Hot new Thing: Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Hot new Thing: Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Kathleen Murphy: "Who is Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.? Probably you've never heard of this Dutch helmer, and judging by The Thing, his debut film, that's not likely to change anytime soon. Saddled with 'prequeling' John Carpenter's 1982 classic, and supremely short on originality, van Heijningen Jr. and company simply rework the bare-bones template—shape-shifting alien stalking a scientific team in Antarctica—while relying on a CG-improved monster to up the terror ante. The malformed result is a subpar slasher movie tricked out with tired Ten Little Indians tropes and rip-offs from both Carpenter and the Christian Nyby–Howard Hawks 1951 version of the chilling tale that started it all, John W. Campbell Jr.'s 'Who Goes There?'"

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But first Thing's first:

THE THING from Another World
Director: Howard Hawks (uncredited), Christian Nyby
Producer: Hawks (Winchester Productions)
Cast: Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan, Robert Cornthwaite, Dewey Martin, Douglas Spencer, James Arness
Screenplay: Charles Lederer, based on the short story by John W. Campbell Jr.
Cinematography: Russell Harlan
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
RKO Radio Pictures, 1951

Hawks assigned Nyby, his editor on To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, and Red River, to direct this excursion into sci-fi horror, one of the few genres Hawks hadn’t yet worked in. Although the producer graciously insisted in interviews that Nyby had made a fine job of it, in later years surviving cast members had no hesitation in asserting that Hawks did most of the picture himself (and nothing Nyby ever directed on his own came close to equaling it). Hawks and Lederer disposed of the Thing’s diabolical shape-changing ability that played such a big part in the excellent John W. Campbell Jr. story and would be restored in the 1982 John Carpenter remake. But Arness’s incarnation of the towering, literally bloodthirsty “intellectual carrot” is fearsome, and the siege atmosphere of a small band of humans clinging to viability in a distant, frozen iceworld is powerfully realized. A cadre of solid character actors work wonders with the most overlapping dialogue in any Hawks film. The emphasis on the brave resiliency of the human voice in extremis is further underscored by the presence of such familiar voiceover/announcer types as George Feniman and Paul Frees. —Richard T. Jameson