Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Terror Takes Shape

The other night I was channel surfing, and ran across the original SF movie, The Thing from Another World directed by Howard Hawks, and immediately got caught up into watching it.  I also like the remake by John Carpenter.  Both films have a great way to induce claustrophobia and chills.  As you may also know, it comes from the John W. Campbell Jr. short novella, "Who Goes There?"  Campbell is arguably acknowledged as one of the most influential editors in the history of science fiction, and was the editor of Astounding magazine.  It was a time when the pulps were in their heyday.  At the time of Astounding there were many other such sensationalistic magazines competing with their own writers, which feature bug-eyed monsters with inciting artwork of spacemen helping spacewomen in distress. 

Campbell's magazine took a different tack, it was more subdued, understated, and emphasis was on logic, reason, and the scientifically plausible; and focused on how technology would impact on the average human life eventually turning the tide away from the pulps.  Under Campbell's editorship, Astounding spawned a new generation of writers who also included Asimov and Heinlein, among others.  

Under Campbell's influence poetic stories such as "Twilight," "Forgetfulness," and "The Elder Gods," he deliberately questioned many of science fiction's underlying assumptions, setting  a precedent that has helped the field to continue to thrive ever since. 

"Who Goes There?"  formed part of that revolution.  Although full of suspense and action, it turned science fiction away from stories that were merely suspense and action.  It also posed a scientific puzzle: Faced with an alien intelligence that can take over a human body and absorb memories, how do you determine who is a monster and who is human?  I thought John Carpenter's movie addressed that pretty well whereas the Hawks movie did not.

That said though The Thing from Another World remains a classic in SF that sparked off the SF/Monster movie boom of the 1950's, and remains one of the most powerful of that decade.  It is full of Hawk's trademarks: fast pace, overlapping dialogue, and an ability to elicit relaxed, naturalistic performances from the cast.   Hawks wisely kept the Thing (James Arness) off the screen for most of the film--something Ridley Scott also did with his film, Alien, so when you are finally confronted by it, there's a jolt.  Granted the earlier film doesn't have the special effects of the Carpenter film, and it's typical of adventure films made during the Cold War, with the shoot first,  ask questions later mentality.  But with The Thing I thought that mentality made sense--I would have too. 


At 9:04 AM, Blogger Richard Bellush said...

This was one of the first scifi films I ever saw, and it remains one I can watch with pleasure beyond mere nostalgia. When I got around to reading the novella, the mimic elements surprised me. Carpenter was right to include them rather than stick with a more basic remake. Both versions work.

I no longer remember which scifi flick was the very first I saw. It might have been "Invaders from Mars' or "War of the Worlds." "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," which runs with the mimic plot-device, was an early one too, but "The Thing" is in the running. All of them have their moments.

At 8:45 AM, Blogger El Vox said...

I'd agree wholeheartedly Richard. I've seen all those movies and still love them as well. The first one I saw with a friend at the movies was a double bill, I Married A Monster From Outer Space, along with Steve McQueen in The Blob. It totally gave me nightmares for a long time. I believe my mom took me to see an early Ray Harryhausen film as well when I was still too young to remember much, which was It Came From Beneath the Sea, iirc. I think she was just wanting to get out of the summer heat and the theater had nice cold air.

I think the first one I saw on TV was Invaders From Mars, which I still love. The creepiness of that film gave me the nightmares as did the original King Kong. I remember when it came on the TV my dad remarked how King Kong was a big hit when he was a young kid. A bit more on Invaders from Mars later. I'm currently reading a book, which features that movie early on in it, and is filled with that sort of nostalgia. It's been a great summer read so far.


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