Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Thing Week: Ode To The Original

The Thing from Another World
debuted in 1951 and generated a slew of positive reviews and comments but people back then didn’t realize that this little sci-fi film would cause so many inspirations and open the door to a new style of filmmaking. It also sparked a huge controversy over who really directed the film as opposed to who is listed under the credits. From what went from a short story to one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time to becoming one of the greatest horror films of all time, The Thing From Another World aka Who Goes There has a brilliant track record.

Who Goes There found it’s way into Astonishing Stories in 1938 and it found its way into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. It was adapted in 1950 by Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby. However, a controversy sparked when the director was credited to Christian Nyby and not Howard Hawks. It’s easy to see the Hawks style filmmaking throughout the film but yet Nyby apparently directed and edited it. It’s a debate that has been circulating around sci-fi and horror fans alike and it has been speculated that Hawks let Nyby take the credit so that he can gain Directors Guild recognition. Some people say that Nyby directed but he was kept under strict restraints by Hawks, either way it seems like Hawks is getting the credit.

However, the legacy of The Thing From Another World is the filmmaking style, which was coined by Hawks. There were elements in the film that had never been seen before in a sci-fi film and those included the tight editing, the witty dark humor, and the overlapping dialogue, the reoccurring them of man vs. nature that Hemingway pioneered and the role of men in terms of taking action instead of talking. These aspects would later be seen in some of Hawks’ other films as well as films from modern day directors. The roots of some of the best sci-fi horror films trail all the way back to The Thing From Another World. That film opened the door to sci-fi films as well as alien and sci-fi subcultures and if it weren’t for that film, studios would have been hesitant to release 1953’s War of the Worlds.

This film inspired a few films directly both in the early days of filmmaking and in the modern era of film. In 1966 Francis Lyon brought us Destination Inner Space, which was a direct adaptation of The Thing From Another World only this time it took place underwater instead of in the Arctic. In 1958 It! The Terror From Beyond Space was released and took the paranoia and the claustrophobia of The Thing and made it a near space odyssey. Ridley Scott as stated that The Thing From Another World was one of is influences for Alien as well as It! But I think Roger Ebert states this concept in a better way:

“Its most obvious influence is Howard Hawks’ ‘The Thing’ (1951), which was also about a team in an isolated outpost who discover a long-dormant alien, bring it inside, and are picked off one by one as it haunts the corridors. Look at that movie, and you see ‘Alien’ in embryo.”
- Roger Ebert

The idea of a group or a team of people fighting off a dangerous predatory alien in a confined or secluded place is all too familiar within the sci-fi and horror realm. It doesn’t even have to be an alien but rather a stalker or a killer. Films like Predator or even Halloween both have these aspects and especially Friday the 13th. It took the ‘red herring’ shock that Hawks Incorporate in this film to the extreme. The teens would open all the doors not finding anything until the last door only to find the killer standing there. It’s arguable that even if a film doesn’t directly credit The Thing From Another World as an influence, it inadvertently credits it by using Hawks’ technique. In fact, films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ironically E.T. were influenced by the ’51 classic.

The film, in 2001, made it into the National Film Preservation Board and was labeled ‘culturally significant.’

Further Reading:
The Thing From Another World on DVD Journal
America's Most Heart-Pounding Movies
1950's Sci-Fi on Time Magazine
The Thing From Another Wold on Time Magazine

The Thing From Another World aka The Thing on Moria
Alien (1979) on RogerEbert.com


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