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#168593 - 10/25/18 04:37 PM Re: The Thing From Another World [Re: jmill]
jmill Offline
Full Shrike


Registered: 04/01/06
Posts: 5493

Whatever one's feelings about the various versions, I think it's interesting to note just how influential that one story has been. I know John W. Campbell has his detractors, but WHO GOES THERE? is a classic story. The science is a bit dated now, but it's still reasonably sound with respect to some of the biology/serology in it. He was one of the first writers to get to the core of the body horror of being physically replaced by an alien species. It's like demonic possession, but with a "scientific" explanation. As villains go, an alien that can imitate anything and has an intellect too is about as creepy as it gets. Another brilliant move on his part was to place the story in the arctic. So credit where credit is due: kudos to Mr. Campbell for hitting at least one home run in his writing career.

By the way, after Carpenter's remake, Alan Dean Foster did a great novelization of that movie. I know movie novelizations are usually nothing to get excited over, but this one is definitely worth a read. And while we're briefly on the subject of movie novelizations, let me put in a plug for Orson Scott Card's novelization of THE ABYSS. It was excellent, so good in fact that I thought it was better than the movie.

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#168594 - 10/25/18 04:39 PM Re: The Thing From Another World [Re: jmill]
jmill Offline
Full Shrike


Registered: 04/01/06
Posts: 5493

Sorry, I'm on a roll. Another body horror science fiction hall of Fame candidate: Blood Music, by Greg Bear.

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#168602 - 10/31/18 08:30 AM Re: The Thing From Another World [Re: jmill]
jetcity Offline
enthusiast


Registered: 09/09/08
Posts: 244
I'll put it this way: I like Carpenter's version. I appreciate Hawks's.

I saw Carpenter's film in 1982 when I was 13. I saw Hawk's on TV at almost the same time.

But I could not give Hawks's film the fair shake that Dan did because Dan was a kid of the 1950s; I was a generation later. Film itself had grown so much between 1951 and 1982 and audiences had grown with them. In 1951, audiences were typically seeing The Wolf Man, or The Spiral Staircase. Against that film landscape, The Thing from Another World is a terrifying movie. But for early 1980s audiences that had been exposed to Night of the Living Dead, The Exorcist, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and Alien (among others), it's quaint at best, silly at worst.

And it wasn't just content becoming much more serious, real, and visceral, but the film techniques had grown as well. Hawks's version, to 1980s audiences, looked and felt like an old TV show: black & white, almost zero camera movement, a 4:3 aspect ratio (which TV used up until 2000-ish); very much G- or PG-rated dialogue and content. By 1982, we had use of widescreen, and tracking shots, the Steadi-cam, on-location scenes, unsanitized language, etc. Everything had changed.

That said, my take on Carpenter's The Thing was that the special effects took away from what was otherwise a remarkably well-done film. Remove them, and you have a tight 10 Little Indians in Antarctica.

The set, which was a real-life group of buildings constructed on a glacier in northern British Columbia, showcased palpably real production design. The pallet that Carpenter and his director of photography, Dean Cundey, chose was gorgeous, and was equally brilliantly lit. Look at the sumptuous but economic use of reds and oranges against the background of icy whites and cobalt blues. Look at the scene-to-scene transitions, particularly the fade-to-whites used in the exterior scenes in British Columbia. Look at Carpenter's uncanny frame composition, and the utterly creepy way he employed the Panaglide camera. Watch the scene where the camera wends its way around the base, comes to focus on the dog/wolf/thing as it silently and patiently walks down the hall, pauses, walks out of frame into room where the shadow of a man on the wall sits, and then turns to see...something.

There is a LOT of genius filmmaking on display here and it's not hard to spot.

Dan's demure with Carpenter's film, if I recall correctly, was with screenwriter Bill Lancaster (Burt's son) and his lack of verisimilitude. Dan, as we all know, is a researching savant, and his novels reflect that and are all the richer for it. Dan pointed out that this rag-tag band of brothers in Carpenter's The Thing would *never* have passed the psych profiling required to get the job(s). Dan's correct.

