Knowledge is more important than life, Captain. We’ve only one excuse for existing – to think, to find out, to learn. What can we learn from that thing except a quicker way to die?
I looooooove this movie!
I know a ton of people love the ‘80s film, but not me, I love the original the best. It’s one of my favorite SciFi films as I love the pacing, the characters, the “Thing”.
And it’s not just me that thinks it’s fantastic, it was on the American Film Institute’s 2001 list of the top 100 Most Heart-Pounding American Movies and inspired many horror directors, such as John Carpenter who would remake the film.
It was also the 46th biggest grossing film of its year, beating out other classic sci-fi films like When Worlds Collide (1951) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).
The film starts off with reporter Ned Scott (Douglas Spencer) looking for a story. He goes searching at the Alaskan Air Command officer’s club, where he meets Captain Pat Hendry (Kenneth Tobey), his co-pilot Lieutenant Eddie Dykes, (a friend of Scott’s), and flight navigator Ken “Mac” MacPherson.
The men joke around a bit especially poking fun at Ned for coming to freezing Alaska. The group then gets word that they need to head up to Polar Expedition Six at the North Pole, as the lead scientist, Nobel laureate, Dr. Arthur Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite); asked for military assistance as they saw an unusual aircraft crash nearby.
Captain Hendry, Lt. Dykes, Lt. Ericsson, Corporal Barnes, crew chief Bob, a pack of sled dogs, and newsman Ned (who somehow finagled an invite) all head out to the outpost. Hendry doesn’t want to go up there as he had something going on with Nikki Nicholson (Margaret Sheridan), Dr. Carrington’s secretary. It’s never clear if they were dating or if Capt. Hendry was just trying to get her to go out with him, but he’s embarrassed after she drank him under the table.
Orders are orders and they head out to the research’s station where they meet with meet radio operator Tex, Dr. Chapman, his wife Mrs. Chapman, the cook Lee, the Inuit dog handlers, Dr. Vorhees, Dr. Stern, Dr. Redding, Dr. Stone, Dr. Laurence, Dr. Wilson, Dr. Ambrose, Dr. Auerbach, and Dr. Olson; along with Dr. Carrington and Nikki Nicholson
Scientists come with the airmen and find the ship sticking out of the ice.
They spread out on the ice and see how big it is, and it’s huge! Obviously, whatever this is, it wasn’t man made!
The try to find a way to get it out, figuring to the best way would be to use thermite. However, that doesn’t work out right as it is reacts poorly to the alloy and it sinks into the icy water.
They are upset, especially Dr. Carrington, who wanted to study it. However, not all is lost as their Geiger counter detects a frozen body buried nearby. They excavate it and want to fly it out but can’t as an Arctic storm starts up.
As Capt. Hendry is the highest ranking military man at the outpost, he is now in charge and sends in the information of what they have discovered. The General tells them to wait there and for Ned to not give out any information, and that under no circumstances to let the scientists examine the alien creature.
A military watch is posted and nothing unusual happens until the time comes to switch guards. Lt. MacPherson is completely weirded out by all of this, as aliens were not what he signed up for. He doesn’t want to look at the alien and covers him with a blanket. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know that it is an electric blanket and that it is plugged in. Yep, they basically Encino Man him, melting the ice and bringing him to life.
The Thing awakens and escapes in the storm, the dogs figuring with it and ripping off the arm, they later recovering his arm. The Thing was played by James Arness, who like Gort in The Day the Earth Stood Still was partially chosen because of his height of 6’6, being so much taller than ever other man.
The scientists study the arm and find it nothing like humans. As they study it, it seems to be closer to plants more than human and like a plant, the thing can regrow a limb when one has been trimmed.
Capt. Hendry suddenly has a lot more on his plate than just being in charge of the outpost, he now has to be in charge of everyone and there is this strange Thing running about.
My favorite scenes in the film are the interactions between Hendry and Nikki as Nikki is just as tough, if not tougher than Hendry. I especially love the coffee exchange, it’s repeated multiple times in the film and it’s hilarious
Hendry: No, but you can come in.
Nikki: That’s the only reason I brought it. I was hoping you’d ask me.
Dr. Carrington and the other scientists are interested in studying and communicating with the Thing. They don’t see it as a threat but just lost and confused, a stranger in a strange place. Nikki is the only one who seems on the fence about it, she doesn’t fully trust the creature but at the same time is not as convinced as the others that it isn’t a threat.
Dr. Arthur Carrington: Knowledge is more important than life, Captain. We’ve only one excuse for existing – to think, to find out, to learn.
Ned “Scotty” Scott: What can we learn from that thing except a quicker way to die?
Dr. Arthur Carrington: It doesn’t matter what happens to us. Nothing counts except for our thinking. We thought our way into nature. We split the atom.
Eddie: Yes, and that sure made the world happy, didn’t it?
