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He has the same attitude to us as we would a field of cabbages.


The Thing from Another World


If other remakes of ’50s movies – The Day the Earth Stood Still, Invasion of the Body Snatchers – failed to eclipse the originals, however well (or not) regarded, John Carpenter’s 1982 adaptation of Who Goes There? has well and truly supplanted Christopher Nye’s (Howard Hawks produced, some say surrogated, despite Nye’s denials) The Thing from Another World. There’s good reason for that, since its skill in exerting the uncanny is remarkable by any standards. Nevertheless, The Thing from Another World remains rightly recognised on its own terms, regardless of its reactionary credentials. Plus, it’s self-aware enough to reference its imposing but less-than-miraculous monster – James Arness bringing on the imposing, less so the weird and uncanny – as “some form of super carrot”.

In premise, I always preferred The Thing from Another World to 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, although I have to admit the latter ages rather better. While The Thing from Another World comes armed with some highly witty dialogue, it’s also hidebound by very rigid divisions between its characters (science vs military). It delivers some solid shocks – the husky in the box; the monster at the open door – and sequences – the flaming carrot remains highly impressive – but it doesn’t have the merit of characterisation beyond stock types that would sustain its early passages; most personable is goll-ee reporter Scotty (Douglas Spencer) – a Jeff Golblum type, were there a remake of this version – absurd as the idea of allowing the press along is, less still their broadcasting the encounter to the nation.  Pauline Kael, in contrast, felt “The events surrounding its appearance are wonderfully well staged; they’re so banal and economic and naturalistic they have a kick”, and there’s something to this assessment.

There’s also the Hawks-trademark overlapping dialogue – Exhibit A in the case for this being ghost-directed by him, per Alex Cox – that is rather variably effective. The interactions don’t yield the same kind of spark and energy as his screwball comedies, so the delivery of the crosstalk often seems even more staged and less improvised; it can stand out glaringly, such that you wonder “Why won’t anyone on this base let anyone else finish a goddamn sentence?!”

Kim Newman noted Alien’s debt to the movie, “With its naturalistic dialogue and monster preying on characters in an isolated setting…” and if we substitute Doctor Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) for Ash, there’s a clear parallel in attempting to keep the alien alive at the expense of the human contingent. Further than that, change a military command for the Company’s and you have the same instruction to keep it alive. The form and modus operandi of the alien, an intelligent brute, is closer to the Predator, though, particularly the parallels to the heard-but-not-seen – until the John McTiernan film – of “Two scientists hanging from beams, throats cut”.

Carrington: There are no enemies in science, only phenomena to be studied.

Peter Biskind in Seeing is Believing gets bogged down in the overt Hegelian mechanisms of these ’50s movies, be they anti-Red or pro-understanding. Or simply the aforementioned science vs military. He notes this was one of the movies of the period that “favoured average joes over geniuses” (again, Alien and The Thing remake would pronouncedly emphasise the blue(r)-collar guy or gal as the most effective, no-nonsense person to deal with the threat).

Carrington: We’ve thought our way into nature, we split the atom.

Eddie: Yes, and it sure made the world happy, didn’t it?

So it is that Carrington is almost perversely intent on preserving the creature for science; it’s an indictment of the ethic-free experimentation that “split” the atom (albeit, it’s obviously quite clear who ordered the Manhattan Project, as high and mighty as The Thing from Another World’s military types seem. And that’s without getting into the detail of the nuke lie*).  Or as Biskind puts it, an example of “value free pragmatism of the corporate liberalsappeasement”. Biskind notes that Carrington is a “borderline mad scientist” and, with his Russian-style fur hat and goatee, “is also a Russian”. He’s a pluralist too boot, which brings about his downfall (but perhaps surprisingly, not death): “He’s soft on aliens, a Thing-symp, the J Robert Oppenheimer of the Arctic base”. (Yes, this version is set in the Arctic, far from the Antarctic setting of both the original story and Carpenter’s remake, and so lacking the lustre of a mysterious “continent” and pertaining phenomena and high strangeness.)

