November 20, 2007

"The Thing"

In Hollywood, when all is said and done, more is said than done, but, apparently, John Carpenter's classic 1982 horror film "The Thing" is being remade by Battlestar Galactica screenwriter Ronald D. Moore.

All the movie versions, including the 1951 rendition, are based on the great 1938 sci-fi story "Who Goes There?" Written by John W. Campbell at age 28, it was his last major piece of fiction. After that, he concentrated solely upon editing Astounding Science Fiction magazine, the key vehicle in launching the Golden Age of Hard Science Fiction. In the summer of 1939 alone, Campbell published the first stories of (among others) Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein.

"Who Goes There?" is the story of American scientists holed up for the winter in a research station in Antarctica. They find an ancient spaceship buried under the ice and dig up a frozen body, which (foolishly) they allow to thaw. The alien wakes up and begins to eat people.

Ho-hum, right? But the thing has a peculiar talent: after he eats somebody, he can split into two and change himself into that person, physically and even mentally. Paranoia, carnage, and more paranoia ensue. If the alien(s) eat everybody at the station, they'll then eat the first supply plane pilot in the spring and take over the human race. How can you tell who is man and who is monster?

This helped inspire Heinlein's Puppet Masters and the film "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

Campbell had written the same idea at least once before, in a light-hearted story called "The Brain Eaters of Mars," but "Who Goes There?" was clearly a climactic effort for Campbell.

The Wikipedia page on Campbell offers a wild biographical theory about the origin of this concept in Campbell's youth:

"His mother, Dorothy (née Strahern) was warm but changeable of character and had an identical twin who visited them often and who disliked young John. John was unable to tell them apart and was frequently coldly rebuffed by the person he took to be his mother. ... As Sam Moskowitz has written about Campbell in his early critical study of science-fiction writers, "From the memories of his childhood he drew the most fearsome agony of the past: the doubts, the fears, the shock, and the frustration of repeatedly discovering that the woman who looked so much like his mother was not who she seemed. Who goes there? Friend or foe?"[9]"

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting bit of movie trivia - James Arness played the Thing in the 1951 version.

Anonymous said...

The original story "Who Goes There?" also owes a lot of its setting and premise to the short H.P. Lovecraft novel "At The Mountains of Madness," about an Antarctic expedition that finds the remnants of a seemingly extinct alien race that was overthrown by its resentful servants-- sort of a sci-fi Oswald Spengler kinda thing.

Fred said...

The 1982 version of The Thing was perfect. I like Moore's work on BSG, but there's really no need to re-make The Thing.

Evil Neocon said...

Moore's version will suck for the same reason BSG sucks and most current sci-fi sucks. Sci-fi from the beginning has been populist and the flaw of Moore and other dabblers is that they use sci-fi to preach their elitist moralizing.

Very predictable. Also note that the elitists lack creative energy (unlike Campbell and Heinlein) to create their own stories -- they depend on recycling the work of others. A lot like Rap in the sterile stasis of elites battling for status.

Topiary Utopia said...

I remember reading "The Brain Eaters of Mars" as a kiddo and enjoying it a lot.

The "false mother" episode reminds me of a story by Philip K. Dick called "The father-thing".

SFG said...

"The father-thing".
That story scared the shit out of me when I was a kid. Whew!

The original story "Who Goes There?" also owes a lot of its setting and premise to the short H.P. Lovecraft novel "At The Mountains of Madness," about an Antarctic expedition that finds the remnants of a seemingly extinct alien race that was overthrown by its resentful servants-- sort of a sci-fi Oswald Spengler kinda thing.
Ah, Lovecraft. He actually was big into that Aryan superiority thing. He was an anti-Semite who married a Jewish woman, which says a lot to me. ;)

tommy said...

I'm curious about your opinion on horror films in general, Steve. Which ones, if any, do you like and why? I agree with Udolpho - horror is the most difficult genre to pull off.

jody said...

carpenter's 1982 version is one of the best horror movies. there's no reason to remake it.

of course there was no reason to remake dawn of the dead, but the remake turned out good.

horror is hard to do. it is difficult to make something that will scare adults.

David said...

evil neocon wrote:

Moore's version will suck for the same reason BSG sucks and most current sci-fi sucks. Sci-fi from the beginning has been populist and the flaw of Moore and other dabblers is that they use sci-fi to preach their elitist moralizing.

Very predictable. Also note that the elitists lack creative energy (unlike Campbell and Heinlein) to create their own stories -- they depend on recycling the work of others. A lot like Rap in the sterile stasis of elites battling for status.


Someone has snatched ec's body. That comment was insightful.

tommy said:

I agree with Udolpho - horror is the most difficult genre to pull off.

Isn't comedy harder? All you need for horror is the simple plot line of "chaos intruding into order." For example, a nice little perfect family or happy over-sexed teenagers start being eaten by invisible worms...

But making people laugh, genuinely laugh, is regarded as hard by most people. (Though friends tell me I make them genuinely laugh all the time, without even trying.) (Uh, that was a joke. See what I mean?)

tommy said...

Isn't comedy harder? All you need for horror is the simple plot line of "chaos intruding into order." For example, a nice little perfect family or happy over-sexed teenagers start being eaten by invisible worms...

But to make good horror?

But making people laugh, genuinely laugh, is regarded as hard by most people. (Though friends tell me I make them genuinely laugh all the time, without even trying.) (Uh, that was a joke. See what I mean?)

Comedy is probably #2.

SFG said...

Moorcock's leftism didn't keep the Elric books from being pretty good, IMHO. But that's fantasy not sf.

Asimov was on the left but is still considered a seminal figure in the field. It IS true that sf has many more libertarian/conservative writers (such as Jerry Pournelle) than normal literature.