The Thing From Another World (1951)

I was always anxious about watching this film, the John Carpenter remake is one of my favorite films, so I was worried what I would think of the original. I settled in to watch it, as it was next up on the 101 Sci-Fi Movies (as is the remake a ways down the line).

I was delighted and impressed.

But I should have known better, it is Howard Hawks after all. Much like the Poltergeist debate over whether Spielberg or Hooper directed it, the same thing has sprung up around The Thing From Another World, whether it was Howard Hawks or Christian Nyby. Either way, the film is brilliant.

Clocking in at just short of 90 minutes, the film still takes the time to set up its characters, and bring us that rapid-fire style of dialogue I si love about Hawks’ films, talking over one another, quick little witty lines, shared looks. All of these things help populate the film with characters, and some wonderful moments.

Captain Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) and his flight crew, including a newspaperman named Scott (Douglas Spencer) are summoned to the North Pole from Anchorage, Alaska, when a scientific outpost detects the impact of a large aircraft.

I already knew what they were going to find, but I was still eager and excited, already caught up on the film and the characters.

There, buried in the ice that was superheated by the crash and then refroze in the sub-arctic temperatures is an alien ship, a flying saucer! And frozen beside it, escaped, or thrown from the craft, is one of its occupants.

Lugging the alien in its block of ice back to the outpost, Hendry assigns a rotating watch over the disturbing figure. He still has time for a fun little romance with Nikki Nicholson (Margaret Sheridan), one of the outpost’s few female crew.

By mistake, the Thing (James Arness) is thawed from his ice, and escapes into the arctic night, though sticking close to the outpost, which we learn it considers a food source. The expedition’s lead scientist, Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) after recovering a piece of the being after the sled dogs attack it (resulting in a terrible fate for them) learns that the being is an intelligent vegetable/plant, though it is mostly man-shaped.

He’s also deduced its feeding habits… it ingests blood.

Characters are divided, scientists versus military, as they try to control the flow of information and each other, not to mention surviving their ordeal.

Two of my favorite moments had one of the men, the one who saw the Thing escape it’s icey confinement runs into the mess calling for the Captain, still clutching his pistol, in fact aiming it at the Cap, not intentionally, just in the way he’s standing, and Hendry, mid-sentence, takes it from him and secures it. It’s just a nice little character moment.

And then in a scene that made me break out in a huge grin, our heroes are moving slowly through the outpost, using a Geiger counter to pick up the Thing’s slight radioactive signature, and they’re using it just like the motion detectors are used in Alien and Aliens… Big Smile from me.

I also like the fact, that just like in the Alien film, which is still 28 years later on the list, our crew are getting orders not to destroy the alien, but to preserve it, we don’t hear anything about all other priorities being rescinded, but I don’t think this crew would listen to it. They are fighting for survival, using guns, flame, electricity…

And all of this is layered in the crisscrossing overlapping dialogue… I just love that! The by-play between the captain and his crew, and with Nikki, is just priceless, and so much fun.

And remember… To Watch The Skies!!!

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Jaws (1975)

I love this movie so much, thank you for making it Mr. Spielberg!

The music, the dialogue, the moments, the sheer fun!

But if you’ve been to the blog before, you know that, it’s my all time favorite movie, and the first one I ever saw.

So obviously when it came along on the list of 101 Horror Movies you just KNOW I was going to watch it again (and again, and again).

However, it has to be said, that I have never considered this a horror movie, for me, it’s always been an adventure film with some great dialogue and sharks! What’s not to like?

Everyone knows now that the shark almost never worked, and that became such a blessing for the movie, because you almost never see it, but when you hear that ominous music cue by John Williams, you know he’s around.

I mean honestly, how many movies and directors would have the gumption to kill a child (mostly onscreen!)? It showed that the shark didn’t care who you were, if you were in the water, you were fair game.

No wonder people were afraid to go into the water!

Sure, this movie gave sharks a bad rap for a long time, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a great movie!

It was nominated for best picture, and walked away with Oscars for Editing, Score and Sound, all of which, if you’ve ever seen it, know that it earned them.

This film also changed the way movies were made, this was the first ever blockbuster, the first film to make more than 100 Million!! People lined up for it!

Adapted from the novel by Peter Benchley (who has a cameo as the tv reporter on the beach) the film tells the story of the island of Amity as it’s terrorized by a rogue carcharodon carcharias, a great white shark.

Roy Schneider plays Chief Brody, a landlubber with a fear of the water, despite the fact he works on an island (“It’s only an island if you look at it from the water.” “That makes a lot of sense.”), a modern man, forced to confront his most primal fears personified in an environment that frightens him.

To aid him he is joined by oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), who loves sharks, and despite the obvious differences between the two men, you can tell that they become friends.

Finally after an attack on the beach that involves one of his sons, Brody forces the mayor to sign off on hiring Quint (Robert Shaw), a local fisherman, to hunt down and kill the shark.

