The original The Thing from Another World was a 1951 sci-fi hit that was then remade by John Carpenter as The Thing in 1982. Finally, in 2011 came a direct prequel to Carpenter’s film. Also just titled The Thing, it is sometimes incorrectly referred to as a remake, which isn’t surprising considering it mostly just rehashes the same plot at a different Antarctica research facility.
So how do things –or should I say, The Thing – change every 3 decades? And which of these three films is my favorite? Get ready to start hurling fruits and vegetables at me….
THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951)
Although it’s based on the John W. Campbell 1938 novella “Who Goes There?,” The Thing From Another World came only a few years after the infamous real-life 1947 Roswell UFO Incident. So in a sense, it feels like it fictionalizes that still questioned story – spaceship crashes and government finds an alien inside – and moves it from the desert to Antarctica.
A team of military men is called to an Antarctica research facility after something crashes into the ice. Discovering it’s a spaceship, they cut out a block of ice with the alien frozen inside and bring it back to the facility. Soon, the ice block melts, the monster goes MIA, the men try to determine what it is and where it is, and eventually it shows itself and tries to kill them.
The alien in the original film is pretty basic human-like monster stuff – that kind of looks and carries itself like Frankenstein. A majority of the film builds on the fear of what you can’t see. There’s a good jump scare when the alien first tries to bust into a room and get them, but the alien only shows itself twice before the film is through.
The second time it appears is for the final battle, and it’s kind of…awkward. Naturally, not everything goes as the military men planned, but any sense of suspense is thrown out the window because the monster just stands still and waits for them to fix the problem before continuing to move ahead with its attack. So hokey, and so a sign of its time.
In this film, the main male character gets a completely unnecessary female love interest. Ah, the 1950s. No such romance exists in the 1982 film (bummer, since it’s an all-male cast) or the 2011 film. All three films feature sled dogs. Here, they attack the alien and rip off its arm, which the scientists study to determine that the alien regenerates using blood. Therefore, one of the dogs is found slaughtered by the monster – the goriest thing you’ll see in this film. It is a 1951 black and white film, after all.
The highlight for me is a reporter that comes along for the ride. He serves as the voice of the Roswell conspiracy theory of the government covering up alien evidence, but he also adds a quirky, comic element to the film. In fact, I would swear that Jeff Goldblum was pretty much mimicking his character 40 years later in Jurassic Park.
THE THING (2011)
Oh yes I did. For this blog, I watched the pre-make before the 1982 film. Viewing them back-to-back makes it easy to appreciate this film’s attention to detail in continuity. Everything that happens in this film is reflected in what the men in the 1982 film discover when they come to this film’s research facility. For instance, we learn how an axe seen stuck in a wall in the 1982 film actually got there. Cool, man.
Since this film covers what happened right before the 1982 film, it takes place in…1982! This is the only one of the three films to feature a female lead, a graduate student asked by a scientist to come to the Antarctica research facility after a discovery is made. Of course, it’s the alien spacecraft with the alien inside.
As in the original 1951 film, they take out the alien in a block of ice, the ice melts, and the alien escapes. At this point, the film becomes a modern rehash of the 1982 film. They discover that the alien replicates the life forms it attacks, which means any one of them could be the alien at any time. Distrust mounts, several suspicious characters are locked up for fear they are the alien, and the main character discovers a way to see if humans are really themselves or actually the alien in disguise.
Rather than playing up the distrust angle used for extensive tension building in the 1982 film, this movie focuses on the gnarly creature deformities as it morphs with humans.
There are some noticeable uses of CGI, but the creature designs are mostly practical effects, and they’re fricking awesome. This is a straight-up creature feature popcorn movie loaded with cheesy fun gore and chase scene. The characters even end up in the spaceship, a first for the series.
At the end of the film, a sled dog – just a background piece in this film – escapes the facility, and the surviving characters jump in a helicopter in hopes of killing it for fear it is actually the alien….
THE THING (1982)
John Carpenter’s film begins with a helicopter chasing a sled dog, eventually arriving at a research facility where Kurt Russell and his team protect the dog from the evil guys with guns. Kurt’s them then heads to the research facility from which the dog came to try to figure out what exactly went on there. Awesome.
Finding the burned remains of some sort of creature, they dissect it to study it. This film scores big with the practical gore effects all around. Take for instance what happens in the cage where they put the sled dog they saved with other sled dogs. That doesn’t go well for any of the dogs as it splits open and morphs into a hideous creature!
Pretty soon, the creature is melding with the men at the facility, they discover they can’t trust each other because anyone could be the alien, and they figure out a test to determine who is normal and who has turned alien. Like I said above, this concept is totally milked in this film, so we get a lot more of this than we do of monster action.
The testing scene is stretched out for maximum suspense, so it’s uber satisfying when someone in the team finally proves to be alien and begins to deform right before everyone’s eyes. All the major thrills in the film are saved for this sequence, which leads right up to the final battle…which is kind of anti-climactic!
Honestly, I’ve never been a huge fan of this film – it pretty much reminds me of Alien with better horror atmosphere and a creepier, more grotesque alien (I’m quite aware of what that says about my feelings concerning Alien). So in terms of creature satisfaction, I would totally rather watch the 2011 film for a quick fix than to sit through the dialogue heavy, slow burn pacing of this film. There, I said it.