inexpensive) special effects shots of all time, the group traces out the shape of the buried object and discover'it is round. When attempts to use thermite to thaw out the space ship only end up destroying it, the crew finds the "pilot" has been thrown clear and frozen in a block of ice, which they obligingly take back to the station and where an electric blanket used so the armed guard does not have to look at that thing in the ice serves as the deus ex machina for getting the creature out and about. Mayhem then ensues. Note: I remember people referring to the Thing (played by James Arness, who avoids monster makeup as the heroic FBI agent in another classic 50's sci-fi film, "Them!") as the "carrot monster" movie because the creature is more like a sentient vegetable than any animal.
Unlike "Them" where the military willingly listens to the nice elderly scientists to get the big bad giant ants, "The Thing" has a more complex socio-political sub-text. Dr. Carrington declares "Knowledge is more important than life" and pontificates about how "There are no enemies in science, only phenomena to be studied." Offering a more objective point of view is Ned "Scotty" Scott (Douglas Spenser), a reporter who came along for the ride and stumbled onto the story of the century, who pointedly asks, "What can we learn from that thing except a quicker way to die?" Thus we have a conflict in the group between the scientists and the military men, although in the end it is Carrington alone who refuses to see the errors of his freethinking ways. But more importantly, Captain Hendry is not the true hero of the piece, and one of the great running gags of this film is that he is always trying to catch up with the plots of his crew, especially Bob (Dewey Martin) the crew chief, whether in regards to finding a way of dealing with the carrot monster or trying to get their captain to settle down with Nikki. Another great thing about this film is that the romantic subplot is one of the most unromantic subplots in movie history, having to do mostly with what may or may not have been said during a drinking engagement on a previous weekend.
This is one of those science fiction films where if you do not love it then you probably have not seen it, although you have probably seen people watching "The Thing" since it pops up in both "Halloween" and "Scream." Not until "Alien" do we have such a superb combination of science fiction and horror, and I would still pick the simple elegance of this 50 year old film over the special effects of Ridley Scott's film. Just compare two scenes from these films to prove by point: the chest-buster scene from "Alien" and the gieger-counter scene from "The Thing." In 2001 "The Thing" was added to the National Film registry, which is a totally appropriate piece of timing. Finally, remember: "Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!"
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Showing 1-10 of 25 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 28, 2006 4:59:39 AM PST
Amazon Customer says:
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 2, 2006 9:45:55 PM PST
I'd be much more interested in what the DVD itself has to offer.
Posted on Dec 31, 2006 8:30:33 AM PST
Patrick Miller says:
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 8, 2007 5:31:10 PM PST
[Deleted by Amazon on Mar 27, 2011 4:59:15 PM PDT]
Posted on Oct 12, 2007 8:02:53 AM PDT
J. H. Gauthier says:
I appreciate the wealth of information offered by the review. Those with other opinions are welcome to them, but should not disparage a good review like this because of a difference in opinion.
Posted on Jul 25, 2008 9:31:09 AM PDT
Great review. Thanks!!
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 20, 2008 6:36:37 PM PDT
A Reader says:
Among the science fiction greats: The Thing From Another World; The Day the Earth Stood Still; Forbidden Planet; On the Beach; Five; Silent Running; Plan 9 From Outer Space (so bad it IS great); there are others, but I just wanted to point out that The Thing From Another World is most definitely on the short list.
This poster apparently has a rather narrow view of what is literature.
Posted on Oct 11, 2008 1:21:30 PM PDT
Brendon Spencer says:
I've got both 1951's THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD and John Carpenters version, THE THING. In spite of the awesome (for it's time) special effects of THE THING, the original comes off as better entertainment. I liked the character's, the by-play, and the friendliness. The sets were a bit cheap, and the monster...well, let's just not go there. In THE THING you have a group of "individuals" at a remote outpost with not a whole lot in common, no best friendships, no laughter. Even when things are at the most dire, the people in THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD are still a close-knit group, ready to help one another. If given a choice, I'll take the original over the remake any time.
Posted on Nov 7, 2008 2:01:30 PM PST
Conner Macleod says:
Excellent review, Lawrance!
Posted on Dec 23, 2008 8:52:01 AM PST
Acute Observer says: