I decided to start a German language movie podcast with one of my friends, mostly to just gush and talk about old movies we both enjoy, and to have in-depth discussions about the movies themselves and even research and present trivia and production details in the process. For our first episode, I suggested John Carpenter’s The Thing, because we’re both massive fans of that movie, we both know tons about it and probably have plenty of stuff to talk about. And as part of my research, I decided to finally watch the original Howard Hawks movie as well.
Needless to say, the movie is an entirely different beast than Carpenter’s later adaptation. The horror aspect is much less prominent, at least in my modern eyes. It mostly focuses on group discussions, which at times can get a bit overwhelming for the viewer. This is something that modern audiences simply aren’t accustomed to, dialogue scenes where everybody talks at the same time. Coupled with the inferior recording techniques from back then, it’s sometimes hard to understand what the characters are saying. But it is a stark reminder why modern movies feature very sorted dialogue, where everybody talks in an orderly fashion one after another and nobody ever gets interrupted or talked over.
Large parts of the movie follow the same plot as Carpenter’s version. There’s a spaceship buried under the ice and the scientists investigate the scene. They discover a frozen alien within the ice and bring it back to their base for study. Eventually, the Thing wakes up and wreaks havoc all around the base, whilst one of the scientists loses it completely and attempts to reason with the Thing by the end of the movie, because he believes that it’s a superior species that can teach humanity a lot. It’s also revealed that the Thing is actually more akin to plant life rather than human or animal life and it actually lives off of human or animal blood. This is an interesting parallel to Carpenter’s movie. In that movie, there’s a scene where the blood transfusions get drained and it’s suggested that the Thing did this so the crew couldn’t devise a blood test – which they later manage either way, but never mind – but with the original in mind, it makes sense that the Thing would need all that blood to stay alive. The crazy scientist even uses blood plasma to feed the sprouting alien plants and proves that they indeed grow and thrive when they have access to blood, so I thought this was a nice little link between the movies, even though it still doesn’t close the plot-hole in Carpenter’s version. But there are also plenty of differences. The Thing isn’t a body snatcher, it’s just a regular old alien, albeit with the ability to theoretically multiply itself by reproducing with Earth’s plant life. I say theoretically because we never actually see that happening. There’s only one Thing in the movie that goes around.
Overall, it’s a decent little movie. It suffers from the fact that it’s an older movie and that sci-fi horror films back then simply weren’t produced in the same fashion as the great dramas from the period. So a lot of the dialogue is rather simplistic and doesn’t really matter when contrasted with the actual narrative. And the stuff that does pertain to the plot is your typical scientific mumbo jumbo that’s way too accurate for them to have figured out by looking at some tissue under a microscope for five minutes. But then again, comparing it with other 50’s science fiction movies, it has aged far better than most of them, with their endless amounts of technobabble and people staring into computer monitors. If you intend to watch it, be prepared that this movie might not match your cinematic sensibilities, if you’re only accustomed to movies made after 1960. But I wouldn’t consider this an all-time classic. It might have been better than a lot of other stuff at the time, but that doesn’t really make it great in the grand scheme of things. Carpenter certainly delivered a better movie with his version.