Which rather serves to emphasis the interchangeability of the Hegelians state – science vs military or East vs West – matters less than reinforcing the need for the state apparatus. Thus, at various, points, the military will be the dangerous force pitted against the sanctity of life. Time Out’s David Pirie contrasted it with The Day the Earth Stood Stillwhich took a liberal stand in exposing the stupidity of men when confronted by an alien”. Hawks et al rejected this out of hand, such that the overall message is “distinctly hawkish”: “Reactionary or not, though, it’s still a masterpiece”.

Newman also noted the certainty here, compared to the remake: “Everybody in the Hawks film knows what to do and gets on with it… Conflicts arise, but no one doubts his own rectitude”. Lest we get carried away, though, we should remember it’s the military, not the scientists, who cause the problem, due to the kind of flagrant ineptitude that warrants a court martial. Corporal Barnes (William Self) throws a plugged-in electric blanket over the block of ice he knows isn’t to be melted. It’s at least as negligent as anything Cornthwaite contrives. There’s also that Kenneth Tobey’s hero Hendry’s a sex pest (“I’ve never seen so many hands in all my life”).

The final lines, “Watch the Skies”, suggested something more than the literal looking out for UFOs to Biskind, as they “ask us not only to fear that which comes from space, but space itself, absence, emptiness, the negation of culture. Like the expanse of ice, the sky is an image of Otherness, and that which is not-culture is dystopian. By contrast, enclosures, manufactured spaces, mean safety”. What he’s characterising is the input of freemasonic, NASA-based models of the Universe – as opposed to the actual one – that makes humanity insignificant and unimportant when compared to the infinite (and thus infinitely capable of making us vulnerable).

Cox, in his Moviedrome introduction (28 May 1989), pointed out “Flying saucer enthusiasts should note the story… is not dissimilar to the notorious ‘Roswell Incident’ of 1946, in which a US Air Force base issued a press release that a flying disc had crashed in southern New Mexico with the remains of four dead aliens on board…” This leads to the chicken and egg of the influx of alien-invasion B-movies of the decade; predictive programming on a mass scale, not dissimilar to the Tavistock-initiated pop/youth movement of the 1960s, or simply a reaction to the zeitgeist, to the “threat” of the bomb, and UFO sightings in abundance (regardless of the provenance of those UFOs)? Were it not explicitly demanded by TPTB, it would surely still have been a goldmine Hollywood plundered.

The problem is, once you begin unwrapping that, they’re so closely interlinked that the causative mechanism blurs. A readily new, formulated paradigm is forthcoming, one that conditions the public to accept the next leap (a rocket to the Moon) and whatever new, outlandish report NASA delivers next regarding properties found “out there” (a blank canvas on which they can pose whatever they like, including fear of imminent devastation and destruction).

This version of The Thing is, essentially Dracula (or Nosferatu). Indeed, a giant bald non-human preying on humans for sustenance, crude as it is in realisation, is very much par for the course in representations of the Elite, of whatever order (Anunnaki, if you like). Biskind tried to make out the Thing was essentially a robot, since they “don’t feel pain, have no emotions and aren’t retarded by scruples”, but that fits the very format of those conditioning us into dialectical, limited thinking in the first place.

*Addendum 24/06/23: I’ve been chasing the wrong conspiracy with that one, it seems. It’ s almost inevitable that, when you think you’ve grasped the nettle of some subjects, you instead get stung to blue blazes. There’s long-standing theorising concerning the legitimacy of the nuke threat, and of nuclear technology generally, it took me a while to warm to it (probably in the last three or four years). Warm to it I did, though, and it seemed Q & A answers were confirming the counterfeit nature of the subject (this, however, as tends to be the case, was based on misconception of the parameters of the response).

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