Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Thing From Another World (1951)

The Thing From Another World is loosely related to John Carpenter's 1982 thriller, The Thing. I consider the 1982 movie to be one of the best sci-fi movies of all time, as well as the most chilling movie I have ever watched. It presents a bleak vision of extraterrestrial life and a terrifying existential threat to the human race. As a result, I had to check out the predecessor to that movie, spiritual or not.

While the Carpenter version is effectively a remake of this movie, his version follows a distinctly different plotline that is much truer to the source material. The source material in question is a 1938 short story called "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell Jr. Still with me here? Good. So what did I think of this movie? Read on to find out. Can it compare to the Carpenter version from three decades later? Is there too much talking? Were dames sassy in 1951? The answers to all three questions may surprise you.


Answers: It was good for the time; Not really; Yes; Yes.

I wonder if John W. Campbell had any idea that his short story would, thirteen years later, spawn this loosely-related movie. He died in 1971, and I also wonder if at that point, he had any idea that eleven years after that, -another- movie would come along even more faithful to the story he wrote. Or that twenty-nine years after that, -yet another- movie would be made as a prequel to that second one. The mind spins. It makes me wish we were immortal just so we could see the fruits of our labors on a longer timeline. Van Gogh says hi!
This movie takes place at the North Pole (as opposed to the 1982 The Thing taking place on Antarctica). It has an interesting cast of characters; the main character is a captain, and most of the lesser characters are his military subordinates. There's also a scientist and a journalist who play prominent roles in the movie, as well. While a modern movie might have these three characters clash in a microcosm of some sort of weird political conflict, this movie has the three guys get along pretty well even as they frequently disagree. I like that movies from this era tend to not feel the need to drum up conflict between the protagonists for the sake of drama.

After the discovery of a mysterious crashed UFO under the ice near the North Pole, the cast is dispatched to investigate the scene. They head for a nearby base where they'll convene.

The research base is where the majority of the movie takes place. This also supplies us with a lot of imagery that would be utilized by the later movies.

On the right is The Captain, the main character of the movie. He's an all-American military man, the hero of the 50's. Or any decade, really. To the left is the snooty lead scientist; while he gets along with The Captain well enough, it's clear that they aren't in agreement about everything. In the middle is the one woman in the movie, who is sort of an archetype for the female lead in the 2011 movie. She's very smart and figures things out before most of the men do, yet doesn't really get a whole lot of credit for it.

Another flight later, and the assembled crew arrives at the UFO crash site.

This reminds me of the scene in Spaceballs where all of the Jawas are marching through the desert and singing.

The crew finds a frozen shark the crashed UFO. While the later movies have the UFO being dated at 100,000 years old (which makes the story even more harrowing, it could have wiped out all life on Earth before modern humans even developed civilization), this movie has the UFO as a very recent crash. It basically happened a few days before the crew finds it.

The UFO left a trail of melted ice as it careened to a stop. These shots are impressive, especially for a movie from 1951.

The Sassy Male Reporter (left) will By God get to the bottom of this story!

The Misguided Scientist (center) wants to make friends with whatever is trapped under the ice. Hippie! I bet you'd appease the commies, too, ya rat bastard! We might as well just give them Cuba!

They proceed to... blow up the UFO, basically. They set thermite charges all around it and let rip, in an effort to free the craft from the ice. Instead of freeing it, they wreck it. Wow. Well, now we know they're definitely American.

But wait! All is not lost, as they find what appears to be a corpse under the ice nearby. Looks like they've found the pilot, and it looks like said pilot didn't get very far once it exited the crashed ship.

Back at the base, they leave the frozen creature (inside of a big block of ice) in a room to thaw out so they can examine the corpse. And on that note, everyone goes about their business, because NOTHING BAD WILL HAPPEN.

The heroic captain hangs out with his sassy dame friend, who ties him up for some reason. I didn't realize that people were this kinky in 1951.

But wait! It seems The Thing is missing. How the hell?

Indeed, there's a man-shaped dent in the ice where the frozen pilot corpse should be. It looks like after it thawed, it got up and...left. This is similar to how the story went in the 2011 movie; if we're comparing movies, this movie has more in common with 2011 than 1982.

2011 is also a "creature awakens" movie, while 1982 is a "creature already awake" movie. 1951 and 2011 both have the protagonists aware of the presence of the monster fairly quickly, while in 1982 it gets the protagonists completely by surprise.

The huskies in the base are all upset; they sense the presence of The Thing and attack it as it runs by. It shakes them off and escapes. This would also be a theme in the later movies, except the huskies don't fare so well in those. Luckily, this Thing is nowhere near as malignant as the one in the 1982 movie, otherwise the huskies that bit it would already be turning into Something Else.

...Brrr.

At this point our heroes need to figure out what to do about The Thing. Even though it hasn't really done anything yet and barely seems like a threat. It's basically lumbering around like Frankenstein's Monster. Real talk, people: This monster is nothing compared to the Carpenter version. I honestly don't know how so many people can tout this as the superior monster movie. This movie has a lumbering beast for an antagonist, while the 1982 movie had a shapeshifting, viral, malevolent, destructive malignancy that consumed everything it could into an otherworldly void of hissing oblivion.

