In a lot of ways John Carpenter’s 1982 technical marvel of a creature feature The Thing is a one of a kind movie. If nothing else, the titular creature in the film presents itself in many uniquely complex-grotesque forms, each worthy of being preserved & displayed in a museum. As unique of a picture as it is, Carpenter’s The Thing is just one of several adaptations of the same novella, Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr. Three decades before Carpenter got his hands on the story, prolific Hollywood producer Howard Hawks had already loosely adapted the work in a film titled The Thing From Another World. Carpenter was undoubtedly a fan of this older incarnation, as he borrowed its title & the look of its title card, but the two films are fundamentally different in their approaches to telling Campbell’s space invasion story. While Carpenter’s The Thing dazzles viewers with complex, constantly evolving forms of its alien beast, Hawks’ The Thing From Another World keeps its monster mostly under wraps until the last third of the film, instead building its narrative more around the paranoid infighting that plagues the crew dealing with the otherworldly presence.
Set on the exact opposite side of the globe as Carpenter’s The Thing, the film begins in Anchorage, Alaska, where a crew of poker-playing, dame-talking military men are sent on an expedition to the North Pole to investigate a potential UFO sighting, a newspaper man in tow. Once there, they discover a massive flying saucer buried in the ice & attempt to melt it free, accidentally destroying the ship in the process. What they manage to preserve instead is a frozen alien being, one roughly shamed like a human male, except over 8ft tall. In Carpenter’s The Thing, the crew’s paranoid in-fighting revolves around the creature’s ability to imitate other life forms, thus making every team member a suspect for being “the thing”. In The Thing From Another World, the conflict is more concerned with balancing the need for scientific research with the more immediate concerns for self-preservation. As the gigantic humanoid alien monster proves itself to be a threat to the crew, they must decide whether to destroy it for their own safety or to attempt to peacefully contain it for further research, as instructed by the military higher ups.
Although the titular thing in Hawks’ production isn’t quite as visibly alien as Carpenter’s eerily unrecognizable shapeshifter, its humanoid form is merely a deception. The beast is eventually revealed to be a highly evolved form of plant life, one that feeds off of blood rather than water, like Aubrey II in Little Shop of Horrors. There’s a great sense of unnerving ambiguity in the gradual way the film’s isolated crew of scientists & military men piece together exactly what makes the thing ticket. There are also a couple of moments of special effects spectacle in the film, like in a sequence involving a severed arm and an extreme scene of violence in which the thing is set aflame & escapes into the snow. For the most part, though, where Carpenter established the terrifyingly alien nature of his creature’s biology through visual technique, the 1951 adaptation of the same story builds the same effect through a slow burn of dialogue, saving its creature feature surface pleasures for the final half hour. It’s not quite as exciting or satisfying as Carpenter’s picture, but fans of The Thing are likely to get a kick out of The Thing From Another World, both for the surprisingly adept dialogue and for the fun of comparing & contrasting.