We may not want to admit it, but we’ve all felt a little paranoid at one time or another. Maybe it is a co-worker, perhaps a stranger or even a family member that raises your suspicion. Without realizing it, a little voice from the depths whispers “are they out to get me?” The sensible option is to dismiss, or perhaps repress, the clearly irrational thought and move on. I mean it can’t be true.
But what if it is. What if that person does in fact want to do you harm? Worse yet what if it isn’t a person at all but some thing…
This little nugget of irrational fear is the basis for one of my favorite Science Fiction films, John Carpenter’s 1982 gem The Thing. Essentially this film is a game of “spot the monster.” You see, this thing is a shapeshifter that can perfectly mimic any living creature. The smallest bit of alien substance can infect the living with dire consequences.
Unfortunately for the denizens of isolated Outpost #31 in Antarctica, they have not read the script. One day a duo of determined Norwegians fly by shooting at a loose sled dog via helicopter. The seemingly irrational pair immolate themselves in the process and the residents of the Outpost take the distressed pup in. By the time they realize their mistake, it is anybody’s guess who is real and who isn’t.
One of the great aspects of this film is that it takes its time and dosen’t spell things out for the audience. The action builds slowly with the paranoia rising among the team as they desperately try to figure out who is who. It is also never clear, after repeated viewings on my part, who exactly gets “turned” and when. Throw in a wonderfully nihilistic ending and I promise you will never look at the family pet the same way after viewing.
One word of warning though. The Thing is no Ingmar Bergman on ice. When found out, this creature is no shrinking violet. Instead it erupts in a grotesque and bloody display of hyperkinetic evolution, desperate to defend itself and infect others. In other words, it can get pretty gross. Feel free to cover you eyes, especially during the kennel scene.
It all started with a short story by John W. Campbell published in 1938 titled “Who Goes There?”. The essentials of the story were born here, with an isolated Antarctic outpost doing battle with the mimic from another planet.
The first film based on the story was released in 1951 and was titled The Thing from Another World. The poles were switched, the creature became plant-based, and Cold War paranoia stood in for the fear of being absorbed and replicated. That’s Hollywood for you. Despite the changes it is still a fun film and has one of the best evil scientists ever created.
The latest version was released this year with the title of, what else?, The Thing. Billed as a prequel, this movie depicts what happened before those Norwegians showed up at the beginning of the 1982 film. Despite updated CGI effects and the welcome addition of a female lead, this film can’t hide the fact that it is essentially a remake. If you are a fan, though, it is definitely worth seeing how they tie details from the two films together. Curious how that bloody axe got embedded in the wall in the Carpenter version? This film will tell you.
So take a chance and decide on which replication of The Thing you most prefer. Just choose wisely.