The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest English-Language Films list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
From the 1938 story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, The Thing is a terrifying blend of horror and science-fiction. It launched a cycle of fifties films involving belligerent creatures, linked either to atomic bomb use or tests or the Cold War being waged then between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
The Thing centers on conflicts between the military and science. Specifically, an Air Force captain and a Nobel scientist, each the leader of his own contingent, lock horns over the discovery at an Arctic research center of an alien creature that, ejected from an alien spacecraft, has become frozen in a block of ice. The scientist wants to study the being; the captain wants only, instead, to follow orders. Each is, in his own way, monstrously extreme. The scientist embodies a reckless pursuit of knowledge; the captain, an utter lack of curiosity about anything beyond his ken. When the alien, a beast that has an insatiable thirst for human blood, accidentally is thawed, its danger challenges the capacity of the opposing camps to come together as a team.
It turns out that, on whatever planet “the thing” comes from, plants have undergone an evolution similar to what animals have undergone on earth. The monster is a vegetable—a gigantic carrot, if you will.
Many interpret the film as a veiled allegory of Soviet danger to the U.S. Since the danger comes from a vegetable, however, the film seems to argue that we would do better to release our minds from the box that neatly identifies our current bogeymen.
Ravishingly cinematographed in black and white, The Thing was produced by Howard Hawks, who probably worried about working in a disparaged genre. No matter the directorial credit given, every shot is Hawks.*
* Cutter-turned-filmmaker Christian Nyby signed the film. The 1982 remake by John Carpenter is vapid, tedious, gross rather than frightening, unnecessary—a Thing without wit or suspense.
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