The Thing From Another World A Fun Romp Through 50’s Sci-Fi
The Thing from Another World (“The Thing”) has a simple but effective plot in the science fiction genre. A flying saucer crashes in the arctic and a group of military personnel return to their base with the craft’s occupant frozen in a block of ice. Once free of the ice, the creature terrorizes the arctic station while the group tries desperately to stop it. While the main focus of the story is their efforts to stop the rampaging killer creature, we also find conflict between the military who would just like to just kill the creature and the scientist running the station who wants the being to remain alive so it can be studied. The movie should appeal to science fiction fans and, to a lesser extent, fans of horror as well.
Although a low budget movie, The Thing makes great use of what it does have: a well written script featuring the use of overlapping dialogue which I love. Through the years too many times I’ve watched discussions or arguments depicted on the screen which feature the back and forth, give and take of a conversation. One person stops talking in the middle of a sentence and the next one starts. No interrupting, no talking over each other’s words like real life. This movie throws that out the door, and the characters speak in a flow more like real people. The music is also an important part the film, its particularly effective in scenes with the monster. In fact, the music is so creepy it’s hard to tell if a portion of the sound is actually the score or if it’s merged with spooky-type sound effects.
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While the movie does have its standard clichés with the tough straight-laced military captain, who is backed up by a crew of various ranks and the female romantic interest (although the typical 50’s woman in film has been replaced here with a female character who is a smart and capable woman and not simply a screamer as found in films like Attack of the Giant Leeches, or The Hideous Sun Demon).
In fact, it’s her suggestion of “boil it, bake it” that gets the crew thinking along the lines of how to stop the creature. Most 50’s films like this has these types of characters, and it can get old seeing the same types of people populating movies, but if they seem to mesh well and have good chemistry it works as it does here. Then you have the typical scientist – haughty, stuffy and convinced that his way of thinking is the only way. He goes so far as to perform experiments with the remains or seedlings from the creatures ripped off arm. He seems hell bent on seeing what is scientifically possible regardless that the outcome might be detrimental to the human race.
Conflict arises when the uptight scientist, Carrington wants the creature alive and absolutely opposes the notion of killing the creature. So not only does the crew have to deal with tracking down the being which is out to slaughter everyone, they also have to deal with one human who is out to thwart any attempt on the monster’s life. From the very beginning, when the alien escapes and is attacked by the dogs, Carrington says “I must save him” and later states he wants a chance to communicate with it. He naively assumes that the being is in a strange land and simply misunderstood. Carrington does not take into consideration that the being could just be a killing machine. Carrington’s outlook is proven wrong when the monster thrashes the good doctor as he tries to communicate with it. The military, when finding out the chances of the thing reproducing, are convinced they are doing the right thing trying to track down the being and kill it. That in and of itself deviates from many science fiction movies from the 50’s where it is generally depicted that most people listen to the scientists assuming they are smarter than the average joe when it comes to these types of matters. Watching this for the first time when I was 11 years old surprised me, because up until that time in all films like this the heroes always listened to the scientists and acted according to their direction. They obviously do not in this movie.
Despite the fact that Hollywood films are popular all over the world, many believe that foreign films are better. Critics' dislike of Hollywood films' is due to the straight-line plots of the films in which nothing is left unclear, unsettling or unexplained and every shot is justified by a link to strictest cause and effect. Hollywood films are often viewed as dulling the mind. In this country ...
The plot is pretty straightforward and is not saddled with lengthy exposition. Trapped in a hostile environment with few shelters, the film has an eerie claustophic feeling that lends to the drama when searching or being stalked by the monster. Thankfully we only catch glimpses of the creature here and there, as the make up design is not that effective. It just looks like a very large bald man with an odd shaped head, and claw like hands. Nice optical effects are used depicting the creature being electrocuted. Starting out with the full-size being and practical smoke effects overlayed with animated bolts of electricity, the alien starts to shrink to a much smaller size, eventually replacing hulking actor James Arness with a smaller midget actor dressed in the same costume and make up, eventually shrinking and deteriorating to nothing. There has been much speculation for years in various magazines and books around who directed the film – Christian Nyby or Howard Hawks. Nyby had been Hawk’s Director of Photography and it’s said by some of those authors that Hawks might have helped for various reasons. Regardless of who directed this movie, The Thing is one of the better science fiction entries from the 1950’s.