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Warner Home Video presents
The Thing From Another World (1951)

Capt. Hendry: Your message said an airplane crashed. Is that what we're looking for?
Dr. Carrington: I don't know, Captain.

- Kenneth Tobey, Robert Cornthwaite

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: August 17, 2003

Stars: Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan, Robert Cornthwaite
Other Stars: James Arness, Douglas Spencer, George Fenneman, Paul Frees
Director: Christian Nyby

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (a brief scene of an alien's severed arm)
Run Time: 01h:26m:41s
Release Date: August 05, 2003
UPC: 053939668629
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Arguably one of the finest science fiction films of the 1950s, The Thing From Another World not only helped launch the career of Gunsmoke's James Arness (who shows up here as the very unfriendly visitor from outer space) but it eventually spawned John Carpenter's 1982 remake, which itself is arguably one of the finest science fiction films of that decade. There isn't much denying the influence this 1951 film had on shaping the mood of subsequent paranoid 1950s sci-fi, though it was seldom done as well as it was here.

At a remote Arctic research station (could there possibly be a better setting for a sci-fi film?), a massive UFO is discovered buried deep in the ice after crashing to Earth days before. And it's not just a UFO that our intrepid team of scientists and military men find, but an eight-foot alien (Arness) as well, also encased in a massive block of ice. After digging up the frozen spaceman, the team lug it back to their research station and begin bickering and arguing over what should be done next.

When the alien's ice block coffin accidently melts (thanks to a necessarily inept soldier and an electric blanket) and Arness' towering bad-ass self comes to life, the story shifts into a classic battle between the reasoning wishes of science and the destructive intent of the military, led by scientist Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite, here looking an early incarnation of Lost in Space's Dr. Smith) and by-the-books military pilot Captain Pat Hendry (Kenneth It Came from Beneath the Sea Tobey). The scientists (including uncredited roles by Groucho Marx's television sidekick George Fenneman and cartoon/voiceover giant Paul Frees) want to study the creature, even as it goes on a killing spree, and to their credit they do discover some rather alarming secrets about its origins and what it needs to eat to survive. This leads to a serious case of "pick a side" for the surviving members, as Hendry works desperately to destroy the alien, even as Carrington does his best to thwart those efforts.

The directorial credits for The Thing From Another World are given to Christian Nyby (who went on to do a lot of television directing, including ironically Gunsmoke), with producer credits going to the legendary Howard Hawks (The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo, Red River). It has been widely rumored over the years that Hawks himself eventually took over directing duties, and this is generally regarded as a Hawks-directed film through and through, despite it having Nyby's name in the credits; it is Hawks' name that is in large type on the poster artódraw your own conclusion.

Hawks' underlying influence on the script is seemingly evident in the smartly-written, often overlapping dialogue, though like the directing role, he is not credited onscreen as a writer. For a 1951 production, it is odd and refreshing to hear to so much open talk about evolution (and that coming from Dr. Carrington's misguided voice of scientific reason). The none-too-vague sexual innuendos between Hendry and Nikki Nicholson (Margaret Sheridan), including 1950s taboo stuff like brief, veiled references to premarital sex and bondage; after one exchange, Hendry even tells Nikki that he'll "bring the rope." Rock on, Captain Hendry.

Like most genre films of the era, Arness' alien gets appropriately minimal screentime, despite his glowing green mug on the cover art, and its not until the climactic showdown that we get any prolonged look at the big guy. But his presence is always felt, so when all is said and done it seems that we have seen more of him than we really did. One of the underrated sequences of The Thing From Another World, where we do get a somewhat extended early peek, occurs when the alien is doused with kerosene and set ablaze, and it remains as a marvelously frenzied bit of filmmaking. There is a real sense of chaos in this scene, with the out-of-control flames spreading believably and quickly, as the alien fights back violently against Hendry and his cohorts, who appear to be in genuine danger.

While John Carpenter would incorporate the added thematic layer of body-jumping into his version, to say nothing of more advanced visual effects, the original is a comparatively straightforward "Us versus Us versus Them" story. The dated hokiness that is evident in a lot of 1950s sci-fi is not really evident here, thanks to a script that preaches logic, whether you side with scientific principles or military might.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.37:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The approximately 1.37:1 transfer by Warner is a mixed bag, and considering the age of the film it is probably not entirely the fault of the transfer as it is the source material. The contrast levels are a little hazy in spots, but overall the print reveals respectable and solid black levels, balanced by fairly bright whites and crisp grays. The presence of some minor nicks and dirt is not wholly unexpected for a film of this vintage, and the inclusion of some previously cut minor footage (apparently not in nearly as good of shape as the rest of the film) is pretty easy to spot. Approximately thirty-three minutes in, there is a brief jump cut, the apparent result of one or two missing frames.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: A strong English mono track is the sole audio option, and it is thankfully devoid of any major hiss or crackle. Dialogue, which often overlaps, is surprisingly clear, and the often imitated theremin-driven score by Dimitri Tiomkin still manages to make you jump out of your seat.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Not much to rally around in the extras department, aside from a nasty looking copy of the film's original theatrical trailer. It's kind of sad how spartan this release is (dare I use the word "barebones"?), considering how highly regarded The Thing From Another World is in sci-fi circles. Shame on you, Warner Bros.

The disc is cut into a healthy 25 chapters, and includes subtitles in English, French and Spanish.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

One of the all-time sci-fi classics finally comes to DVD, and though there unfortunately is not much in the way of any extras, there is still the film itself, which remains smart, moody and well-written.

It's The Thing From Another World, for chrrisakes. Of course it comes highly recommended, and to make it even sweeter it's budget priced at under $15.


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