But to accurately portray what a real-life group of Antarctic outpost members would be like in terms of their personalities would present a stupendous challenge to a screenwriter. If the screenwriter was given only 100 minutes of script time, had a mandate to hew to Campbell's basic story, had a mandate to make this a very suspenseful sci-fi thriller, he's left with incredibly little exposition time to create 10 distinct characters. While the outsized characters like Kurt Russell's MacReady or the wastoid goofball helicopter pilot and communications operator would NEVER be hired for such jobs, using templates like that allowed Lancaster to condense his exposition time and thereby focus on what he was hired to do: create suspense.

All that said, I'd love to take a peek at a definitive Blu-Ray (like a Criterion Collection type deep-dive) of The Thing From Another World. Hawks was a towering giant of a man in film, and glancing behind the curtains of his landmark work and finally figuring out exactly who, Hawks or Christian Nyby, shot the film would be worth the price of admission.

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#168603 - 10/31/18 10:37 PM Re: The Thing From Another World [Re: jetcity]
Little John Offline
old hand


Registered: 08/01/08
Posts: 857
Loc: Bryan, TX
Jetcity, that's a fine defense of Carpenter's version - Bravo! It may not be perfect, but his movie does have it's moments. With a bit of suspension-of-disbelief, the visceral jolts that Carpenter keeps throwing at his audience can start to overcome some of the absurdities of the situation. At least, it did for me.
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Paul Massie

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#168604 - 11/01/18 01:12 PM Re: The Thing From Another World [Re: Little John]
jmill Offline
Full Shrike


Registered: 04/01/06
Posts: 5493
I love John Carpenter's version, but it has a few absurdities in addition to the unbelievable assemblage of dysfunctional people. First absurdity: the helicopter chase of the dog. The Norwegians treated the helicopter as if it were a fixed wing aircraft, unable to stop and hover over the dog until they destroyed it. It goes zooming past as this Husky labors through the snow on its four little legs and has to swing in a wide circle to come back to the dog. Helicopters are designed specifically so they can hover, which would have allowed the Norwegians to sit right over the dog for as long as they pleased and potshot and bomb the dog to their heart's content.

Then there are a line of men laboring through a "blizzard" on a rope line so they won't get lost, and they can clearly see all the way from the shack to the main building and vice-versa. This is supposedly the rope line that the cook Nauls cut to strand MacReady in the storm. What storm?!?

And what the hell is an Antarctic research facility doing with all that dynamite and all the rifles? What were they afraid of? Killer penguins?

And when the alien dog is in the compound, all it had to do was bud off a small part of itself and crawl into the stew pot or the salad served for dinner and bingo, everybody's infected, end of movie. And why would the thing need to build a small flying saucer to leave the research station and get to somewhere where it could spread to the rest of the human race? Why didn't it just sprout a pair of wings or become a whole flock of birds and fly away? For that matter, why didn't it change form when the Norwegians were chasing it, into something that could handle the snow better than a dog?

Despite the occasional sillinesses and plot holes, though, I still love the movie. I just ignored those gaffes in favor of the masterful paranoia that Carpenter created, and the truly frightening possibility of being taken over by an alien species.

And the idea that Howard Hawks's version is somehow less because film had "grown so much" since the 1950s is, well, not to be rude, but nonsense, in my opinion. Hawks's version is a masterpiece, a classic monster from outerspace story, and that is why it has survived while other 50s monster movies are fading away. You might just as well say that playwriting has "grown so much" since Shakespeare, and would anyone buy that?


Edited by jmill (11/01/18 01:15 PM)

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#168605 - 11/01/18 09:56 PM Re: The Thing From Another World [Re: jmill]
Little John Offline
old hand


Registered: 08/01/08
Posts: 857
Loc: Bryan, TX
We're pretty much on the same page, jmill. Rifles, explosives and Kurt Russel's flame thrower are no doubt essential components in the survival kit at every Antarctic research station, right? Eh, sometimes you just have to roll with it...

