The Thing from Another World
WHAT IS IT?
Year of Release: 1951
Genre: Science Fiction/Horror
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 87 minutes (1:27)
Director: Christian Nyby
Margaret Sheridan ... Nikki
Kenneth Tobey ... Captain Patrick Hendry
Robert Cornthwaite ... Dr. Arthur Carrington
Douglas Spencer ... Scotty
James Young ... Lt. Eddie Dykes
Dewey Martin ... Crew Chief Bob
Robert Nichols ... Lt. Ken 'Mac' MacPherson
William Self ... Corporal Barnes
Eduard Franz ... Dr. Stern
Sally Creighton ... Mrs. Chapman
James Arness ... 'The Thing'
Billy Curtis ... The Melting Thing
Arctic researchers discover a huge, frozen spaceling inside a crash-landed UFO, then fight for their lives after the murderous being (a pre-Gunsmoke James Arness) emerges from icy captivity. Will other creatures soon follow? The famed final words of this film are both warning and answer: "Keep watching the skies!"
The Thing from Another World, the movie that reminds us that the proper storage of vegetables is critical. For best results, keep frozen, not just refrigerated. It's definitely a good thing that the well intentioned humans noticed the alien ship impact the earth as quickly as they did, otherwise he'd have certainly suffered extreme freezer burn. Churchies an Republicans love this movie, cause it's not often in a science fiction movie that the scientists are the ones that have their heads in their asses. Here, we've got the clear thinking military men that ultimately get the job done in the face of glaring ignorance by the scientific establishment. It's been said that there is no knowledge that is not power, but let me ask you this, what's the IQ of a corpse? Just goes to show you, that there are people out there that're extremely intelligent, but not very smart. This one's a little older than what I'm generally accustomed to, so lets see what we can learn from a movie that's fundamentally different from my usual assortment, at least, stylistically. First, it turns out that humans were still only wormlike, evolutionarily speaking, in the Pliocene era. That's only 2.6 million years ago for those that don't wanna look it up. Second, not only can an electric blanket thaw a four foot thick block of ice in a couple hours, but it's also perfectly safe to get one sopping wet. An third, if it is your intention to keep something frozen, while it may seem more practical to leave it just outside the door, or to bring it in and prop the door open a few feet, it's much more fun to just bust out the windows.
I do realize that they were concerned that the scientists would thaw it out if they were given the chance, but in that case, what was the sense in stationing a guard? The guard can stop them with or without frostbite blasting in, after all. Those things are all well an good, but this movie has a scientist that happens to have a character flaw that I've just never been able to wrap my head around. The scientist, played by Robert Cornthwaite, just can't accept the possibility that this alien may not like humans. It may even have come to Earth to conquer it. Surely, because it's a superior life form, it cannot possibly be simple enough that it still wishes to destroy. A lot of people have this problem. Not so far into the doom and gloom territory, but they cannot accept that people don't like them. They're never going to like them. And this will boggle their minds until the day they die. They need everyone to like them, otherwise they may have to spend a certain portion of their days trying to figure out what's wrong with them. First, themselves, then, when they fail to spot the problem, what's wrong with the person that can't stand them. Why do so many people strive to be beloved by as many people as possible? Some people just aren't going to like you; me, for instance. It's not the end of the world, just rationalize that there's something wrong with me, not you, and move on to irritating the Hell out of the next person instead of badgering me trying to figure out why you're a loathsome contemptible swine. Get some self confidence, ya jack wagon.
The movie begins in Anchorage, Alaska where it's so cold that even the local Hells Angels chapter is wearing scarves an beanies as they run you off the road. At the local military outpost, the military guys are all playin' poker an tryin' not to go gay on account of the complete lack of women. About that time, the Captain receives a transmission from the only outpost that's even colder, about a strange plane that went down nearby an that they need him to get his hiney up there to find out what it is cause all the pansy ass scientists don't wanna go outside cause it reminds 'em of that time in high school where they got pants'd an had to go retrieve their underpants from the flag pole in January. So the Captain assembles his crack team of underlings that couldn't take him seriously if he had a gun to their heads, as well as the whiny journalist that's upset that there haven't been any major losses of life in the last couple days to report on, an they're off to the top of the world to see if they're on Santa's "nice" list. Upon their arrival, the first thing the Captain does is to go find the dame that drank him under the table the last time he was here an left him passed out with his pants around his ankles in the officer's lounge. He forgives her, for now, cause lets face it, she's the only girl in town an it's not her fault he holds his liquor like David Hasselhoff. Besides, there was something he was supposed to do when he got here... oh right, that plane crash deal. So once the Captain gets all the details, it seems like maybe there's something funny about this, cause the thing that crashed was extremely heavy and extremely fast. Was probably just Benny Hill, but they decide to go have a look anyway. So once they arrive at the crash site they find what looks like Jaws frozen about five feet below ground level, but once they fan out along it's outer edge they realize it's the USS Enterprise an decide to dislodge it with thermite charges. Spacecraft don't use fuels do they? Never mind, I'm sure it won't be a prob... oh crap it's on fire. If anybody asks, the Eskimos did it. Then they start checking for radiation an find a giant Norwegian man frozen in the ice a short distance from the ship an figure maybe they should just chop this discovery out. Even though it takes FOREVER this way. So they get the Minnesota Ice Man out of the ground, hook him up to their dog sled, feed them about five pounds of steroids a piece an before too long the crew and the ice man cometh back to the base.
