The Thing From Another World is generally considered one thing in pop culture today: The original movie that inspired John Carpenter’s 1982 remake The Thing.While this is true, it is many other things, including one of the most renowned pieces of Science Fiction film from the 50s. I wish that I could give an account of how this movie stands up to it’s source material, the short story Who Goes There, but I am unable to do so at this point, having never read it. What I can attest to is the fact that this is the origins for one of cinemas most frightening creatures “The Thing” an alien being that means to destroy humanity and claim the earth for himself.
The story follows a group of military men, scientists and a news reporter as they respond to a strange sighting in the Arctic. The men discover a massive space craft in the ice. They liberate the alien pilot (liberate to an extent, the creature is trapped in a block of ice) and bring him back to their base. Once the inevitable escape happens they are faced with the how to act against the monster. The scientists are adamant about not harming the creature, wanting to communicate and learn from it. However, after the creature kills two men, the military personnel at the base turn only to thoughts of destroying it before anyone else dies, or worse, before the thing gets to civilization.
There are two types of characters that are very common in sci-fi. The first is the survivors, those characters that will do whatever it takes to preserve their own life. Then there are the inquisitive types, those that long to learn the answers to questions that humanity could never answer them. Both forces are present, keeping the conflict in the secluded Arctic base interesting. The dynamics between the human forces are familiar, because we know them to be human nature. Having watched both this film and Ridley Scott’s Prometheusin the same weekend, it was fascinating to see how many qualities the characters shared with those in The Thing From Another World. This is not due to an overused cliché, but rather a fundamental truth amongst humans that has been reaised namely though this genre. The drama, the emotion and the sentiment shown by the characters rings true, even today.
The film has some genuinely creepy moments, however the value of it comes not from it’s scares, which generated by dated means of special effects and older styles of film making, rather it comes from it’s use of a claustrophobic and tense atmosphere, a plot that builds on that atmosphere and fills it with characters that are well rounded and generate plenty of drama. Considered one of the best flying saucer movies of the 1950s, the film paved the way for hundreds of other science fiction thrillers. The film is considered one of the best sci-fi films of all time (Time Magazine selected it as the best sci-fi of the 1950s). In 2001 it was deemed “culturally significant” and was preserved in the National Film Registry.
As I have stated before this movie dates itself quite a bit, namely in bits and pieces of it’s story telling. The romance aspect of the film, for example. Though there is a horrible monster bent on destroying the world, there is still time for a warm, playful romance between two characters. This along with the tones of lighthearted joking and incessant whining about careers in the midst of a murderous alien on the loose tend to water down some of the tension. Horror films today have a tendency, to a fault, to be unrelenting in their suspense, so much so that it loses some of it’s impact. On the opposite end of the spectrum, this film throws quite a lot of warm banter and innocent romance at you, to the point where it seems like we’re being told “don’t worry, it’s going to be ok”.
The movie is good, it’s tense at moments and honestly has a great story. However I believe it’s purpose wasn’t served (a purpose not meant by anyone really, especially not the filmmakers) until 1982. This movie was the seed for what is, in my opinion, one of the best films in either the horror or the science fiction genre. Arguably there are far too many remakes in Hollywood, but the remake of The Thing From Another World came 30 years later and did something that the original was incapable of doing. Great art is often times inspiration for other great art, and this film is the shining example. When the craft of narrative film making was still fairly young, the audience was given a glimpse of the horror that was to come.