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John Carpenter's


Things From Different Worlds

A Critical Comparison of the 1951 and 1982
versions of The Thing


In The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, George Mann offers a positive assessment of John Carpenter’s 1982 cult classic: "The special effects are extravagant, although perfectly in keeping with the theme and plot of the movie, and it succeeds in being both a strong horror movie and an excellent psychological thriller." Upon seeing these words, the fan of the ‘82 film is encouraged in that a mainstream critic such as Mann is giving some well-deserved credit to The Thing (1982). Indeed, twenty years ago, the chances of seeing this sort of critical acclaim were about as likely as an ‘80s Democrat winning one of the American Presidential elections.

But Thing fans may be disheartened to read Mann’s very next sentence. Having concluded his comments on the ‘82 film, Mann introduces the 1951 Howard Hawks movie as "a superior adaptation of John W. Campbell’s famous short story, Who Goes There?" The 1951 film "superior" to the 1982 version!? Those who truly consider the ‘82 rendition to be "the ultimate in alien terror" are nothing less than surprised. They may even cringe at the thought that Mann, a person who knows his science fiction very well, would consider the ‘51 movie to be the "superior adaptation." Despite the progress that’s been made in gaining the acclaim that The Thing (1982) deserves, it seems that fans of the film still have some way to go in convincing others of the real value of Carpenter’s work. After all this time, the 1982 adaptation still has not fully come out from beneath the shadow of the ‘51 film.

By what standard or standards do we judge an original film to be better than its remake? Conversely, how are we to know that a remake is really superior to the original? Measuring this relative superiority can be especially difficult in the case of The Thing, for it is generally agreed that the ‘82 movie is not a "remake" of the ‘51 "original." Rather, it is simply a return to the story upon which both films are said to be based: the novella Who Goes There? written by John W. Campbell, Jr., in 1938. This basic fact was something of which most of the ‘82 film’s critics seemed to be completely ignorant and unaware. Indeed, if we were to judge superiority solely on the basis of faithfulness to Campbell’s story, then the ‘82 Thing would win hands down. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that the ‘51 Hawks version is virtually unrecognizable as a silver-screen adaptation of the Campbell classic. The two deviate that much from each other.

But Hollywood’s critics are not so much concerned with how well a movie portrays its original storyline as they are with the "artistic" qualities embedded throughout a film. In fact the ’82 Thing was criticized by some for holding too rigidly to the Campbell novella. "Carpenter may ruefully ponder that, in an industry famous for scrapping whole stories to get an idea or two …, his project foundered because of excessive fidelity to its original source." So, in comparing the two Thing films, we will not be all that concerned with the original Campbell story. Rather, we will examine the various themes and motifs of the two features, comparing them side-by-side with each other. We will endeavor to discover which film uses superior techniques in developing the conventional themes of the horror genre. In so doing, we are able to determine objectively which version of The Thing is the "superior adaptation."

The Creature Concept

Protagonist Reactions

Creature Clogged?

The Hero

The Mad Scientist

Thematic Integration


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