Once they get the ice block inside, the scientists wanna get him out so they can ask it all kinds of primitive questions, but the Captain tells them not to thaw the frozen entree until the General says it's okay. So, because it's not enough to have an armed soldier standing guard, the Captain's goons bust out one of the windows so it'll stay nice an chilly inside. Unfortunately, the weather is interfering with the radio broadcasts an the General can't make it over cause they forgot that the Captain was the only pilot expendable enough to send out in weather this bad. Then the journalist whines a little bit about freedom of the press an how he'll never amount to anything just because these fascists won't let him shoot his mouth off before he's got all the facts. After awhile, one of the Captain's flunkies comes by an tells him that the guard is getting the heebie jeebies cause the ice is starting to melt an the thing in the ice block is making creepy faces at him an he'd really like to get relieved before he pees himself an has to chisel himself out of his pants. So the Captain okays the changing of the guard and goes to find the dame so he can challenge her to a drinking rematch. But mostly he just pretends to be tied up so he can trick the woman wearing pants into waiting on him. Then he leaves to see how she likes having to take a cold shower for a change, an to see if his guard has maintained proper bowel control while he was gone. The guard is still dry, but he's really had it with the thing in the ice block making obscene gestures at him an decides to cover it up with a blanket. An electric blanket. Those produce heat right? Never mind, I'm sure it's not important. So after awhile the guard looks up from his copy of "Calf 'n Ankle" just in time to see Lurch staggering towards him an hauls butt outta there after firing off a few rounds at it. He's able to make it to the Captain an babble out his story to the crew, who goes to investigate an sees Lurch outside having a no holds barred grudge match with the mush huskies an making noises like Chewbacca as they tear at him. Lurch is able to kill a couple of the dogs, but not before they chew his arm off an Dr. Knowsbest tells everybody that it's basically a big rutabaga with anger management issues. Which is why the bullets didn't hurt it, and why the dogs spit out the arm an died after they accidentally swallowed some of it.
Dr. Knowsbest thinks the alien is superior in every way because it can reproduce asexually and has no emotions. Kinda like Mitt Romney an Al Gore. Then Lurch's hand goes full on Thing an starts moving around an they figure it's because it sustains itself on blood. So then class is dismissed an they go lookin' around the greenhouse where all the other vegetables hang out, but find nothing. The scientists stay behind cause Dr. Knowsbest noticed some miniscule detail that the average slob would surely miss an realizes that Lurch has been here recently. Then they find an exsanguinated sled dog in a storage bin an that pretty much clinches it, unless there's some Koreans hiding out in there too. They don't tell the Captain cause he doesn't have a degree from Harvard, but after a few hours one of the scientists on guard stumbles into the communications room lookin' like he got beaten for about an hour with a gunny sack full of frozen peas an says Lurch killed the two other guys an left him for leftovers. So they go check out the greenhouse but Lurch is inside workin' on his biology project an he gets real mad when they try an ask him about it an he has to take a swing at the Captain before they'll go away. Meanwhile, Dr. Knowsbest has planted the severed hand an sprinkled some miracle grow plasma on top of it an pretty quick it's sprouting up little Things faster than Larry Craig in a truck stop bathroom. They realize Lurch must have quite an army growing inside the greenhouse an about that time the other scientists start wising up, but Dr. Knowsbest thinks it's hunky dory an he welcomes the new zucchini overlords. Elsewhere, the Captain gets ahold of Dr. Knowsbest's notes from his lady friend an realizes he's gonna have to go bust some intellectual skull, but they receive a broadcast from the General stating that they'd better not go saving the world until he gets there an he personally tells 'em to. Then the Geiger counter lights up like Central Park on New Years Eve an they have to throw kerosene all over Lurch an put the torch to him after he busts through the door. But Lurch makes like Superman an jumps out the window with arms outstretched so he can roll around in the snow for awhile an get that smoldering cabbage smell to subside. You can smell that crap coming from about 15 miles away. By now Lurch is really mad an he's afraid that all the other cauliflower overlords are gonna make fun of him for having such a rough time with this pitiful planet an he cuts off the oil the crew is using for heat. So now it's up to the crew to pull something out of their asses before they turn into popcicles an Lurch turns the planet into an arboretum.