Hawk's and Carpenter's versions are both entertaining, but for different reasons.
_________________________
Paul Massie

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#168606 - 11/02/18 10:50 AM Re: The Thing From Another World [Re: jmill]
jetcity Offline
enthusiast


Registered: 09/09/08
Posts: 244
 Originally Posted By: jmill

Despite the occasional sillinesses and plot holes, though, I still love the movie. I just ignored those gaffes in favor of the masterful paranoia that Carpenter created, and the truly frightening possibility of being taken over by an alien species.

And the idea that Howard Hawks's version is somehow less because film had "grown so much" since the 1950s is, well, not to be rude, but nonsense, in my opinion. Hawks's version is a masterpiece, a classic monster from outerspace story, and that is why it has survived while other 50s monster movies are fading away. You might just as well say that playwriting has "grown so much" since Shakespeare, and would anyone buy that?


I agree that Lancaster's script is chock full of issues, the most glaring of which is the alien assembling an entire flying saucer from spare parts stocked around the base. Like you, I mentally shepherded that into the B-movie warehouse, and enjoyed the film for its other A-list qualities.

You're not the least bit rude to disagree with me. But I don't think that it's nonsense to observe that 1982 audiences would react differently to Hawks's film than did the audiences of the 1950s. I think we can admit that the movie be both a masterpiece AND show its age.

Film techniques and content evolved significantly between 1951 and 1982. This evolution made an indelible impact on the sophistication and sensibilities of the film audience.

I am not saying Hawks's film is less than a masterpiece *for its time*. Nor am I saying Carpenter's film had the same level of influence on its audience. Clearly, Hawks's film was several cuts above the other thrillers of its era.

But because the audience evolved between '51 and '82, the early '80s audiences were a lot less forgiving of its age-related shortcomings: e.g., James Arness as a menacing vegetable. Maybe that was scary to 1951 audiences. But in 1982, it was more likely to incite laughter, as it would now.

That's not a flaw in Hawks's film; it was a consequence of the evolution of the medium and its audience's expectations. The Wright Flyer was a work of genius, too. But we'd all laugh if it was parked at the end of the jetway for the 6:30 shuttle between JFK and Dulles.


Edited by jetcity (11/02/18 10:51 AM)

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#168608 - 11/03/18 02:35 PM Re: The Thing From Another World [Re: jetcity]
jmill Offline
Full Shrike


Registered: 04/01/06
Posts: 5493

There've been a lot of changes in what movie goers will accept on the screen over the last sixty years. Gore is one thing that, for better or worse, has become de rigueur in horror movies. I'm not opposed to gore necessarily, but I am opposed to pointless gore. That was a big part of Dan's complaint about Carpenter's film, pointless gore, and on that I have to disagree with him. When I first saw it, I was grossed out too, but the concept of the changeover from human to alien was so horrifying that in my mind it justified the level of ickiness. That's not true with most other, more modern horror films, which don't mind trading off the scare in exchange for the gross out (usually because they aren't really telling a truly terrifying story in the first place).

I'll grant you that they could have done better with James Arness's monster, but just because it isn't up to today's standards doesn't make it laughable to me. I'm guessing part of the reason they ditched the body take-over concept was because they couldn't make the special effects work, and they may not have thought the audience would accept the idea (though Invasion of the Body Snatchers certainly proved that possible concern wrong), or that they could get it past censors or studio honchos, and that's why it became a much more standard monster movie.

And I'm still going to disagree with you about a masterpiece "for its time". THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD holds up very well, and that's because it's smartly written, smartly performed, and directed with a sure hand (Hawks's mainly). Bogart's THE BIG SLEEP and THE MALTESE FALCON are almost eighty years old, and except for being in black and white, could have been filmed in color today and would still be considered great films. It's about the actors, the script, and the direction. Like I said, Shakespeare isn't considered great "for his time". He's considered the greatest playwright in history, old fashioned English or not. A great film is a great film whatever the era or the state of the art.

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