Howdy There Dear Reader,
Through the UCSB Arts & Lectures Series … and a lot of other organizations, I and many other Santa Barbaranites (Santa Barbarians?) saw the 1951 Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks Sci Fi gem, The Thing From Another Planet. Yes, the first adaptation of “Who Goes There?”, which would also inspire The Thing (John Carpenter’s still awesome looking 1982 flick).
Let’s dive right into the review.
This movie was awesome.
Let me first explain, “Holy Cat!” which just might be the best catchphrase ever. This gets tossed about as a general exclamation throughout the film. I’m going to make a conscious effort to start saying it. You should, too. It’s child friendly. Comical. And genuinely exclamatory. What more can you want?
Okay, tangent completed.
That out of the way, let’s get down to some more serious analysis. Let’s talk about science, first. This is the true villain of the film… not the evil alien vegetable humanoid abomination. The character of Dr. Carrington is the champion of science, which seems to be an objective search of knowledge for knowledge’s sake. He explicitly advocates the destruction of humanity in exchange for a wealth of knowledge.
Predictably, he is the bungling interloper who gums up the heroics of the fearless military members that do, eventually, save the day.
What interests me about this film as a consumer is its self-conscious humor.
What interests me about this film as a cultural critic is its own interest in different conceptions of life.
The antagonist of the film is described as a vegetable-like life from another planet, or if you take one character’s turn of phrase, an “intelligent carrot!” This life form pushes the protagonists own understanding of what it means to be alive… briefly, before they desperately try to kill it in the name of self-defense (while Carrington, the White House, and the military all say not to kill it at any cost!).
The perception is that the creature is trying to procreate — for which they have rather conclusively discovered it uses blood. The role of blood in the film is a bit haunting, particularly in its temporal proximity to Nazi Germany. Blood appears to be a valuable commodity, to be stolen and consumed by the invasive alien. The fact that the monster here is vegetable-based — and only relies on blood for sustenance — means that the fear of blood contamination is eliminated (unlike the short story and later filmic iterations). The role of blood in this film seems to be more complex, but I haven’t had a chance to think too much about it yet. I’ll write you an update after I rewatch the Carpenter film and see the 2011 prequel.
Well, blood ruminations aside, let me talk about fear and life a bit, before I close these rather rambling remarks.
The heroes extend the fear for their own lives to a fear for all humanity, annnnnd bring us back to the old discussion of Global Terror/Local Security. This film from 1951 already lays out the issue — as does the 1938 short story it is based on — that I am obsessed with in 20th century cultural texts.
The fact the the life of this is vegetal is really cool, because it at least attempts to think through a radically different way of living and being. At the same time, it is a little disconcerting — and none of the characters bring this up — to consider a life form that is explicitly stronger, more intelligent, and more resilient than human life… even if it is a tad too anthropomorphic and events don’t confirm the claim that it is more intelligent than humanity.
The conflict between science/knowledge and survival creates an interesting and complex interplay that is absent from most texts considering similar themes. In the end, the immense knowledge supposedly surrounding this (silent, threatening, violent) alien life is sacrificed in favor of … well, survival.
The story plays out similarly to your typical monster flick: monster emerges, it’s misunderstood, no wait it’s a threat, oh no! to all humanity!, we better kill it. Phew, thank goodness. All is safe… for now…
The sense of loss that the caricaturesque Carrington would have driven home is removed — as Carrington is knocked unconscious — and the end of the film is triumphant and foreboding.
But, Holy Cat! was it a good time watching this one outside at the beautiful sunken gardens of the Santa Barbara courthouse at 8:30 in the evening. This was my first trip to the film series… so expect some more posts on these.
Also, I’ll try to post on some things that were made after 1980, soon.
Ciao for now, reader,