The Thing opens in theaters this weekend, but it's also been around for a long time in one form or another. It's been a book, a movie, a remake, a video game, and another remake that's more prequel that anything else, although it hits the same notes as the other two movies. So if you're into ice-cold terror in the Antarctic, one of these forms of entertainment is definintely for you.
Although the name has been co-opted by Volkswagen, a roadside attraction, and Marvel Comics, just keep in mind that only one of the original adaptations of the book has Kurt Russell in it, and by default that's usually the best one. But does that hold true here? You'll have to check and see. Check out the many different forms of The Thing.
Who Goes There?
In 1938 John W. Campbell Jr. penned the story Who Goes There? for Astounding Stories, spinning a tale about a group of scientists in Antarctica who accidentally discover a spaceship buried in the ice and accidentally thaw out and awake the alien pilot of the vessel. The alien is a shapeshifter that is able to absorb the appearance and memories of both humans and animals, and soon terror breaks out at the research station as the group realizes that any one of them could be the Thing.
The story was a science fiction mainstay for nearly 40 years, and was later published as a standalone novella. In 1973 the story was voted as one of the finest novellas ever written by the Science Fiction Writers of America. In 1976 it was adapted into a comic book as part of the four issue Starstream series put out by Whitman, and in 2002 it was adapted into a radio drama for the BBC.
The Thing From Another World
Hollywood has never been able to ignore a good story, and in 1951 Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby worked on a loose adaptation of Who Goes There? entitled The Thing From Another World. In this version of the story, the revived creature thrives on human and animal blood, but doesn't shapeshift into human form. There's also a romantic subplot between an Air Force captain and one of the scientist's secretaries, in true 50s movie fashion.
While the film was not very faithful to the source material, it became a hit in 1951, outgrossing other science fiction hits like The Day The Earth Stood Still and When Worlds Collide. It has since become one of the most iconic sci-fi hits of the 50s, and it went on to inspire things like Doctor Who episodes and the title of a planned Close Encounters of the Third Kind sequel that was to be called Watch The Skies, the final line of Thing From Another World.
Probably one of John Carpenter's more iconic films, and the beginning of what he calls his "Apocalypse Trilogy," with the other two films being Prince of Darkness and In The Mouth of Madness. The movie paired him again with Kurt Russell, who had worked with Carpenter on the television movie Elvis, and in Escape From New York. He would then go on to work with him on Big Trouble in Little China and Escape from L.A.
Ironically, Carpenter's book-faithful adaptation wasn't beloved when it came out. It was trounced at the box office, being beaten by both E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Blade Runner. Carpenter himself told Time Out: "The movie was hated. Even by science-fiction fans. They thought that I had betrayed some kind of trust, and the piling on was insane. Even the original movie’s director, Christian Nyby, was dissing me."
But, the movie eventually came into its own and is now considered to be one of the scariest films of the 1980s. It's had an impact on filmmakers ranging from John Sayles to Edgar Wright, and several attempts were made to try and produce a sequel or sequels to The Thing. Carpenter himself wanted to make a The Thing II as recently as 2004. In the early 1990s, Dark Horse Comics produced several comic book sequels ranging from The Thing From Another World, The Thing From Another World: Climate of Fear, The Thing From Another World: Eternal Vows, to The Thing From Another World: Questionable Research. In fact, you can download the newest The Thing comic from Dark Horse right now, entitled The Thing: The Northman Nightmare, where the creature infects a group of Norsemen.
The Thing: The Video Game
This true prequel to the Carpenter film was developed by Computer Artworks and published by Vivendi Universal Games in 2002, in some cases coming with a DVD copy of The Thing if you preordered it. The game takes place after the events of the film, with a team sent in to investigate the destruction of the American base in Antarctica. As you play through, you encounter some of the characters from the film, while being terrorized with new breeds of Thing creatures.
The game also featured a unique fear and trust system that let the AI characters in the game suspect that you'd been turned if you did something in front of them, like killing a teammate, or they would be on your side if you were protecting them. However, this means that it is easy for a turned character to get close to you and attack you. As in most cases with mechanics like this, you usually just end up distrusting everyone.
The game was a critical success, and a sequel was planned until Computer Artworks shut down in 2004.
The Thing: 2011 Edition
Since Hollywood obviously can't leave well enough alone, a new version of Carpenter's film is out in theaters now. It stays fairly close to the events of The Thing, with different characters, and a lot more CGI. One of the things that made Carpenter's version so endearing and scary was all of the practical, on-set effects, but this new version is heavy on the computer imagery. Not that it's necessarily a bad thing.
However, this film is meant to serve as a prequel to Carpenter's movie, taking place just before the events of that film. Just in case you miss that point in the opening graphic that roots it in 1982, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is blasting Men At Work's "Who Can It Be Now?" through her headphones in her first scene. If you stay through the beginning of the credits you'll see that this movie is meant to dovetail with Carpenter's film exactly.
While hardcore fans of The Thing will blanch at this prequel/remake, it's actually a fairly entertaining movie. Even moreso if you've never seen the Carpenter version. Although ultimately, why this film chose to tread such familiar territory and not expand the concept into something more original is beyond me. However, the film is well-acter (Winstead does a terrific job, as does Joel Edgerton as Braxton Carter, a sort of rough-around-the-edges fill-in for Kurt Russell's MacReady. While it doesn't do anything new, it's a good popcorn flick with several moments that will evacuate your bladder.
What's your favorite version of The Thing?