In any case... the scientist wants to talk to it (get a haircut! ya hippie!), the Captain wants to make sure everyone survives, and the Sassy Male Reporter wants his story and will stop at nothing dammit!

The Captain treks around the hallways with an axe as they look for The Thing. This setting is so similar to the 1982 movie that I wouldn't have been surprised if someone told me that it reused the same rooms. Of course, it didn't, but it was clearly inspired by this movie.

In The Thing's most malicious act of the movie, it seems that it drained all of the blood out of one of their huskies. Lord knows The Thing doesn't like dogs very much. However, The Thing in this movie just seems like a creature trying to survive; it's basically after what it needs for food (blood) because it has to be. It's very different from the malignant, sadistic, eldritch nightmare in the Carpenter version, like I said.

While the later movies show the Thing as an animal life-form that propagates itself by mimicing or possessing humans like a virus, this movie has a far less threatening Thing. It's a plant, and it propagates itself by...well...leaving seeds everywhere that might grow into new Things. Yeah, that's scary for 1951, but it's nowhere near the viral scourge that is the later Thing. The plague-like, writhing mass of death that chokes the very souls out of every living thing it can reach.

...okay, I'll stop describing it now.

The one lady present has the brilliant idea to set The Thing on fire. Since it's apparently a plant-based life form, fire should work a lot better on it than bullets. And the amazing thing is... despite it being 1951, the men listen to her! Queue up the flame-throwers!

THE THING ARRIVES~! And it's... pretty underwhelming, actually. Reminds me of Frankenstein's Monster. It's even wearing odd clothes that we can only presume are... Space Clothes. Yep. It's... a far cry from the... formless, seething, virulent Lovecraftian horror of the later movies.

Our heroes proceed to TORCH 'EM! Holy shit! They're really not messing around!

The Thing runs away, crashing through a wall as our heroes rush to board up said wall before the icy cold can pour in. It running out into the snow like that also happens in the 1982 movie, which I now recognize as having quite a few nods to this one.

Our heroes set up an electrical trap next so that when The Thing returns for them, they can electrocute it. Man, they're really out to torture The Thing. LET THE PLANT MAN FROM SPACE FEED! JUST LET HIM FEED!

But wait! The scientist is getting in the way! By God, he wants to talk to it! ...He's right. Think of all the things we could learn from The Thing! It flew here in a spaceship, for crying out loud! That alone could change the course of technological history! We could be doing interstellar exploration by 1990 if we reverse-engineer that bad boy!

"RRRRR!" says Frankenstein's Monster The Thing as it returns. Actually, I'll admit it, this thing is kind of frightening for 1951. Of course, the Thing from the later movies? It makes this one look about as threatening as a kitten.

The scientist tries to talk to The Thing. It seems to listen to him for a moment, then it swats him aside. Take that, SCIENCE! Let the military guys show you how it's done! 1951! USA! USA!

The electric trap is sprung!

"THISH...ISH...THE QUICKENING!"

.......aaaaaand The Thing is dead. Yeah, that big plant goon wasn't anywhere near the existential threat to all life on Earth super virus malignant hellspawn that the later movies presented. I've probably said that enough by now, though. ...eldritch, writhing, macabre mass of soulless death, plague-like in its determination to consume all of us indiscriminately.

To celebrate, everyone sits around and enjoys a big pot o' coffee as they talk about what a strange day it has been. Yeah.

The movie ends with the reporter getting on the radio and going on about how The Thing was a huge threat and that we need to watch the skies for more of them. Yeah, I just didn't get it being a huge threat at all from this movie. Nice bit of fear-mongering at the end there, making this movie a very fitting kickoff for the UFO-crazed 50's.

So, what did I think about this movie? I've pretty much said everything I had to say already. As a huge fan of the 1982 movie, I was very underwhelmed by this one. It defies belief that there are people out there who swear by this movie being amazing, calling the 1982 movie a lesser facsimile. To me, there's no comparison. But I did like this.


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7 comments:

  1. Fire works well against the thing, huh? Well... that's true about most things.

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  2. except maybe for sci-fi entities like "The Id" in the film "The Forbidden Planet", or the silicone-based Horta in the original Star Trek episode "The Devil in the Dark" ;)

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  3. You're right that the 1982 Thing is the best Thing. It scared the beejeezus out of me.

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  4. Great stuff here. Any plans to cover the 1982 movie?

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    1. Doubt it, unfortunately. When something is that good I tend to not want to touch it. Weird, huh? Also, I've veered away from covering movies on here over the past year, so doing new posts for movies will be an uncommon thing going forward.

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    2. On the other hand that would give you an excuse to post that sweet picture of Russell at the end all "yeah, fuck you too!"

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  5. This looks like an interesting, and still rather light-hearted caper. You're right about the reporter's warning at the end coming from Red Scare mentality. Nowadays we try to keep such things quiet (see Transformers 1 with the attempt to hide information), reflecting our Security State mentality.

    Nice to see the Poles get some screen time.

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