GODFATHERS OF SCI FI #1: The Thing From Another World

As we enter a new year, here at Geek Syndicate we thought we would take some time to look back at the classics sci-fi films of yesteryear. The 1950’s were considered by some as the greatest decade of science fiction and it spawned many films that were the key inspirations to many of the modern classics including some direct remakes.

Over the next few months we will be looking at the Godfathers of Sci Fi and seeing just how good or bad they really were. The first film is 1951’s The Thing from Another World.

This is the first time I have watched this film which was based on the 1938 “Who Goes There?” novella by John W. Campbell. Directed by Christian Nyby and produced by Howard Hawks this film has inspired and spawned two Thing movies but this time we are here to talk about the original.

From the start of the film the ominous music blares and we get the title on screen and from then on we are drawn into this film and the desolate wasteland it is set in. You can see that the director wanted to ensure that you get a feeling of Alaska where the story is set by filming outside in Glacier National Park. This immediately shows that they spent money of this film and was not just a studio based movie.

The cast fill out the various archetypal characters including the heroic Air Force Captain Patrick Hendry played by Kenneth Tobey, the love interest portrayed by Margaret Sheridan, the enquiring reporter Ned ‘Scotty’ Scott is brought to life by Douglas Spencer and finally the scientist Dr. Arthur Carrington  looking to explore the unknown is played to perfection by Robert Cornthwaite.

The reporter plays the part of the audience looking for answers and Dr Carrington is the one with the best dialogue and is in conflict with himself to communicate with the Thing rather than destroy it which the Air Force wants.

The story starts off at the Anchorage base in Alaska where we meet the Air Force pilots and our main hero Captain Hendry. Quickly we find out that there has been a plane crash of some sort out at the remote North Pole base, Polar Expedition Six.

Once there the team soon discover the saucer buried in the ice and with it the remains of a pilot or Thing! All around the area the magnetic settings are thrown off by some kind of energy. After accidentally destroying the saucer they bring the frozen pilot back to the base for analysis. This is when the Thing defrosts and starts to wreck havoc across the base and what follows is a taut tense and fast paced tale of suspense and horror.

It is clear that the film is fuelled by Russian cold war paranoia and the Thing is quickly established of that which we do not know or are afraid of. The base camp is a desolate setting where there is nowhere a man can hide. This is enhanced by the location shots from the aforementioned Glacier National Park. You really get a sense of the cold on screen.

A strange part of the film was the inclusion of two women on the base. I am not against this before you jump down my throat but merely stating that it seems odd for the rest of the film. The love story between the Captain and Margaret Sheridan seems genuine but out of place and there is far too much smiling and jokes for what is happening around them. But you cannot have a 50’s sci fi movie without a dame in distress, now can we? There is also a scene where the two lovers both strike up cigarettes which for the time was ok but now just jumps out at as wrong. Sign of the times I guess.

The film is just over two hours long and we only get to really see the Thing after 40 mins which is great as it builds tension and suspense. The pace of the film is fast and the dialogue is unrelenting and keeps you on your toes. It also shows you how in those days they did not rely on ten cut shots for one scene. Here we see one scene played out with one camera and no cuts for about 3 minutes. Classy!

The special effects on this film are minimal with really only the Thing make up being used, however there is one truly terrifying sequence where the Thing is set alight in a small room with most of the cast and the flames are everywhere. This really brought some open eyed appreciation for filmmaking in the 50’s

The film was selected for the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress in 2001 for being “culturally significant”.

Seeing this for the first time was a truly entertaining experience and just a joy to watch. I can see why so many people love this film and I urge you to pick up the DVD and give it a go. This truly is a Godfather of Sci Fi that has spawned countless imitations and inspired many directors and writers.

GS Rating: 4.5/5

GS Reporter: Montoya

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