In 1938, John W. Campell’s imaginative story, Who Goes There?, about an alien thing wreaking havoc in an Antarctic scientific research base was published. It’s been adapted into films three times at this point. What’s interesting about this is that each version is wildly different from each other. Yet, they each stays relatively close to the basic plot of the original novella.
The plot of the book is that an alien and its spaceship are discovered beneath the Antarctic ice. When a group of scientists unearths the wrecked ship, they accidentally destroy it, but they do find the pilot entombed in ice. The alien is a psychic transforming mimic. The thing can assume the identity of any biological being that it digests. The men at the research station quickly begin to question who is the monster and who is human. Trust is a commodity that they fast run out of.
The first attempt at adapting this story was in 1951 with The Thing from Another World. Almost all the essential elements are present in this version except for the alien. In this version, the alien thing is a plant-based Frankenstein equivalent monster. The body count is near nonexistent too along with the themes of paranoia and isolation. The alien becomes a rallying point for all the men in this picture instead of the harbinger of distrust and resentment. This movie is still a classic from that era and definitely worth visiting today, but I think it is a poor adaptation of the original source material.
In 1982, the second attempted adaptation was released. It was directed by the legendary John Carpenter and titled merely The Thing. The movie is a sci-fi masterpiece. It’s very faithful to John Campbell’s innovative story. The creature has all of its abilities of mimicry and deception in this movie. It is even more terrifying in this due to some fantastic practical effects. When the creature reveals itself, it is a violent explosion of alien anatomy that is both horrific and mesmerizing.
The themes of paranoia and isolation are central to this movie just like in the novella. Once the abilities of the creature are revealed, no one can trust anyone. The actions taken by the characters are very similar to the book but not exact. The carnage inflicted on the men of the base is more tense and dreadful. The movie provides an epic climax but does not go out of its way to answer every question. There are elements of this movie ‘s story that are still debated to this day
Lastly, there was another movie also titled The Thing released in 2011 and it was directed by Matthijs van Heijningen. This motion picture was a prequel to the 1982 film. It shows how the alien craft was discovered and what happened to the original scientists that found it. The movie was very similar to the other The Thing with a plot that followed identical beats. It used CGI special effects over practical effects that don’t hold up well today. This movie was poorly received critically and commercially. If you have seen its predecessor, you know exactly how this film ends before it even starts, and you can skip watching it entirely without missing anything.
Being trapped in an inhospitable environment with a killer, not knowing who can be trusted, with no hope for help from the outside world, it is an incredibly terrifying situation. I can find things to enjoy about all versions of this story. If I had to pick just one version to live with it then would be John Carpenter’s epic adaptation. It’s crazy that it took so long for the novella to get a proper conversion to the screen. Don’t just take my word for it. You should definitely check them all out for yourself. When it comes to critical opinions, ” I don’t know who to trust.”
Novel by John W. Campbell Jr.
Original Publication Date: August 1938