The second half of the film gets us away from the island and out on open water, it also represents a tonal shift in the film, if one argues that the first half is a bit of a horror movie with attacks and killings, the second half in undeniably a full-on adventure film, heralded by John Williams brilliant “Out To Sea” music cue.

From there on, it’s man versus nature as Brody slowly has his support group torn away from him, Hooper has an incident with a shark cage that takes him out of the final moments of the film, and Quint goes down swinging, or stabbing if you prefer, leaving Brody to face the shark alone.

Yes, you can tell the shark, Bruce by name, is fake, but you know what? The storytelling, the editing, the music, the acting, all of it outweigh the obvious shark construct and make for a brilliant film.

It also has one of my favorite shots ever, with Brody on the beach as he realizes there’s a shark in the water the camera pushes in on him but zooms out, isolating Brody as a character. LOVE IT!

I can’t rave enough about this movie (cause I LOVE IT!), nor sadly can I add anything that hasn’t been said before. I will say that for me, this movie will be cinema comfort food for me, and I can’t wait to see the remastered blu-ray version due out August 14!!!

So if you have seen it, what are your favorite moments? If you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for???

My First Movie Experience…

1975.

My parents had a ‘discussion’, about whether I should be able to go to the drive-in with them.

I was 3, going on 4.

Happily (for me at any rate), according to her version of the story, my mother won out and I was introduced to the world of movies and escapism with what has become my all time favorite film… Spielberg’s Jaws.

Unlike another movie that would come along two long years later, I don’t remember all the details of the night. But I have impressions, that have been aided by details that I dug up from my parents.

Despite their worry, I ate that film up like that mechanical 25 footer chewed up The Orca and Quint.

Which actualy leads me to a quick side trip, if you care to follow me, I can’t help but wonder what brought my parents to that drive-in in the first place…

My parents aren’t, and I’m imagining even when they were younger, weren’t fervent movie goers. I know mom enjoyed a lot of Hitchcock and Cary Grant films, but my dad never seemed to be interested in the medium at all. And please believe that will resurface over and over again throughout my youth… trying to convince my dad to take us to the movies, or that putting my meager allowance towards a video rental or a jaunt to the theater wasn’t a waste of time and money.

I can only imagine that everyone they knew were talking about this amazing movie, and they finally broke, piled into our little vw rabbit, and off we went, leaving my baby sister with a sitter (I certainly don’t have any memories of her there with us, but then again, the only thing I really do recall is the movie itself).

The drive-in at that point was no longer at their height, but still going strong, and my dad hung the dingy, beaten, little mono speaker on our car window.

I don’t remember popcorn, and I was certainly too young for a soda, and lords know what my parents were up to, it was a drive in after all, but I was there, in the front seat, eyes glued to a massive white screen that was about to take me on a journey to see things that I hadn’t even imagined at that point, and would be with me the rest of my life.

Are there frightening images in Jaws…? According to the ratings boards there are… The film was originally rated PG, at a time when there were only the three categories, G, PG and R, although I couldn’t help but notice it’s been re-rated since then, as the back of my 30th Anniversary DVD edition testifies, to a 14A in Canada.

But for me… Not a one. Ben Gardener’s head popping out of the hole, nope. The severed leg dropping down to the ocean bottom, nope. “You’re gonna need a bigger boat…” Loved it.

After the movie, Jaws was my thing! (And a stuffed bunny that I lost years ago, who I think didn’t survive one of our frequent moves, poor guy.) I wandered about in this t-shirt that had a picture of a great white shark, it showed the gaping maw of its mouth and black eyes (“before they roll over white…”). (And I’m fairly sure it wasn’t licensed merchandise either, anybody could use pictures of sharks, and mom bought me one that I wore ALL the time!)

But oh, that movie, no, that experience…

I was wrapped up in the images, the adventure.

And Williams incredible score. (He has since gone on to score most of the events of my life.)

Whether or not it was planned, and I doubt my parents even gave it a second thought, Spielberg, Williams, and film in general took root, and formed a life long relationship, that has shaped me and molded me into the opinionated movie snob I am today.

From the first strains of the score that movie is now part of my inherent DNA, it’s shaped who I am, or at least laid the foundation for what was to come, I’ve followed Spielberg’s career since then, through good and not so good,and stood by The Beard all the way (do I love Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? No. But are there things I like in it? Yes, and that’s why I own it.)

For me this movie not only gave birth to my love of film, movies, and cinema (and they are all different), but has become the greatest of things to me…

Comfort food for the soul.

When I need it, I throw it on, make myself a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches, and a big bowl of tomato soup…

and bliss…

I don’t know if it’s cause it lets me go back to being three (I don’t think it is) or the fact that it’s been part of my life for so long it’s like Linus’ blanket, always there, and always comforting.

But Jaws is bliss for me.

I know the dialogue backwards and forwards. My friend Dennis would start me off with just a line, and I would run off and do the Mayor’s entire speech to Hooper about being in National Geographic.

Jaws.

My first movie experience.

And my good friend.

It’s weird to think of a shark that way, but I do.