The Thing from Another World
John W. Campbell and Charles Lederer
Kenneth Tobey as Captain Patrick Hendry
Margaret Sheridan as Nikki Nicholson
James Arness as the alien
A remote arctic research station manned by a team of scientists and military personnel led by Dr. Carrington detects an unusual object falling to Earth. After it reaches the surface Captain Hendry and a small contingent of Army officers fly in to investigate. A joint team of scientists and soldiers proceed to the crash site and discover the form of a UFO. Temperatures are so frigid that it is already covered with ice. In an attempt to access the vessel, the team detonates plastic explosives at several points on the ice. Yet the charges are too powerful and end up destroying the UFO. Yet, an alien form – also trapped in the ice – is discovered adjacent to the explosion. They remove it to the research station and store it in a room where – unbeknownst to the research team – it slowly defrosts under the warmth of an electric blanket.
On close examination the alien turns out to be an unimagined “thing” that challenges humankind’s assumptions about intelligent life. It predictably escapes and begins terrorizing the station’s inhabitants. Yet, its presence also produces a struggle between the military personnel, who seek to ensure the safety of all those posted to the station and the contingent of scientists who want to preserve the alien, even at the expense of their own lives.
The idea of a hostile alien with unknown intentions and abilities comprises the creepy theme ofThe Thing from Another World and at times succeeds in disturbing even contemporary viewers. There are a few decent scares, but the storyline is the principle source of horror and overall entertainment. The acting is typical of the time and the conversations move between characters (and over characters) so seamlessly that viewers may find themselves rewinding several times to catch all of the dialogue. If you fail to rewind, however, you are not missing much, as all of the important words are emphasized clearly and unencumbered by banter.
Upon release of The Thing from Another World in the early 50s, American society was beginning to grapple with the idea of space travel and the possibilities of intelligent life on other planets – with Mars speculated as the most likely candidate since telescopic images revealed what appeared to be canals on its surface. Although part of the horror genre, instead of scaring, the film fascinated audiences of the time. In the same year, The Day the Earth Stood Still (also about alien visitation) was released to the same effect.
Other very real events informed the fears of audiences at the time – including the conclusion of the most devastating war in history (World War II) and the prolonged conflict on the Korean peninsula, which appeared to be sucking the youth of America to a foreign land in the same alarming degree.
I dwell on the context of The Thing from Another World because it concludes with an ominous warning about the dangers from other planets and a thinly veiled appeal to the audience to maintain constant vigilance. Although a possible attempt to stir alarmist reactions – creating a buzz that sends more people to the theaters – it failed.
Yet, the film inspired two remakes – one in 1982 and the other in 2011. Of the two, the 1982 version is probably the one most horror fans have seen, or heard about. It is a fantastic film in its own right and although technically a remake, enough differences between it and the original exist to highly recommend both films.
In the original The Thing from Another World the conflict between scientists and the Army forms one of the fundamental themes of the film – creating almost as much friction and tension as the conflict between humanity and alien life. Interestingly, the soldiers are depicted as rational and upstanding and the scientists as dangerous and scheming. This dynamic is a product of the respect each group was accorded at the time and is not repeated in the 1982 remake – where scientists exclusively comprise the ANT-arctic team.
A more significant difference is the nature of the alien in each film. Both are original and fascinating and may fit into a similar overarching theme, but demand critical plot differences. Sci-fi horror fans will immensely enjoy this trip back in time, especially if they already like the 1982 re-make. The Thing from Another World is not just an earlier rendition, but a different film worthy of separate respect and highly entertaining (not only for nostalgic reasons) in its own right.