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Friday, January 11, 2019

'The Thing From Another World' Blu-ray: Howard Hawks Sci-Fi Classic

Seeing truly is believing regarding the pristine Warner Archive Blu-ray release of the 1951 Howard Hawks sci-fi classic "The Thing From Another World." The legacy of this tale of a broccoli from another planet terrorizing a group ar the actual Santaland includes the equally classic 1982 John Carpenter film "The Thing."

As indicated above, the video of this crystal-clear remaster of this '50s flick is amahzing. The same is true regarding the audio.

Hawks clearly shows his well-known diversity by hitting a home-run with this one that goes beyond sci-fi to also be a military buddy comedy, a romcom, and a morality tale. 

Our story begins with jovial Air Force Captain Patrick Hendry (character actor Kenneth Tobey) joking with his crew and with newspaperman Ned Scott (character actor Douglas Scott) at an Anchorage Air Force base. In a manner that is particularly familiar to fans of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," Team Hendry soon is called in to investigate a weird occurrence at a North Pole research center; Scott convinces the crew to let him tag along.

The humor continues with the flyboys and what passes for ground control at the North Pole making light of hazardous landing conditions. One spoiler is that the plane and all souls safely land. 

The "rom" element soon enters the picture in the form of awesomely named office worker Nikki Nicholson; Nicholson portrayor Margaret Sheridan is known as the equivalent of a Hitchcock blonde in the eyes of Hawks (pun intended).

The onscreen chemistry and bantering between Tobey and Sheridan help elevate "Thing" from merely being kiddee matinee fare. Sheridan receiving top billing over Tobey, Nicholson being the one to hit it and quit it (and leaving a hilarious "Dear John" letter) in the relationship, and the nature of  playful light bondage clearly define that dynamic. 

The sci-fi element heats up on the newcomers learning that a UFO has crashed landed and is frozen beneath the ice; discovering the titular alien (James Arness of "Gunsmoke") at the Roswell North site compensates for a glitch while recovering the craft.

The sci-fi staple of a fatal mistake this time consists of bringing this outer-space equivalent of Encino Man inside to slowly thaw him. Inadvertently expediting this process allows the accidental tourist to explore his new surroundings sooner than expected. Suffice it to say both that first contact does not go as planned and that the man with that duty may as well have been wearing a red shirt.

The most awesome thing about this new threat is that it FINALLY introduces real conflict in the film; Dr. Arthur Carrington (character actor Robert Cornthwaite) plays the dual roles of "The Professor" who by far is the smartest guy in the room and the dick who regularly clashes with Hendry. The disagreement relates to accepting the reality that you need to crack a few skulls to make a scientifically important omelet. 

An early detection system provides our group an advantage in its effort to find and neutralizes this threat with a somewhat plausible basis for lacking any emotion or compassion. However, this proves to be little help regarding the final mano a mango battle. 

This confrontation at the North Pole really going south at one point adds good suspense that contributes to the classic status of the film. A mix of humor and potential for peril enters in the form of speculating about a previously unconsidered advantage of the rampaging rutabaga.

The bigger picture is whether mere mortals can defeat a creature that is bigger, stronger, smarter, and lacks any regard for human life. This provides the rest of the human population reason to anticipate fairly literally becoming cattle.

The epilogue to all this is that "Things" hits all the right notes and speaks to everyone. 

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