'Who Goes There?'"Wwwwwwwwait a Second! There's no NORWEGIANS in the CAMPBELL story!!" That's what I thought (and what Scott Weinberg put into words for me) when I clicked through Monika's mention of the planned new version of The Thing and read the article in Variety. Here's why: I hate it when filmmakers are (apparently) unfamiliar with the story they're basing their film on.

The sentence that made my eyes bug out? "New project borrows heavily from the John W. Campbell Jr. short story 'Who Goes There,' the basis of the [John] Carpenter film and 1951 Howard Hawks original The Thing From Another World. It is set in a Norwegian camp and chronicles how the shape-shifting alien was first discovered and overcame the inhabitants of that camp."

WRONG WRONG WRONG! I dug out my copy of the story, originally published in 1938, and read it again, just to make sure. There is no Norwegian camp in the story. It starts with the discovery of the alien -- referred to constantly as "the thing" -- in an Antarctic scientific camp, flashes back to reveal how it was discovered, and then follows the horror of what happens when the creature is thawed after 20 million years frozen in the ice.

The first version in 1951 sent a military unit to the Arctic base (flipping the world upside down), added a reporter plus a woman scientist to the mix as a love interest, and made the nightmarish creature from Campbell's story ("three red eyes, and that blue hair like crawling worms") into a humanoid played by James Arness (the future Marshall Dillon of TV's Gunsmoke). It was a fast-paced, black and white suspenser that worked quite well, thanks, no doubt, to producer Howard Hawks.

Carpenter's version, with a script by Bill Lancaster (The Bad News Bears), junked the love interest, junked the soldiers, junked the reporter, and stuck much, much closer to Campbell's original story. The story's setting returned to the South Pole. The alien is decidedly non-humanoid and a shape shifter, much as described in the story, albeit with one crucial element that was left out of the movie. (Carpenter's film also left out the cows, reduced the size of the camp from 37 men to 12, invented several episodes, and changed the ending.) The 1982 edition was filled with considerable explicit gore and profanity, yes, but it was also brimming with tension, excitement, and awesome physical effects. And to the point at hand: Carpenter's film added the Norwegians.

Variety may well have based their story on information provided by Universal Studios or the production company, Strike Entertainment. But scripter Ronald Moore cannot 'borrow heavily' from Campbell's story to write a prequel, because that story was not a part of the original; it exists entirely within the script by Bill Lancaster for John Carpenter's The Thing in 1982. And the fact that the filmmakers may not have even read the story they say they're basing their film on is highly disturbing to me, especially when that story was chosen by the members of the Science Fiction Writers of America as one of the greatest science fiction novellas of all time.

But I'm sensitive like that. How about you?

categories Cinematical