Generally, I don't much care for movies that're this old. They just don't appeal to me, stylistically. In much the same way as modern movies don't much appeal to me. But I'll still take these older ones over most anything made within the last 10 years, without a second thought. That said, as older movies go, this is one of the best from the science fiction genre, back when the science fiction genre was mostly just Mystery Science Theater fodder. The story is based upon John W. Campbell Jr.'s "Who Goes There", albeit rather loosely. In 1982 John Carpenter would remake it and follow the original source material much more closely than Nyby and Hawks did. And quite frankly, it's a lot better because of it. This version completely lacks the suspense of not knowing what form(s) the alien is even in at any given time. Here, you know it's always around, otherwise it'd freeze, and it cannot shape shift. So basically, you've just got 75 minutes of the cast waiting around to finally do something about it, almost as an afterthought. It's extremely light hearted when compared to Carpenter's version, and there's never really much of a sense of danger. At no point are you concerned that any of the principal characters aren't going to make it out alive, or that there may not be a happy ending. Realistically, Carpenter's version is so different, it's really a retelling, not a remake. But it was a different time, honestly, this version was much better suited to its era, and any attempt to make a more serious and suspenseful version, like Carpenter's, probably wouldn't have worked as well anyway. Movies from this era always work a little better if they don't take themselves too seriously. Which is not to say that the movie is failing at what it sets out to do, it just has quite a bit of humor written into the script, an I believe that is to its benefit. While Carpenter's version is far superior, both it, and this movie, maintain a higher degree of rewatchability due to their drastically different approaches. When remakes are too similar to the originals, you tend to develop a clear cut favorite, because they're trying to do precisely the same things, and it's only natural to consider which one does it better. But when they're this different, that doesn't come up.
So, when you're getting into movies this old, at least for me, there's not going to be too much worth mentioning about the cast. Which is not so say they weren't talented, or that they did a poor job, only that their backgrounds won't much interest me personally. The acting is perfectly acceptable, though as is typical of older movies, everyone reads their lines like the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. There are a few actors in the movie with other roles in movies that do interest me, but not many. Kenneth Tobey had a minor roles in The Howling and Gremlins 2, Robert Cornthwaite had a small role in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and a more relevant role in the original War of the Worlds, and James Arness was in Them! (Though most everyone that knows him at all is going to think Gunsmoke) So really, no points lost on the acting. I do try to scale these ratings a bit to account for stylistic differences between decades as much as possible, even when I don't like those differences. The plot is pretty simplistic, but it works. There are certainly other science fiction movies from the 50s with better plots, that didn't come out nearly as good. Alien crash lands on Earth, and is ill mannered towards its inhabitants. Pretty standard, nothing special, but effective. The settings are great. For the most part, all the indoor shots were sets built inside a frozen storage facility, but they all look great and have an authentic feel to them. The outdoor shots were filmed at Glacier National Park, Montana, for the most part. They're also good, but not as enjoyable as the indoor shots. The soundtrack is very unobtrusive, and with this type of movie, that's critical. All the scenes which have music, are improved by it. Often to lighten the mood, but equally important for generating atmosphere in the scenes that require it. Overall positive impact for the soundtrack. And last, the special effects. For their time, the special effects are really good. There are no bad special effects to be found anywhere in this movie. Granted, all you've really got are the monster, some electricity, a dead dog and a severed arm, but they're all well done. More importantly, they're all things that would diminish it's overall score if they weren't well executed. It's relevant to note that, there are no close up shots of The Thing, but realistically, there don't need to be. Bottom line, it's one of the classic science fiction movies that influenced a lot of guys that directed movies that I enjoy a great deal more, so it's extremely significant in movie history, even if I may not personally like it as much as most people do. If older movies aren't off putting to you, check it out, it's one of the best from an era long passed.