"Keep watching the skies!"
The 1950s was the golden age of the science fiction movie. Creatures of every shape and color came from the skies, from the ocean depths…even underground! On celluloid, no one on our planet was safe from the terror that is…foam latex! One of the classics of this era is the Howard Hawks chiller (cue ominous, brassy music score) The Thing from Another World. Starring James Arness (TV's Gunsmoke) as the towering veggie menace, The Thing from Another World makes its long awaited DVD debut on a bare bones disc care of Warner Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
When Arctic researchers (led by a solid Kenneth Tobey) discover a flying saucer deep in the frozen tundra, they think that they've struck gold both scientifically and monetarily. After digging up the alien (Arness) from the craft and taking it back to their camp, the ragtag group of military men and women find themselves in a bitter struggle to survive when the creature's icy tomb melts and he's suddenly set free. As the group attempts to maintain control and calm in their camp, the Thing wrecks havoc on both the operation's sled dogs and a few unfortunate officers. When it's discovered that the Thing is really a walkin', talkin' vegetable whose spores can create new Things, panic begins to set in. Soon it's man vs. alien plant life in a struggle to save the world from The Thing from Another World's evil seeds of destruction!
The Thing from Another World is based on the 1938 story "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell. So far it's inspired two incarnations on film: the 1982 John Carpenter fright fest The Thing and this 1951 cold war classic. Though they are often compared and contrasted, I truly believe that you have to look at them as individual movies and, ultimately, stories. In Carpenter's version (which I prefer), the tone is bleaker, the monster is far different (and closer to Campbell's version), and the story is more mysteriously ominous. The Thing from Another World, on the other hand, is lighter in tone, the creature is less threatening, and the dialogue is breezy and light. In essence, you've really got two very different features.
Whereas Carpenter's The Thing was a big budget horror show—and is in my estimation one of the best thrillers ever made—Hawks' The Thing from Another World focuses more on science and character interaction. In its own right The Thing from Another World is a great movie, and one of the best to come out of the '50s. Though he's not credited as the director, this movie has Hawks' fingerprints all over it; from the snappy dialogue to the brisk, clean pace, it's hard to believe that director Christian Nyby (who at this point had only worked as an editor) could helm such a unique film. Hawks was never one to stay in just one genre of filmmaking—from the original gangster film Scarface to the comedy in Bringing Up Baby to the western action in Rio Bravo, Hawks has shown that he was as adept at comedy as he was at horror.
In The Thing from Another World, Hawks keeps things moving at a wonderful pace, with some harrowing scenes peppered throughout (a great one involves the creature being set on fire and making a mad rush through one of the rooms). And unlike many other movies of its day, The Thing from Another World features strong women among strong men—in other words, they aren't just relegated to screaming in the background as the monster attacks. Even the dialogue between the sexes is zippy; in one scene a guy makes a flippant remark to one woman about being tied up, and in the next scene he's strapped to a chair (fully clothed, mind you…but still all tied up). It's small yet memorable moments like these that make Hawks' film still resonate with today's audiences.
There have been many science fiction/horror movies over the past fifty years. Among them there have been genre defining flicks (Alien, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Exorcist), scary-as-hell chillers (The Silence of the Lambs, Rosemary's Baby), and, of course, your requisite crap (Star Crystal, anyone?). Howard Hawks' The Thing from Another World is a staple of this genre, a movie that still holds up today as much as it did yesterday. Needless to say, this makes for a great double billing with Carpenter's under-appreciated remake.
The Thing from Another World is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 full frame. Overall, I was impressed with how nice this crisp black and white transfer turned out. Though it's no Citizen Kane, the black levels are solid and the grays and whites clean and bright. There are a few inherent flaws in the picture (a small amount of dirt is present), though shadow detail is very fine. This transfer is heads and shoulders above any previous VHS incarnations and should make fans very happy.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono in English. Hey, this is a mono track from a low budget film made over 50 years ago—be grateful you can understand what everyone is saying! While there isn't a whole lot to this mix (the sound effects and music all sound a bit canned and forced), overall the track is clear of most distortion and hiss. And yet, you can hear what everyone is saying (and very expediently, I might add) perfectly well. Also included on this disc are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Alas, Warner's decision not to include any substantial extra features will come as a real disappointment to die hard fans. The only extra feature available on this disc is a shoddy looking full frame theatrical trailer for the film.
Though I think Carpenter's 1982 version stands as a better testament to Campbell's story and is the superior of the two, The Thing from Another World is still a great watch. Fans of science fiction both past and present should check out this Howard Hawks classic. While the video and audio presentation are above average, it's a shame that Warner didn't add any meaty supplements on this disc.
The Thing from Another World is here! It's right behind you! And it's worth watching!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Theatrical Trailer
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