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Film / The Thing from Another World

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"Every one of you listening to my voice, tell the world. Tell this to everybody wherever they are. Watch the skies, everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!"
Ned Scott

The Thing from Another World, sometimes just known as The Thing, is the first film adaptation of John W. Campbell's science fiction novella Who Goes There?,note  produced in 1951 by Howard Hawks and directed by Christan Nyby.

The premise is one that ought to be familiar enough to most horror movie viewers: a small group of people find themselves cut off from the rest of humanity — in this case, because they are stuck at the North Pole and the weather is horrible, even interfering with radio communications.

Our hero, Captain Pat Hendry (Kenneth Tobey), and his air crew — accompanied by a stray news reporter, Ned "Scotty" Scott (Douglas Spencer) — fly from Anchorage to an Arctic outpost manned by a scientific expedition under Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) to investigate an apparent air crash. It proves to be a Flying Saucer, which is accidentally destroyed when the crew attempts to release it from the ice using thermite bombs. However, they do recover the frozen body of the craft's presumed pilot. Needless to say, he/it (played by a young James Arness) isn't actually dead, and once defrosted wreaks havoc until stopped by 'an arc of electricity'.

While Hawks's actual role in the film's production has long been debated, The Thing does exhibit his trademark touches, such as overlapping dialogue and an assertive female character — Carrington's secretary, and Hendry's old flame, Nikki Nicholson (Margaret Sheridan) — who neither screams, nor faints, nor becomes hysterical at any point in the proceedings. All screaming, fainting and hysteria is supplied by the male cast—and with good reason. The script is a quick patter of wisecracks and one-liners with minimal exposition, which keeps the plot moving at breakneck speed. For what it's worth, various cast members have offered conflicting reports through the years, with some maintaining that Hawks effectively directed nearly all of it and others claiming he only supervised the production. Of course, it could just be that Nyby, formerly Hawks's film editor, was so influenced by Hawks he merely imitated his style to the hilt.

A video game adaptation is released, some 70 years later, being a short indie game that can be completed in a dozen minutes.

Tropes contained within this work:

  • Adaptation Title Change: The Thing from Another World is an adaptation of the novella Who Goes There?.
  • Adaptational Dumbass: Though the Thing does sneak up on a few unsuspecting victims, it behaves more like a hungry brute due to it lacking the ability to assimilate the thoughts and memories of its victims to better disguise itself.
  • Adaptational Species Change: There is no indication in the original novella that the Thing is a plant-based life form like it's described as being in the movie.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Carrington's short story counterpart, Blair, does quickly realize that the Thing is a monster and can't be reasoned with. Although he takes it too far in the opposite direction by threatening everyone on the base, it's also implied that a combination of paranoia and guilt has driven him more than a little out of his mind by this point, whereas Carrington receives no similar explanation for his behavior (Nikki suggests he's acting out of exhaustion, but this is clearly a weak defense). Also, it's implied in the story that Blair's idea to thaw the alien free was influenced by a telepathic suggestion from the Thing itself, while the film version of the creature lacks the ability to influence Carrington.
  • Adaptational Wimp: Though incredibly durable, the Thing here lacks the original's shapeshifting ability and consequently its greatest asset in remaining hidden.
  • Admiring the Abomination: Carrington's Fatal Flaw (such as it is) is that he is so enthralled by this that he jumps on the assumption that the Thing is an alien with great knowledge and wisdom and ignores what everybody else sees, which is that it's a murderous brute, and performs a number of stupid and dastardly deeds for the sake of trying to contact it.
  • Antagonist Title: The Thing from Another World is the monster.
  • Artistic License Gun Safety: Averted. When a panicked, shock-stricken Barnes comes running into the main room and tries to describe what he saw while gesticulating at Hendry's midsection with his sidearm, Hendry quickly takes it away from him.
  • Beard of Evil: Carrington has a Lenin-like goatee.
  • Came from the Sky: The Thing from Another World has fallen down from it... But the expedition's cameras captured evidence that the ship hovered up and down for a while, first, which is the first sign that it's not a natural phenomenon.
  • The Captain: Captain Hendry, of course. The leader of the station and the group.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Everybody, but especially the reporter Scotty.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: The sled dogs begin barking just before the Thing emerges from the melted ice block.
  • Fainting: Scotty again!
  • For Science!: The cry of Dr. Carrington, who thinks it is the expedition's duty to die to the last man rather than destroy "a source of wisdom". The others dissent.
  • Genre Blind: Dr. Carrington in spades. He refuses to understand that simply because a creature is older than man that doesn't mean it's wiser or more intellectually/morally evolved. Even after the Thing murders his assistants, Carrington still maintains that it was all an accident and even tries to warn the creature about the electric trap. The Thing responds by beating the crap out of him.
  • The Ghost: Doctors Olsen and Auerbach who are killed by the Thing while standing guard in the greenhouse never actually appear onscreen.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: A couple lines of dialogue can't help but land a little differently nowadays:
    • "Just got a queer message from your picnic party up north, from Dr. Carrington himself."
    • "Sorry, we already pulled one boner out there on the ice."
  • Hostile Weather: A raging blizzard keeps the humans at the base from being able to venture out of doors in search of the Thing, or to communicate with the outside world by radio.
  • Humanoid Aliens: The Thing, in contrast to its shapeshifter abilities from the novel.
  • Immune to Bullets: The Thing, of course; what self-respecting alien isn't?note 
  • Implausible Deniability: On returning from where they found the flying saucer, the characters have a lot of fun mocking an Army report stating that UFOs don't exist.
    Scotty: They'll probably make you a general for destroying the evidence.
  • Infernal Retaliation: They set a whole room on fire, but the Thing gets away. The crew eventually decides to Kill It With Electricity instead.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Ned Scott, who is quick to request to go to the Arctic after hearing there's something important going on out there.
  • Jump Scare: Is anyone in the audience ready to see a fully regrown Thing standing right at the doorway when Hendry opens it?
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Dr. Carrington again. He knowingly puts colleagues in harm's way and tries to grow little Things. Nikki kindly suggests he is not himself due to sleep deprivation.
  • Kill It with Fire: Just like in the original novella, the Thing is vulnerable to heat, though electricity is ultimately used instead due to the Thing being more easily able to douse itself when lit on fire.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: When Barnes sees the freshly-reawoken Thing come at him, while not reacting at all to several gunshots, he promptly runs from the room before it can get him.
  • Lighter and Softer: Compared to the 1982 John Carpenter film and original novel. There's far less paranoia and people being hostile towards each other and no one dies except some sled dogs, two scientists who never appear onscreen, and the Thing itself.
  • Mad Scientist: Dr. Carrington wants to defrost the presumed-dead Thing right away. It's rather clear that they've not got the proper equipment for doing a necropsy, let alone to preserve samples. Cold, meanwhile, preserves rather well.
  • Man on Fire: The soldiers try to kill the Thing by setting it ablaze and the Thing stumbles all over the room while a humanoid torch and sets it on fire before jumping out a window. The scene is notable for being the first time in movie history this kind of stunt was performed.
  • Monster in the Ice: Arctic scientists discover a flying saucer buried beneath the ice, but accidentally destroy it with thermite trying to dig it out. They manage to retrieve the frozen alien inside, but it accidentally gets thawed out when a superstitious watchman covers it with a blanket, not realizing that it's an electric blanket that's plugged in. With the ice melted, the alien immediately revives and escapes.
  • Mundane Solution: When Hendry opens a door to find that the Thing is RIGHT THERE he very sensibly closes it again.
  • Mysterious Antarctica: Except of course this is the Arctic.
  • Non-Protagonist Resolver: The electrical trap which kills the Thing is worked not by Captain Hendry, but by the least talkative of the science team, and the only member of the air force crew whose last name is never mentioned.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: We rarely get to actually see the Thing, which spends most of the film either hidden behind doors until it's time for a Jump Scare, waiting in the shadows, or running about in the snow with the blizzard covering the view. Making it scarier is that the Thing's approach is heralded with Geiger counters (it gives off a low radioactive buzz) that start clicking faster and faster...
    • A good non-narrative reason we don't get a clear view of the Thing is because the makeup effect is pretty obvious.
    • We find out from dialog that the Thing had pulled a Predator, and hung two of the scientists from the rafters upside down and cut their throats to feed its offspring on their blood.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Barnes, when he sees the shadow of the Thing emerging from the block of ice behind him.
    • Everyone when they realize the Thing has disabled the base's heating system.
  • People in Rubber Suits: The Thing is reworked into this kind of creature effect, possibly because depicting the kind of horrific shapeshifting it was capable of in the original novella wouldn't be quite so feasible with the technology of the time.
  • Plant Aliens: The alien is described as plant like on multiple occasions, both with its blood and some of its limbs.
  • Plucky Girl: Nikki keeps her head throughout the crisis.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The original novella used a shape-shifting creature that ate its victims and created copies of them that could then consume and alter others. The effects of the era made it impossible to film, so the producers changed the Thing into a blood-sucking shambling monster. The 1982 remake — made when VFX was better able to create effective-looking monsters — was more faithful to the novella.
  • Properly Paranoid: Hendry is perfectly right and practical to want to keep the thing frozen until further notice to avoid any unnecessary risks at that point.
  • Recycled In Space: Thanks to John Carpenter being a huge fan, the entire Slasher Movie genre sprang from this film thanks to Halloween (1978), not to mention films like Alien and, of course, The Thing (1982).
  • The Reveal:
    • The scene where the rescue party fans out to get an idea of the shape of the crashed aircraft... which they quickly recognize is in the shape of a Flying Saucer!
    • The brief moment when we get a clear view of the Thing... when Hendry opens a door with it standing RIGHT THERE.
  • Running Gag: Scotty makes multiple attempts to get a picture of the Thing, only to be foiled in some way or another, whether by someone being in the way, him falling on his ass. Capped off in the end when he finally gets the perfect chance... And faints.
  • Scientist vs. Soldier: With Dr. Carrington being the "scientist" and everybody else within the base (including, eventually, Carrington's fellow scientists) as the "soldier".
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Or rather, Inhuman Popsicle evil.
  • Shout-Out: Asked if he knows how to use a gun, McPherson responds, "I saw Gary Cooper in Sergeant York." (Producer Hawks had directed that earlier film.)
  • Signature Line: "KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES!"
  • Sliding Scale of Adaptation Modification: This movie falls into Type 3 (Pragmatic Adaptation).
  • The Smart Guy: Dr. Stern. He might not be quite as brilliant of a scientist as Carrington, but he's still quite smart and useful, and doesn't fall in with Carrington.
  • Smurfette Principle: Averted. In addition to Nikki, the expedition's physician is a woman and the wife of one of the scientists.
  • The Squad: Hendry's gallant flight crew. It is, however, admittedly difficult to tell one from the other.
  • Tagalong Reporter: Ned "Scotty" Scott.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Hendry and Nikki have quite a bit of this, although they've dated in the past. They end the film as an Official Couple.
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: Scotty's reaction when Dr. Carrington informs them that 'the Thing' is essentially an intelligent carrot.