“Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!”
The Scoop: 1951 18, directed by Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks, and starring Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan, Robert Cornthwaite, and James Arness.
Tagline: Where did it come from? How did it get here? WHAT IS IT?
Summary Capsule: Bland, white humans are menaced by blood-eating vegetable man. Film at 11.
Al’s rating: Back in the closet, pants. We’ll try this again another day.
Al’s review: In trying to expand my metaphorical wardrobe, I’ve always made it a point to try on as many pairs of nerd pants as possible: the colorful pajamas and comfy bathrobe of Star Trek and Star Wars; the weird and wonderful hipster skinny jeans of Doctor Who; the embarrassing Hammer Pants of Dragonball Z. Whatever wackiness Nerddom is choosing to clothe itself in that week, I’m willing to try it on too and see if it fits. (Except for My Little Pony. I absolutely refuse. I don’t care how good you think it is. No, no, no.)
Most nerd pants, like the faded fatigues of The Walking Dead or the aforementioned Doctor Who skinny jeans, fit pretty well and have come into regular rotation in my closet. There are some, though, that I grab off the rack every few years and, no matter how good I think they’ll look, just feel tight in all the wrong places and have this odd cut that isn’t doing me any favors.
Such is the case with the gabardine slacks of classic science fiction. There is a subset of people who absolutely treasure movies like Forbidden Planet, Robot Monster, and This Island Earth but I just can’t get into them, no matter how hard I try. They’re silly and overdramatic with awful special effects and ham-fisted messages—something which could be said for a whole lot of the movies we like on this site, but in this case it just fails to connect with me.
The Thing From Another World, however, was a film I was pretty excited for. It’s directed by Howard Hawks, who did plenty of other movies I dig like Rio Bravo, The Big Sleep, and the original Scarface. It’s also been consistently cited by guys like Ridley Scott and Tobe Hooper as a massively influential film in their lives. And, of course, it spawned John Carpenter’s The Thing, which is just… well, that’s a whole other review.
The plot kicks off at a remote outpost on the North Pole, where a group of scientists and United States Airmen discover a downed flying saucer in the ice and, more shockingly, a frozen body nearby. The saucer is destroyed in an explosion (oops), but the alien is excavated and brought back to base. As they argue what to do with their incredible find, a storm moves in, cutting of the group’s communication to the outside world, and a careless guard leaves an electric blanket on the ice, melting it and reviving the creature, who escapes into the frozen waste and begins a campaign of terror against our stranded heroes.
It’s a pretty tired story, but, for all I know, this could have been the movie that launched the cliché, so it’s tough to hold that against the film. In fact, I liked a surprising amount of The Thing From Another World. Events move at a good clip, getting us past the boring stuff and to the monster as fast as possible, and the characters are likeable, if not terribly memorable (Notice the lack of names in this review? Yeah, that’s not an oversight). It also does a good job of creating Moments, like the “away team” slowly forming a circle as they discover the saucer and the lead-up to the final stand and the trap in the hallway. They don’t produce the nail biting tension that they might have sixty years ago, but they *are* sequences that still stay with you after the movie ends. They’re just sort of neat, and maybe that’s a weak endorsement, but I don’t think it’s nothing, either.
Unfortunately, in between the Moments and the cool bits that I really enjoyed in The Thing From Another World are the issues that stop these pants from fitting quite so well: the weird hems of boring conversation, the way-too-many-belt-loops of silly story elements, and the poorly sewn crotches of—oh, never mind. I hate this metaphor.
Basically, my issues with The Thing From Another World really just boil down to the same gripes that I have with every other old science fiction movie I try to watch: cheesy special effects that kill important moments but that I’m not allowed to laugh at because it’s a “classic”; plot revelations that shock the characters but just make me roll my eyes (He’s a plant-man! Oooooh!); way, way too much conversation slowing down the movie when it ought to be ramping up. Also: I know I said up there that I was trying to give the clichés a pass, but there was a point in this film where I had to declare defeat. A hysterical man getting water thrown in his face? The scientist trying to save the murderous, rampaging creature “for science?” Come on! What kind of science=bad, army=good message is that, anyway? The Doctor would not approve.
So, did I enjoy The Thing From Another World? Kinda. Sorta. I’m glad I finally saw it, and I don’t feel like it was a waste of my time. I think I can understand how it would spark the minds of creative people like Ridley Scott and John Carpenter. At the end of the day, though, I only just thought it was okay. I’m sure there are plenty of people willing to fight me over that, but they’d better hope they don’t catch me on a day when I’m wearing my Bruce Lee karate pants.
- No one ever uses the term “newspaperman” anymore. I like it!
- Wow, 50’s bondage humor. It’s like Fifty Shades of Donna Reed.
- Some question exists over the true directorship of The Thing From Another World. Some cast and crew say Christian Nyby directed it with Howard Hawks acting as a “guiding hand”, while others say Hawks directed nearly the entire thing but gave Nyby the credit so he could earn membership in the Director’s Guild.
- Howard Hawks asked the US Air Force for assistance in making the film. He was refused because the top brass felt that such cooperation would compromise the U.S. government’s official stance that UFOs didn’t exist.
- The scene in which The Thing is doused with kerosene and set ablaze is believed to be the first full body burn accomplished by a stunt man.
- When Scotty mentions having attended the 1928 execution of Ruth Snyder and Judd Grey, another character asks him if he was able to get a picture of it. Scotty answers, “No, they didn’t allow cameras, but one guy – ” He is interrupted by the Thing’s approach before he can finish the sentence. Scotty is referring to Chicago Tribune photographer Tom Howard, who smuggled a miniature camera into the execution chamber strapped to his ankle and was able to take a famous photograph of Snyder’s final moments in the electric chair.
Scotty: So few people can boast that they’ve lost a flying saucer and a man from Mars -all in the same day! Wonder what they’d have done to Columbus if he’d discovered America, and then mislaid it.
Scotty: An intellectual carrot. The mind boggles.
Dr. Carrington: We owe it to the brain of our species to stand here and die… without destroying a source of wisdom!
Dr. Carrington: You’re doing more than breaking army orders. You’re robbing science of the greatest secrets that ever come to it.
Capt Hendry: You’d better go back, Doctor.
Dr. Carrington: Knowledge is more important than life, Captain. We’ve only one excuse for existing – to think, to find out, to learn.
Scotty: What can we learn from that thing except a quicker way to die?
Dr. Carrington: It doesn’t matter what happens to us. Nothing counts except for our thinking. We thought our way into nature. We split the atom!
Eddie: Yes, and that sure made the world happy, didn’t it?
Eddie: Come on, Mr. Martian and get some nice Scotch blood. One hundred proof. Nothing like it… for babies!
Scotty: Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!
If you enjoyed this movie, try:
- The Day the Earth Stood Still
- Robot Monster
- The Thing (1982)