Double Feature: The Thing

Day Eleven of the 2010 Silver Shamrock Happy Halloween Countdown!

Happy Halloween Countdown Day Eleven

The Double Feature Thing

It’s double feature time with Howard Hawks’ 1951 The Thing from Another World and John Carpenter’s 1982 film The Thing.   The Thing from Anther World is considered a science fiction- horror classic and The Thing is well regarded, especially by horror fans.  Movie nerds in debating the merits of remakes will often cite The Thing as an example of a good remake, with the underlying premise that remakes are no big deal, while others argue that it’s an exception to the rule and that remakes generally suck.  My own feeling is that in this instance both opinions are full of crap — at least as far as these two movies go.  The Thing from Another World has a dangerous alien and is set in an isolated snowy place.  The Thing has a dangerous alien and is set in an isolated snowy place.  They both have the word “thing” in the title.   Both movies are very loosely based on the  John W Campbell short story Who Goes There? From here these movies part company, not only from the 1938 short story, but from each other.

The Thing from Another World takes the atmosphere and setting of the story, but populates it with different characters – characters more in keeping with a post war science fiction film – there is Captain Patrick Hendry, the tough but loveable hero; Nikki Nicholson, his tough but loveable love interest who works as a secretary for Dr. Carrington, and is the only hottie in the Arctic Circle; Hendy’s tough but loveable flight crew; a group of scientists, who might be loveable and tough, but mostly serve as incidental characters and monster food; Dr. Arthur Carrington, an arrogant egghead and leader of the expedition and lastly, Ned Scott, the reporter and provider of comic relief.

The US Army receives word from a science outpost that an unidentified aircraft has crashed in the Arctic ice nearby.  The Army sends a rescue team headed by Captain Hendry to investigate.  Instead of an airplane they find a huge weather balloon filled with swamp gas (Read huge weather balloon filled with swamp gas as alien spacecraft.  You didn’t hear it from me.  I was never here) embedded in the ice.  In high 1950’s fashion they try to blast it free, blowing it to bits.  They do find the remains of the alien pilot, which they cut from the ice and take back, encased in a block of ice, to Carrington’s base.

The alien gets loose and begins its killing rampage.  We discover that it is not an animal, but an intelligent, mobile and aggressive form of plant.  This highly original notion is unique to this version of the story.  It’s definitely one of the more interesting ideas forwarded by a 1950’s era science fiction film.  The romantic subplot between Hendry and Nicholson, which is a major part of the 1951 film, was neither part of the short story nor carried over into Carpenter’s version.

The Thing from Another World is one of the better alien invasion movies of its day, it’s claustrophobic setting and dense atmosphere served to inspire filmmakers that followed, including John Carpenter, who inspired by The Thing from Another World, would in turn adapt the source material for his own classic film– The Thing.

Carpenter’s The Thing, is a very different animal from the Hawks film.  Carpenter, instead of remaking the 1951 film, returns to Who Goes There? as his starting point, then molds it into something as unique and as iconic as the earlier adaptation.

Carpenter uses, more or less, the characters from the short story instead of those from the Hawks movie, and returns to the original idea of the alien as an aggressive animal that feeds on and transforms itself into whatever or whomever it chooses.  The Thing creates a more intense feeling of isolation and paranoia than the Hawks film, skillfully backed up by some top notch special effects provided by Stan Winston and Rob Bottin.

Visually, Carpenter, a fan of the Hawks film, homages it by using some its imagery, notably the title and the scene where the spacecraft is discovered.  It acknowledges the first film while doing something totally different.  I find it comparable to Spielberg using the sound of the Martian ray weapon from George Pal’s War of the Worlds in his own version of the HG Wells story – it references the first movie without stepping on it or stealing from it.

In 1982, critics blasted The Thing and crowds stayed away in droves; over time it has come into its own, joining and ever surpassing the Hawks film in the hearts of horror and science fiction fans.  A straight up comparison of these two movies doesn’t work.  They are very different movies with very different themes and an awesome double bill.

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