Friday, January 11, 2019

THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) (WAC Blu-ray Review)

THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951)

Label: Warner Archive
Duration: 87 Minutes
Rating: Unrated
Audio: English DTS HD-MA 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Full Frame (1.37:1) 
Director: Christian Nyby
Cast: Margaret Sheridan, Kenneth Tobey,
Douglas Spencer, Robert O. Cornthwaite, James Arness



When an unidentified flying craft goes down near an Arctic research station Air Force Captain Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Tobey, It Came From Beneath The Sea) and his aircrew, plus reporter Ned Scott (Douglas Spencer, This Island Earth), are deployed from their Alaskan air base to investigate it. Arriving at the icy station they are met by Doctor Arthur Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite, The War of the Worlds) and his research team, immediately launching an airborne expedition to the crash site, where they find a saucer shaped alien space craft frozen beneath the surface of an ice field. They ill-adviseldy attempt to uncover it with thermite bombs which only end up destroying the metallic object, but a short distance from the crash site they do find the frozen corpse of a humanoid alien buried beneath the ice, which they extract in a block of ice and transported back to the research station.



Back at the station they attempt to contact the base in Anchorage to report their findings but a severe snow storm has blown in and made radio transmission impossible. While waiting for things to clear up the alien is kept under watch, but wouldn't you know it, a soldier accidentally covers the creepy thing encased in ice with an electric blanket that still plugged in, so it thaws out and the resurrected "thing" (James Arness, Them!) springs to life and flees into the raging storm, where it is attacked by sled dogs who manage to tear off it's arm. 



Examining the severed arm the scientist determine that the alien is plant-based, a highly intelligent form of vegetable as it were, and that it requires blood to survive and to reproduce - human blood! Now we have the military who are determined to destroy the alien at all costs, while the scientists lead by Dr. Carrigton feel that all efforts must be made to communicate with this newly discovered life form, thoerizing that it can be reasoned with, the latter of which is certainly an admirable pursuit, but one which proves to be absolutely false, this Thing just wants to kill everyone! However, that doesn't stop the doc from turning against his own species by sabotaging the effort to destroy the alien!



Set in a claustrophobic research station in the Arctic the frigid setting is tense and icy, you hear the wind howling, it really does look like they filmed this sucker during a real blizzard, as evidenced by the cold breath emanating from the actors mouths throughout, I got cold just watching it from my relatively warm confines of my couch. 



Produced and most likely directed by Howard Hawks (Rio Bravo) - though credited to his editor Christian Nyby (Twilight Zone)- the film has loads of that Hawks-ian fast-paced, snappy dialogue between the military and scientist, but the best dialogue comes by way of banter between Captain Patrick Hendry (Tobey )and his shapely Hawks-ish dame, the sweater bound flame Nikki (Margaret Sheridan, I, The Jury) who manages to hold her own among the military men, offering her own insights, all the while offering them refills of hot coffee. 



The recurring coffee motif always makes me laugh upon repeat viewings, as does the often heard refrain "shut the door!" which seems to be a running gag through the film, there's also plenty of humor injected into the snappy dialogue, including some sexually charges banter between Capt. Hendry and Nikki, and the frustrated reporter who is kept from reporting on this amazing otherworldly discovery by both technical failings and military dictum. 



John Carpenter's iconic version of this story is more true to the original source, the  novel 'Who Goes There?' by John W. Campbell, Jr., with the creature being a grotesque shape-shifter from another world, but Hawks keeps things humanoid with Arness' veiny bald head and clawed fingers looking a bit like a 50's sci-fi update of Frankenstein's Monster, but it works for me. Instead of evolving and shape-shifting before our very eyes it's designed as more of a replicator, capable of growing copies of itself from seeds, a a sci-fi manifestation of the communist threat of the era. 



The sci-fi-ness of the film is sort of low-key, there's not a lot of futuristic gizmos or anything like that, it's set in the 50's and the military and science guys use fifties tech to fight it, including the use of a geiger counter to track the whereabouts of the alien which emits a radioactive signature. I've seen this film quite a few times through the years, but this was the first watch that made me think that Alien borrowed that specific element of the story for their alien-tracking tech, how did I miss that for all that time? While we don't get gory shape-shifting alien stuff we do get a pretty fantastic fire burn stunt with the humans tossing buckets of kerosene onto the franken-alien, it's pretty wild looking with nearly the whole set engulfed in flames with the actors still in the room if memory serves me properly, it's pretty darn cool.


I absolutely love The Thing From Another World, it's vintage, black and white, and dated but it's a film I grew up with on TV so it's got a lot of nostalgia going for it. I am not sure how this holds up for a younger audience who maybe don't have a fondness for vintage sci-fi, lord knows I know enough folks my own age and younger who won't even watch a black and white film, and that's a shame, there's a lot of monochrome classics out there to be discovered, and this is one of them!

Audio/Video:
The Thing From Another World (1951) is now finally A Thing on Blu-ray courtesy of the Warner Archive, a long overdue HD upgrade sourced from a brand new 2018 HD Master that utilized a 35mm uncut print to bring the film to it's proper uncut run time in the proper full frame aspect ratio for the very first time on home video. The film is presented in 1080p HD and framed in the original 1.37:1 full frame. Overall grain is natural looking and exports a fair amount f fine detail and textures in those fur lined jackets, turtlenecks and lab interiors. A few optical shots suffer a bit of softness and murkiness, and some of the newly sourced uncut scenes are of an inferior grade, but overall this is a very significant upgrade when conpared to previous versions available on home video. 


Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with optional English (YELLOW. ALL CAPS) subtitles. The snappy dialogue sounds a bit flat due to source limitations but the dramatic and thermemin infused score from Dimitri Tiomkin (Strangers On A Train) is a real slice of 50's science fiction awesomeness, it's bold and strange in the best possible way, it makes me wish that WAC would included isolated scores on these releases, how cool would that be? 



Extras on   the disc are very slim for a sci-fi classic of this caliber, we get only the original theatrical trailer plus the theatrical re-release trailer, and that's it.  I was hoping WAC would/could port over the John Carpenter commentary that's been available in the UK on DVD for awhile now - but it didn't happen.

This single disc release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of artwork, the same key artwork is excerpted onto the disc itself.  

Special Features: 
- Original Theatrical Trailer (SD)
- Theatrical Re-Release Trailer (HD)

This vintage slice of 50's sci-fi looks terrific on Blu-ray, I personally prefer Carpenter's otherworldly, gory 80's remake with it's deep paranoia and groundbreaking practical special effects, but let's not forget that without this seminal black and white film we probably wouldn't have Carpenter's version, so hats off to Warner Archive for bringing this iconic sci-fi film into the modern age with a wonderful new Blu-ray release.

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