In August of 1938, readers of Astounding Science-Fiction Magazine beat the summer heat by reading a chilling science-fiction story that took them to the heart of Antarctica where a group of scientists was trapped along with a shape-shifting extraterrestrial. That story was Who Goes There?, by Don A. Stuart, the pen name of John W. Campbell Jr. The story was later reprinted in book form where Campbell used his real name. The novella eventually spawned three movies, the first one in 1951 titled The Thing from Another World that was followed up by John Carpenter’s 1982 cult classic The Thing (it spawned a video game as well as a series of comics.) which was followed up by the 2011 prequel using the same name.
Three movies based on one book. The film industry is known for taking a book and making it into a film with mixed results, usually negative. So the question remains, out of the three films based on Campbell’s novella, who got it right? Well, let’s go on this spoiler-filled adventure and see which of the three movies is more like Who Goes There?
WARNING: Spoilers ahead!
- Campbell’s story takes place at a research station in Antarctica; all three films do take place at research stations but The Thing from Another World is at the North Pole.
- In Campbell’s tale, the scientists working at the research station stumbled across the crashed alien craft in the ice; in The Thing from Another World, the spaceship was witnessed crashing into the ice prompting an investigation. In The Thing, the research team learns about the spacecraft via documents they recovered from a Norwegian outpost, the same outpost that was the setting in the prequel film The Thing wherein the opening of the film members of the Norwegian crew find the craft, in both films they stay true to the original story where it’s believed the craft was in the ice for thousands of years.
- In Who Goes There? The researchers used thermite bombs to melt the ice only to discover that the ship was made of magnesium causing a chain reaction destroying evidence of the craft; in The Thing from another World the researchers did the exact same thing with the same result with the ship being destroyed, in The Thing, the US research team learns the Norwegian team used the same type of thermite charges to melt the ice around the ship, upon investigating more the US researchers find a large craft still intact. In the Prequel, the ice was melted when the alien tried to start up the ship’s engines.
- In Campbell’s story, some of the researchers thawed the alien they found out of the ice to examine it; in The Thing from Another World, the alien was accidentally thawed out of the ice. It’s unclear in The Thing how the alien got out of the ice but in the prequel, it’s implied that it was possible that the alien was conscious and aware of its surroundings waiting to escape the ice.
- In Who Goes there? The alien makes imitations of the researchers causing paranoia among those who are still alive at the station; The Thing and its prequel stayed true to this key element of the story while The Thing from another World the alien was a plant-like vampire creature that needed blood to grow its seeds.
- Campbell’s story has the researchers test the blood of everyone at the station to determine who’s an imitation; The Thing was the only film that actually followed this part of the story making it one of the most iconic scenes in the film, it’s prequel had survivors see who still had their fillings since when the alien copied someone it can’t copy non organic material like tooth fillings. In The Thing from Another World, the alien is not a shapeshifter.
- In the story, one of the scientists who ended up being the last remnant of the alien was secretly taking items from around the outpost to build an anti-gravity device in the shack it was locked up in, the device would allow it to literally jump off of Antarctica; In The Thing the last alien was one of the scientists who worked closely with the creature’s remains that were found and brought back from the Norwegian outpost, the alien was building a small craft for it can leave. In the prequel, there was no real big reveal as the head researcher was seen being attacked by the alien earlier on. In The Thing from Another World, the head scientist was growing the alien plants using the bodies of dead researchers to provide blood.
- Campbell’s tale ended on a lighter note where the creature was killed and the survivors are relieved. The Thing from another World also ended on a lighter note where it’s confirmed all the alien plants, as well as the creature itself, is dead and burned. The Thing and it’s prequel ended on a slightly more darker note, at the end of both films the research stations are destroyed with only one or two survivors, the ending of The Thing left the audience guessing if the two survivors were human or one of them was not while it’s prequel the fate of the main character was never revealed but ended with the beginning of John Carpenter’s film.
Before I go into the final verdict of which movie was more like the book, I want to touch on some elements of the original story that was not covered at all in the three films. In all the films they depict the outposts being manned by a handful of people while in the original story there were 37 men in total at the research station and by the end of the story 15 of them were killed and replaced by the alien. The time of the original story took place in the last weeks of winter heading into spring while the other films took place as winter approached. The researchers after accidentally igniting the alien craft could see in the light that there were other aliens frozen in the ship but were burned up along with the ship leaving only the one they eventually find as the lone survivor.
In the book, there were other animals living at the outpost beside the sled dogs that have appeared in the other films. Towards the end of the story all the animals in “Dog Town” (the area where all the animals were held) were actually imitations leading to using old time blood testing methods do not work resulting in one of the characters to try the “hot wire” test. Finally the one big part of the story that was not covered in any of the films, the alien inadvertently was sending telepathic messages to people as they slept. These messages came across as nightmares to those seeing them in their sleep, the one scientist, Blair, learned everything he had to learn about the alien from the dreams he had which would have explained how Blair in The Thing knew a lot more about the alien pretty quickly. With that being said here’s my verdict.
To no surprise when it comes to which movie stayed close to the book without veering off too much was John Carpenter’s The Thing. The film went as far as to use the same names as some of the stand out characters from Who Goes There? while altering the roles of some of the characters, Kurt Russell’s character, R.J. MacReady, was a helicopter pilot who would rather be drinking than interacting with everyone around him while in the original story was a meteorologist and second in command of the outpost. Wilford Brimley’s portrayal of Blair was close to the book where he goes off the deep end mentally and attacks people while sabotaging communication equipment and helicopters.
A big part that kept the movie true to the original was some of the dialogue said by the main characters, they were exactly the same lines used by their characters from the original. The most notable one is when MacReady was about to test his blood with the hot wire trick and said, “Now I’ll show you what I already know.” When it comes to the other films the prequel to The Thing tried to stay somewhat true to Carpenter’s film while at the same time adding in elements that strayed off from the original story leading fans like myself to wonder if the film’s writers and director even watched the original, but when it comes down to being like the book, it’s barely second as it tried to take pointers from its predecessor.
When it comes to The Thing from Another World, well it’s last for obvious reasons. Though it had a couple ideas from Campbell’s story, its theme went into a different direction altogether by having the alien being a hulking space plant vampire. Both The Thing from Another World and the prequel to The Thing are entertaining in their own right but by not staying true to Campbell’s story leave them out in the cold.
For the smartasses out there who may ask, “What about Harbinger Down?”, as any true fan of The Thing will tell you; we don’t talk about Harbinger Down!
Here are the trailers for all three films mentioned in this article!