Original VS Remake (VS Reboot): ‘The Thing’
We’re going to mix things up a little this time around by factoring in a third film. I’m sure that many will point out that the most recent version of this story is a ‘prequel’, but we’ll deal with that when we come to it.
Released in 1951 and directed by Christian Nyby and (unofficially) Howard Hawks, The Thing From Another World is a sci-fi thriller based on the 1938 novella ‘Who Goes There?’ by John W, Campbell, Jr. It was released by RKO, a production house associated with many horror classics of the era
We begin with a group of US Air Force personal stationed in Alaska being dispatched to the Arctic after a scientist at an outpost report finding a crashed flying saucer. Despite the Air Forces scepticism the claim turns out to be true and they find a humanoid figure frozen in the ice. They bring this figure back to the base for examination after accidentally destroying the craft.
As the scientists and military argue over who is running the show the soldier standing guard over the frozen being covers it in a blanket to avoid looking at it. Unfortunately it’s an electric blanket and it thaws the alien, letting it lose on the base. An investigation of the alien flesh reveals that it’s of plant matter. It needs blood to survive and attacks the sled dogs and men to drain their blood. The scientists discover seeds and determine that the alien intends to reproduce.
Whilst the scientists experiment by growing the seeds in blood, the soldiers attempt to defeat the alien by burning it, which fails. When the temperature controls are sabotaged and they are forced into a confrontation, the scientists try and fail to reason with the alien. They then lure the alien into an electric trap and reduce it to ash, then destroy all samples of the alien collected. We end with the reporter who tagged along with the soldiers broadcasting his story with the classic line “keep watching the skies”.
Whilst it often gets dismissed in favour of the remake the 1951 film holds up well and it worth a look if you’re into sci-fi. The horror elements won’t faze modern viewers but the concept is sound. The idea of a vegetable monster sounds goofy, but they riff on it just has much as you’d expect people to in the film.
What The Remake Kept the Same
When John Carpenter remade The Thing From Another World in 1982 he shortened the title and went back to the source material for further inspiration. Once again we’re set in an isolated setting in the freezing wastes, and an alien infiltrates the group of people stationed there and begins killing them off. The internal strife caused by the incursion plays a major theme, as does the seemingly unstoppable nature of the alien and its attempts to multiply.
Quite a number of visuals are lifted from the 1951 film. The title design remains unchanged, and footage of the Norwegians discovering the UFO and alien mirrors the original, such as the shot of them standing in a wide circle to mark the size of the craft. The rift between the scientists and military personal occurs once more, but it doesn’t play as large a role, rather it’s their personalities that drive them apart. The alien begins its invasion by going after the husky dogs before the humans, and it can spread via smaller parts of itself.
What They Changed
Although the some of the core themes are intact there is plenty changed here. For starters our collection of characters are stationed in the Antarctic rather than the Arctic, and they’re not the ones who initially find the alien craft. As they discover after the fact a nearby Norwegian station uncovered and defrosted the thing and subsequently succumbed to its attacks. Having taken the form of a malamute dog the thing approaches the American base with the remaining Norwegians in pursuit. Unable to understand them, the Americans don’t know why the Norwegians are trying to kill the dog and think they’re insane, eventually being forced to kill them and take in the dog.
The American’s are unaware of what has infiltrated their camp and it’s not until after they investigate the Norwegian station, where they find a two-headed corpse, and the malamute thing attacks the other dogs. The original alien was, as we noted, a plant based creature. This time around it’s more complex. The alien is able to assimilate into another living creature’s body and perfectly replace them. In addition their single cells can operate independently to protect themselves and spread into a new host. While science vs military was the central theme in the original this one goes with paranoia. After it becomes clear that any one person could be the thing everyone turns against each other with helicopter pilot MccReady taking charge in spite of everyone suspecting him of being the imposter.
Discovering who is human and who is the thing becomes the central conflict of the plot, with the idea of ‘attacking’ each person’s blood sample being the turning point for the characters. As the situation gets more desperate they wind up going down the same path as the Norwegians by burning the victims and the entire station. In the end only Childs and MacReady are left alive, accepting that they can’t trust each other but have no way of surviving the oncoming storm without shelter. This flies in the face of the original film which ends with the alien being defeated and our male and female leads going on a date.
It’s often claimed that there’s very little in common between these two versions, but that’s not true. They both have the same core concept, essentially the same skeletal structure with a different body built around it. The remake is a much darker and pessimistic film that relies more on building tension rather than discussion.
And the Reboot!
Ok, why are we classifying this as a remake instead of a prequel or new product based on the same source material? Well, a prequel would need to build on the original rather than be a retread. Same setting, similar group of characters and essentially the same series of unfortunate events with ‘flashier’ special effects. This adds nothing to either one of the originals. Not even close.
The only major differences come in the form of a female protaganist, a mild language barrier between some of the characters and…well, that’s it. They replaced the practical effects with poorly dated CGI that is as laughable as the 1982 effects were scary. They never look like they’re really there and someone went overboard with adding a billion flapping tentacles into each sequence. More is not better, especially when they’re less convincing. Then we have a jaunt into the massive flying saucer found in the ice with more garish looking CGI, an entirely unnecessary addition to the film. Honestly, it just makes it look as though it wants to be Aliens.
Where this 2011 version, directed by Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr., really fails is in the tone. The 1982 version relied heavily on suspense and pitting the humans against each other with the audience never knowing the answer themselves. What we got in 2011 was generic horror movie characters reading generic horror movie dialogue where everyone is a red shirt except the two name actors in the lead roles. It’s dull and predictable and favouring sprinting and jumping CGI clouds of tentacles over the nightmare inducing designs of from 1982 was a terrible mistake.
Which One Should You Watch?
The 1950s original will be of interest to classic horror and sci-fi fans who enjoy the kind of work RKO used to put out. It’s on par with some of the original Twilight Zone episodes and has a similar feel. The 1982 John Carpenter version is one of the few genuine classics of the genre, and avoids any vestige of 80s camp that plagued movies from the era. Even if you aren’t a horror fan The Thing is worth seeing, it’s brilliant. The 2011 reboot is best skipped over and forgotten, it’s a pale imitation of Carpenter’s best work.