A small team of isolated, American scientists in the arctic have a strange encounter with a couple of Norweigians who seem hell bent on chasing down and killing a dog. The two manic Norweigians end up dead and a couple of the Americans fly out to their neighbor’s base to see what could have caused this strange behavior. They expect to find evidence of a mental break caused by the remote location and isolation. Instead, they find a ruined base and discover that their Norweigian friends stumbled upon an ancient alien spacecraft and pilot. Unfortunately for everyone involved, once de-thawed the ancient galactic visitor turns out to be, not only alive, but highly hostile, with a biology the scientists of Earth have never seen before. Not only does the creature consume other beings, but it also imitates them, completely taking over it’s likeness and memories. Now it’s up to this small group of scientists to figure out who among them has been infected by the Thing, and to stop it from spreading to the outside world.
Oh, The Thing… so many people today forget that you were a remake of the 1951 film The Thing from Another World (and you are, no matter how many may try to deny it). John Carpenter certainly didn’t forget. He loved that film so much not only did he push to do the remake, he also snuck the original version into Halloween. Though I’m sure at the time of The Thing’s release in 1982, he certainly wished to forget his newest creation. Because while today The Thing is a beloved horror classic and considered by many to be one of the best monster movies of all time, when it initially released in 1982 audiences and movie critics hated it. And I mean they hated it. Carpenter has said the reaction was so bad he even lost a job over it. One New York Times critic wrote:
“John Carpenter’s The Thing is a foolish, depressing, overproduced movie that mixes horror with science fiction to make something that is fun as neither one thing or the other.”
……..Well, okay then.
Some people blame the initial response on the family-friendly E.T., that film having been released just a scant two weeks earlier. But others cite factors such as the Cold War and the fact that audiences didn’t initially jive with the nihilistic tone of the film. Or perhaps it was just a film made before it’s time.
Whatever the case may be, it’s now considered a beloved classic despite (or perhaps because of) it’s violent nature and it’s deviations from the original film.
Really, the biggest change between the 1982 version and the 1951 version is the fundamental difference of The Thing, itself. In the ‘82 version, The Thing consumes other animal-based life forms and ‘imitates’ them, changing it’s cellular structure to mimic the lifeform it just consumed. It also manages to (somehow) also retain the memories and mental faculties of the being it consumed, while also keeping its own identity. So it’s basically Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with a hella more creepy transformation sequences. This portrayal of The Thing in the Carpenter version sticks more closely to the original description of the creature from the source material, the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr.. In fact, the only real difference between the Carpenter creature and the creature from Campbell’s novel, is that Campbell’s Thing was also capable of telepathy, which, if included, would have added a whole new layer of paranoia to an already highly paranoid film. Perhaps with all the suspicion already present in the film, writer Bill Lancaster didn’t think that added element was necessary.
Yeah. This was kinda terrifying enough.
In contrast, The Thing from the 1951 adaptation is vastly different. In that version The Thing is a humanoid, plant-based organism. Instead of consuming humans and mimicking them, this carnivorous creature just needs blood in order to sustain it’s life, so it still racks up a body count, it just leaves a bunch more corpses in its wake. Not that the lack of bodily takeover helps the men and women on the creatures radar, as being plant-based means that Thing feels no pain, and is thus immune to most of their attacks.
Still dislikes fire, though…
These fundamental changes to the nature of The Thing are sometimes cited as a reason for the ‘82 version not being a ‘true’ remake of the ‘52 version. But I think that’s a bit disingenuous, as it doesn’t take into account the time period the original film was made. In the original novella, and the Carpenter version, the crew realize that The Thing has taken over one of the sled dogs by catching it in the middle of a transformation. Considering the technology of the time, it would have been extremely difficult to illustrate something like that, not to mention likely exorbitantly expensive for something like a B-movie. The materials used to do those kinds of effects just weren’t possible until the 80s rolled around. That’s why so many of the best and most remembered practical effects come out of that decade. So the producers chose to use the most cost effective option of their era that still allowed the audience to see The Thing, instead of turning the creature into some kind of unseen boogeyman. AKA, they put a guy in a suit and makeup (in this case an unrecognizable James Arness of Gunsmoke fame) and called it a day.
Gotta say, you look much better in the cowboy hat, sir.
Of course, those aren’t the only differences between the two versions. The tone of both films is completely different, and some character actions and motivations are also switched around, though the general outcome ends up being relatively the same. For instance, instead of Wilfred Brimley’s violent reaction to learning of The Thing’s true and violent nature, the doctor in the ‘52 version is convinced that the plant based creature is so intellectually advanced that it can be reasoned with. Both reactions put the crew in danger via sabotage, but the motivations for their actions are fundamentally different.
You know what’s likely not going to be fundamentally different? The next Thing remake. And no, I’m not talking about the version that came out in 2011, which is basically its own can of very confusing classification worms, since it can simultaneously be considered a partial remake of the film from ‘52, while still being a prequel to the film that came out in 1982. No, I’m talking about the possibility of a NEW remake that was just announced in January of 2020. This (supposedly) upcoming version of the film (produced by Blumhouse) is said to include the recently discovered ‘expanded’ version of Campbell’s Who Goes There?, that was discovered in 2018 in a box of manuscripts that Campbell sent to Harvard University, and titled Frozen Hell. That version will supposedly feature elements from both The Thing from Another World and Carpenter’s The Thing, as well as content from the expanded novella. Will it live up to the reputation of it’s two most well known predecessors, or will it be a middling attempt at recapturing glory? At this point, who knows. Hell, we don’t even know if it’ll get made. But it’s interesting to think of the possibilities.
The Thing and The Thing from Another World are available on a variety of streaming services.
They are also available on DVD and Bluray.