A Look at ‘The Thing’ in Films

“The Thing” comes out this weekend in theaters. This has caused a lot of attention to be brought back to John Carpenter’s 1982 film of the same name and the original 1951 film “The Thing from Another World.” Let’s look at these two classic films and the new prequel that is sure to cement its own place in cinematic history.

1951’s “The Thing from Another World” was based on John W. Campbell Jr.’s (under the pseudonym Don A. Stuart) short story “Who Goes There?” The movie tells the tale of scientists and Air Force personnel who discover an alien life form in Antarctica and bring it back to their base to examine it. The vegetation-based creature thaws out and begins wreaking havoc on the outpost, killing everyone and everything it comes in contact with.

The movie starred an unrecognizable James Arness (“Gunsmoke”) in makeup and costume as the Thing. Christian Nyby is credited with directing the film, although Howard Hawks is considered the man behind the production by many fans and film historians. “The Thing from Another World” has been called the greatest sci-film of the 1950s by TIME Magazine. The U.S. Library Congress chose the film to be preserved for the National Film Registry in 2001.

John Carpenter’s 1982 version of “The Thing” is widely looked at as a remake of the 1951 film. However, in reality it’s a more accurate adaptation of Campbell’s 1938 story. Unlike the 1951 film, the alien creature in Carpenter’s version imitates life forms and takes on the shape of anything with living tissue. This is more in line with the original novella.

“The Thing” is a perfect mix of horror, sci-fi, suspense, and gore. It is one of the finest examples of practical and creature special effects. The film starred Disney golden boy Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, and Keith David. The movie came out at the same time as “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and “Blade Runner,” which no doubt attributed to its initial failure at the box office.

The special effects for “The Thing” are considered to be groundbreaking and have been called “technically brilliant but visually repulsive.” Critic Roger Ebert called it “a great barf-bag movie.” The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films nominated the movie for Best Horror Film and Best Special Effects. It has gone on to be looked at as one of the greatest sci-fi/horror films of the 1980s.

Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s “The Thing” tells the story of what happened at the Norwegian camp Kurt Russell investigates in Carpenter’s movie. The film is a perfect mix of new plot elements and repeated happenings from Carpenter’s film, giving it a sort of reboot/homage vibe, much like Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” did.

Unlike 1982’s “The Thing,” this prequel features two women who are very important to the film’s storyline. This is reminiscent of 1951’s “The Thing from Another World,” which featured a woman as well. It appears that at least 75 percent of the special effects in the movie are practical, with CGI only being used for clean-up and enhancement of scenes.

Each of the different movies based on “Who Goes There?” are important pieces of cinematic history. The 1951 and 1982 version have to be watched while taking into account when they were originally released and what each one is trying to say to its audience. The new prequel, also titled “The Thing,” should be looked at as a respectful homage and continuation of Carpenter’s 1982 film.

For more articles by Eric Shirey, check out:

John Carpenter’s Sci-Fi Thriller ‘The Thing’ Still Holds Up 29 Years Later
Steve Niles Takes ‘The Thing’ to Greenland in Comic Book Prequel to Upcoming Movie
‘The Thing’ Prequel Will Prove Practical Effects Still Relevant

Eric Shirey is the founder and former editor of Rondo Award nominated movie news websites MovieGeekFeed.com and TheSpectralRealm.com. His work has been featured on Yahoo! Movies, Yahoo! News, Yahoo! TV, Associated Content from Yahoo!, DC Comics, StarWars.com, KISSOnline.com, and other national entertainment websites. Eric has interviewed and worked with actors like Harrison Ford, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Brooke Shields, Gerard Butler, Brendan Fraser, Michelle Monaghan, Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Gene Simmons, Ashley Tisdale, Selena Gomez and many more.

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