Thursday, August 4, 2011

Monsters vs Aliens Challenge: The Thing (From Another World)

In the Monsters vs Aliens storyline, the monsters are much more recognizable than the aliens. Or more appropriately, alien. While every one of the monsters has a specific counterpart, the alien seems to be an amalgam of various aliens from 1950s movies, nearly all of which were concerned with world conquest. The Thing From Another World is an excellent example of these types of movies. It's also incredibly well done and not the silly B movie you might be expecting. The main focus of the film is more on the scientists and military men who find the creature than on the creature itself.

The story is still relevant 60 years later. The scientists' main focus after finding the creature is to study it and perhaps try to communicate with it. The military grunts want to destroy it the moment they realize how dangerous it is, but the bigwigs want them to leave it unharmed and trap it, quite possibly to use it as a weapon. The creature itself seems to be mostly concerned with draining humans and animals of their blood in order to feed himself and his young. While he can't actually communicate with the humans, they are all convinced that he's come to Earth to nurture his seeds and eventually conquer the planet.

I couldn't help but make comparisons with the alien to Frankenstein's monster. He goes after the humans with his hands out in the same stiff pose, he speaks in grunts, and they even try to defeat him with fire at one point. The film is in black and white, but the posters show him as being green. I guess the main difference would be that electricity gave Frankenstein's monster life, whereas here it kills the alien creature.

As I mentioned, the focus of the film is really the people and there are a lot of fun characters here. Captain Hendry, played by Kenneth Toby, reminded me a lot of Steve McQueen as the charismatic head of the military grunts. Douglas Spencer plays Scotty, a wise cracking reporter who has come along in the hopes of getting the big scoop. Margaret Sheridan plays Nikki, who is the scientists' secretary and love interest for Captain Hendry - she's got a lot of spunk and attitude for a 1950s woman. Robert Cornthwaite is also great as Dr. Carrington, the scientist most convinced he can communicate and learn from the creature.

While the other monster movies I've watched in this challenge so far really suffered from the lack of monster time, I really didn't care how much time the alien appeared on screen in this movie at all, I was so wrapped up in the character interaction.

It's almost impossible to compare this alien to Gallaxhar, as the alien doesn't talk whereas Gallaxhar never shuts up. But they do both seem to want to conquer earth, as most aliens seem to want to do. Gallaxhar actually has a lot more in common with most evil scientists, and after having seen Megamind recently, I honestly don't see much difference between the two characters beyond Gallaxhar having tentacles instead of feet. But that's Dreamworks for you...

John Carpenter's The Thing is not, strictly speaking, a remake of this film but rather another adaptation of the same short story, "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell Jr. However I rarely see mention of one of these films without the other, so I thought it would make sense to include it. I already have established a difficult relationship with John Carpenter's films, and this one started off not much better. I came really close to turning it off in the first hour because it was moving way too slow for me. I'm happy to say though that after awhile things did amp up and I enjoyed the second half of the film much more. The creature in this version is far more horrifying and just flat out disgusting. It's a bloody tentacled monster that can take the shape of anything it comes in contact with.

In this version of the film there is no scientist vs military issue, it is just the scientific crew and their helicopter pilot alone in the antarctic against this menace. Since the alien can take on the shape of anything, the film is far more about trusting no one than anything else. I think part of the reason I was unhappy with the beginning is because this angle has been used so many times before that it was hard for me to really get involved until the crew started taking more desperate means to try to discover who among them was infected by the alien. I also enjoyed its more ambiguous ending.

They've recently announced plans to make another version of The Thing, that will supposedly be a prequel to the John Carpenter version. It seems like people are determined to keep visiting this story from slightly different angles.


  1. They aren't so much adaptations of the same story as they are adaptations of different parts of the story. Thing From Another Worlds only had the budget to adapt the first third - discovery of saucer, alien thaws out of ice, us vs. it, kill it with electricity - whereas The Thing adapts the remaining second and final thirds - dogs gnaw on corpse, pass infection to humans, discovery of shapeshifting aspect, blood tests, flamethrowers, blow up camp. Carpenter was such a fan of the original that, instead of re-adapting that material directly, he just set it at a previous camp, and that's where the new prequel film will come in.

    I love both. James Arness in putty makeup isn't all that menacing, but the original does a great job of heightening his threat by building up suspense before his reveals or that great scene where he bursts into a room just as they turn the lights off, casting his massive frame in shadow. And the scripts is great, with energetic dialogue and good characters brought to life by a great cast. I'm glad you like Kenneth Tobey. He's one of my favorites.

    I don't have as much issue with the drawn out opening of Carpenter's version. I like the characters and the sense of mystery as the Norwegian dude goes nuts and they discover the dead camp and the destroyed saucer. And then the dog rips open and it's off and running with amazing tension and some of the best makeup f/x I've ever seen. Spider head. It's all about the spider head.

    Shameless plug time: if this and Halloween are your only exposure to Carpenter, I invite you to check out Village of the Damned, Assault on Precinct 13, and The Fog. We'll be covering them, Halloween, and their remakes over the next four months at I Hate/Love Remakes, and would be curious to hear your thoughts on them.

  2. Spider head. It's all about the spider head.

    Absolutely yes. Though watching Palmer transform will also probably haunt me for awhile as well.

    I noticed all the Carpenter versions of the films you mentioned are available on Netflix Streaming, so I will be able to watch at least those versions before listening to the episodes.

  3. +JMJ+

    I'll come back to read this properly later, but in the meantime, I want to say that you're doing so much better on this challenge than I am! =D

  4. Only because of Netflix, I assure you. :)


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