Book vs. Movie: The Thing
By Russ Bickerstaff
October 19, 2011
In the end, they choose a really low-tech way of figuring it out. If every cell acts independently, then the blood from a Thing will rush away from a heated wire. After a first couple of tests done on blood samples, there is no reaction and it is uncertain that the test is even going to work. With the first successful test, tension mounts. As Things are discovered, they struggle to escape the mob of human ready to crush the life out of them. Campbell doesn’t do a brilliant job of heightening the tension here, but there’s enough friction to make it kind of an iconic scene out of early 20th century sci-fi.
As the story reaches its climax, it reveals that the Things were growing to populate the expedition. Fourteen people had been infected and taken over. The story ends as the valiant leaders of the survivors go out to confront Blair, a man who had gone mad when he discovered the capabilities of The Thing. He had been sequestered in a small cabin away from the camp’s main complex. Sure enough, it turns out he was infected - by the original specimen.
The Thing doesn’t die easily. Much of the novella’s last 1,000 words are spent getting rid of it. It’s discovered that the thing had developed a device that would’ve allowed it to jump all the way to America via anti-gravity harnessed through atomic energy. (Just a little something it was working on in captivity, I guess. They figure that in killing the thing, they’d saved the world by a “margin of a half-hour.” The novella ends with kind of a sense of wonder and relief.
The Thing From Another World (RKO Pictures, 1951)
The 1951 RKO film is a product of Howard Hawks, the man who directed 1932’s Scarface and would also go on to direct huge hits like Rio Bravo and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Here he was working on an adaptation of the Campbell novella that history has also credited with a couple of other screenwriters. The product of at least three people, the script to The Thing From Another World bears little resemblance to its inspiration. As the film is established, we see an ensemble settle-in on a scientific research outpost in the North Pole.
The outpost picks-up evidence of some kind of craft having landed not far from the station and a few valiant, early ‘50s film hero-types are sent out to investigate. It turns out to be a downed spacecraft and suddenly we have a sci-fi movie. We’re 15 minutes in at this stage.
It starts to bear some sort of resemblance to the story that inspired it a little les than 20 minutes in. Instead of investigating something that’s been buried in Antarctic ice for many, many years, they’re investigating something that only recently crashed in the arctic.