Scientists and American Air Force officials fend off a blood-thirsty alien organism while at a remote arctic outpost.
ActorsStarring: Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan, Robert Cornthwaite, Douglas Spencer, James Young, Dewey Martin, Robert Nichols, William Self, Nicholas Byron, John Dierkes, Eduard Franz, Paul Frees, George Fenneman, Norbert Schiller, Everett Glass, Edmond Breon, William Neff, Sally Creighton, David McMahon, James Arness
Which version, Hawks or Carpenter? There’s a lot of talk about which one is better, etc. I do agree with many that they both are very different films, very different viewing experiences. I love most good sci-fi. Some of 50’s sci-fi can be dated after viewing. I do not think The Thing is one of these films which suffers from time . It holds up splendidly. If you like dialogue, you’ll love this movie. If you like innuendo, fast paced overlapped dialogue, great characters – and I don’t use that word lightly – you’ll love this movie.
If you want more suspense, a lot more blood, and a much more gloomy setting, certainly John Carpenter’s remake is better in these areas. I own and enjoy viewing both films.
Certainly, the creature in Carpenter’s version is much more frightening, and truer to the John Campbell short story from which the story is based. His shape shifting would have been impossible to show in the 50’s version with the believability that is possible in today’s F/X field.
Carpenter gives us a setting which is darker, colder, and more foreboding. A feeling of hopeless, and nameless dread pervades the camp. Certainly, the notion is clear that this could be the end of all of them, and of the world. There’s both a lot less thinking, and a lot more action to be had here in the Carpenter 80’s version than in the Hawks’ 50’s approach.
Hawks, by contrast, created a feeling of “whistling in the dark”, which dominates the setting. The characters, and they are many and varied, all have their own particular take on what is happening and what should be done about it. There is a sense of hopeful, “We can do it. We can solve this problem” attitude throughout the entire film. This feeling of “let’s keep our heads” is contagious and very quickly the audience finds itself rooting, rather than running.
One more point, and I think it’s a big one. The characters in the Howard Hawks’ 50’s film are all likable, including the “heavy” – the wonderful Dr. Carrington. All the characters are capable, and in many cases, quite resourceful and ingenious. Each, always maintains a humorous, dry wit angle of attack on the situation without resorting to camp or parody seen in most comic film writing today. The military crew members, very quickly in the story, each displays a comical personality ribbing both the captain and the civil service nature of the military with natural ease. As someone once said, a complaining soldier is a happy soldier. So true. This is certainly no “military has all the answers” flick. The mistakes they make are roundly criticized by all in attendance, including the co-pilot’s not so subtle comment about the splitting of the atom, “yeah, and that sure made the world happy, didn’t it?” (laughter). Add to that, Ned Scott the newspaper man, and you’ve got a non-scientist, non-military chronicler character to round out the story, and give the audience someone with comparable skepticism about what to do next. Ned is the outsider who is now, like us, on the inside.
The John Carpenter version, by comparison, has mostly losers populating the story, I have to say. From the camp leader, Gary, on down to the radio operator, Windows, most of the characters seem more suited as inmates in a minimum security prison than manning a research science station. (maybe a reflection of the lack of students going into the field of science in recent years? (chuckle) And to make the point even more ironic, there is no military, the usual scapegoats, in the Carpenter version. (Gary, as leader, carries the gun, and we assume has some military/policing role, though it is never made clear in the film.) These are all scientists with the exception of the helicopter pilot, played by Kurt Russell, who seems to be the only clear thinking member of the entire bunch. Why none of the actual scientists approach the problem as clearly, and logically as the rogue washed-up helicopter pilot is also a mystery and in large part, a flaw.
In Hawks’ version, Captain Hendry solicits advice from all in attendance, frequently asking the scientists and his crew technical questions for which he has no background to answer. This also gives the non technical audience member another “way in” to the technical side of things. (no pun intended)
Why Carpenter chose to have most of the characters unredeeming, lazy, and in most cases, quite stupid and ill behaving, is a mystery. I find the characters in the Hawks version much more true to life.
With all that said, I enjoy both films, each for their strengths and for their weaknesses. If you want blood and gore, more realistic sets, and are not discouraged by fairly shallow characters, the Carpenter version is for you.
If you want fast paced dialogue, memorable characters, and you enjoy a “can-do” attitude in dreadful circumstances, all done with a minimum of visible gore, then Hawks’ The Thing awaits you.