Dr. Arthur Carrington: Captain, when you find what you’re looking for, remember it’s a stranger in a strange land. The only crimes involved were those committed against it. It awoke from a block of ice, was attacked by dogs, shot by frightened man. All I want is a chance to communicate with it.
Hendry: Doctor you can do anything you want with it provided it’s locked up in a safe place.
The scientists and military officers start investigating for where the alien took off to. They end up finding a dead dog drained of all its blood, (don’t worry they don’t show it) and come to the determination that it was done by the Thing, and that it consumes blood.
Ew! If it was me I would 100% be prepared to stop/burn it/kill it it as I wouldn’t want to be the next one consumed.
However, the scientists still want to still make contact. Unbeknownst to the military the scientists make their own plans to try and find/capture/communicate.
The film becomes a version of cat and mouse as they are trying to hunt whilst being hunted. The storm still rages so they cannot get outside, cannot leave, and are unable to receive any help. You never see a close up of the monster as the film didn’t have the budget to make it scary enough, but I like that choice as when watching it, it is so much creepier not being able to see what the Thing looks like.
The next day they continue their search and have a hard time finding any trace of the Thing, something not helped by the storm. They do discover a badly injured Dr. Stern who reveals that the scientists have made contact and the thing killed two of them, Auerbach and Olson.
They soldiers investigate the lab and are attacked by the Thing. They fight it and manage to barricade it in the greenhouse. They also “arrest” Dr. Carrington and sequester him in his lab. But it turns out Dr. Carrington has done more than attempt to contact the Thing, he’s been experimenting from the arm, using seeds taken from it to grow small alien pods and feeding them blood plasma. Some of the Doctors are interested, some are afraid, and Nikki is disgusted.
Dr. Arthur Carrington: We owe it to the brain of our species to stand here and die… without destroying a source of wisdom.
Dr. Carrington is crazy! They definitely should be watching him closely.
Captain Hendry discovers the doctor’s secret when he finds the blood plasma missing. Hendry is upset and wants to destroy the Thing, but orders are to keep it alive and bring it back to base.
The Thing escapes from the greenhouse and attacks them again. In order to save their lives they try to douse it in kerosene and light it on fire, but he gets away and runs from the outpost and into the snow.
They are trying to figure out what to do next when Nikki notices that she and can see their breath. Lee the cook also is unable to cook as their is no gas available as well. Yes, the Thing has sabotages their furnace, and with Arctic conditions and the storm; won’t take long for them to freeze to death. They retreat to the generator room to figure out what to do next.
Nikki is the one to actually figure out how they can defeat it:
Ned “Scotty” Scott: Here’s the sixty-four dollar question – what do you do with a vegetable?
Nikki: Boil it.
Ned “Scotty” Scott: What did you say?
Nikki: Boil it… bake it… stew it… fry it?
They decide to rig up a “flytrap”; they harness electricity to one area and wait for him to come upon them, step on it the trigger, and get boiled up.
Dr. Carrington almost ruins it when he comes running in and tries to convince the Thing that he’s on his side. The Thing doesn’t care and tosses him, confining to approach them. This is one of my favorite scenes as it is so scary as he approaches them as he is giant and creepy! The tension is so thick you could cut it with a knife as you watch and hope that he actually steps into the trap.
He does and gets electrocuted, being blown away to ash!
It ends with them finally being able to make it through, Cpt. Hendry and Nikki are together, and Ned has the story of a lifetime.
Ned “Scotty” Scott: All right, fellas, here’s your story: North Pole, November Third, Ned Scott reporting. One of the world’s greatest battles was fought and won today by the human race. Here at the top of the world a handful of American soldiers and civilians met the first invasion from another planet. A man by the name of Noah once saved our world with an ark of wood. Here at the North Pole, a few men performed a similar service with an arc of electricity. The flying saucer which landed here and its pilot have been destroyed, but not without causalities among our own meager forces. I would like to bring to the microphone some of the men responsible for our success… but as Senior Air force officer Captain Hendry is attending to demands over and above the call of duty… Doctor Carrington, the leader of the scientific expedition, is recovering from wounds received in the battle.
Eddie: [Softly] Good for you, Scotty.
Ned “Scotty” Scott: And now before giving you the details of the battle, I bring you a warning: Everyone of you listening to my voice, tell the world, tell this to everybody wherever they are. Watch the skies. Everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies
So when I was twelves we were in Arizona and I saw a giant billboard for the Thing and wanted desperately to stop and see a museum dedicated to the film. I was able to convince my parents to check it out, but it turned out it had nothing to do with this at all. It still was cool though.
For more creatures from another world, go to The Cutest Alien You’ll Ever See: The Cat From Outer Space (1978)
For more SciFi, go to Gort! Klaatu Barada Nikto!: The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)