American film director/screenwriter/producer Howard Hawks was known as a supreme craftsman during his long reign in Hollywood. But Hawks' sole venture into the terrain of science fiction came with 1951's THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, commonly known today as simply THE THING. Loosely based on John Campbell's short story "Who Goes There?," the film is widely regarded as a science fiction masterpiece in the wake of the genre's birth, and certainly created a blueprint for monster pictures to this very day, and was even remade by John Carpenter in 1982.
After reports of a plane crashing in the ice of Antarctica, a military unit is called in to meet up with a scientific research unit to investigate. Trekking out to the site of the crash, it is discovered that the plane is actually a circular shaped craft of unspecified metal, embedded underneath the ice. The object is accidentally blown up in an attempt to free it from below, but nearby, a large body encased in a block of ice is discovered and brought back to the base. The discovery is placed in a store room and carefully guarded, but when a soldier foolishly leaves his electric blanket on it, "The Thing" thaws out and is free.
Almost seven feet and Frankenstein-monster-like in appearance, The Thing gets outside, where it viciously attacks some sled dogs, but manages to leave behind his torn-off hand after the struggle. After examining the hand, the scientists conclude that the alien visitor is a vegetable based life form (an "intellectual carrot") that also happens to feed on human and animal blood. The Thing is essentially a killing machine only wanting to sustain its life, but even though one scientist wants to preserve it and reason with it, the military knows that it must be destroyed at once.
THE THING sets up the classic scenario of a destructive monster vs. paranoid people in a claustrophobic environment, in this case some blizzard-inflicted shabby headquarters in the Arctic, far removed from the rest of civilization. Producer Hawks (who is often believed to be the actual director) only shows us glimpses of the monster (played by gigantic James Arness of "Gunsmoke" fame), usually seen in shadows or in long shots, making unearthly noises--and the effect is still enigmatic and scary. Memorable scenes easily terrified many who saw this on TV growing up, including where a greenhouse door is opened to reveal the unsuspected creature, only to have it slammed on his arm and barricaded by the frightened military men. The narrative is tight, while the dialog is busy and witty, with the characters almost speaking on top of each other. The ensemble cast includes sci-fi hero Kenneth Tobey as Captain Patrick Hendry, Robert Cornthwaite as the brilliant but obsessed scientist, Margaret Sheridan as his fetching assistant and love interest to the Captain, and Douglas Spencer as the comical newspaper man, who also happens to have some of the best lines in the film--his closing utterances are some of the most well-known in the annals of sci-fi filmdom.
Missing the title's 50th anniversary mark by two years, Warner has finally released THE THING to DVD with an excellent transfer. The full frame image is accurate to its original aspect ratio, and this is a marvelous black and white transfer that looks better than previous VHS and laserdisc editions. The picture is sharp and well-detailed. The white and gray areas are particularly bright while blacks remain deep. There are a few random age-related speckles, but they are virtually non-existent. The mono audio track is excellent for a film of this age--dialog is always clear, with little or no background hiss in check. There are also optional English, French and Spanish subtitles. Note that this is the fully uncut, 87-minute version of the film, as some prints run shorter.
No extras on the disc, except for the battered RKO theatrical trailer. Since some of the participants are still with us (James Arness especially), it would have been nice to have a featurette like many of Warner's other Halloween releases. But with the beautiful transfer at hand, this landmark film certainly deserves a home in every fan's collection on DVD. (George R. Reis)
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