By Peter Hummers on November 11, 2021
Recently I looked at some film remakes that added enough value to ease the originals into the memory hole, there to abide in the fond memories of our eldest citizens, and, until the sun burns out, in the deepest recesses of the Internet Movie Database.
There are a few movies that are undiminished by remakes, the originals of which stand the test of time, remaining magnificent exemplars of the cinema arts. Here be two:
It’s a little much, no? The original 1956 version was an adaption of Jack Finney’s 1954 science-fiction novel The Body Snatchers, and found topical purchase with opponents and proponents of Senator Joe McCarthy’s contemporary high-profile investigation of communism in America. (Star Kevin McCarthy said that he had spoken to author Jack Finney, and he had said that he intended no political allegory.[^]) Filmed in a film noir, almost German Impressionist style, it was claustrophobic and paranoic, while remaining naturalistic (there were very few special effects, which were deployed sparingly).
The film’s storyline concerns an extraterrestrial invasion that begins in the fictional California town of Santa Mira. Alien plant spores have fallen from space and grown into large seed pods, each one capable of producing a visually identical replacement copy of a human. As each pod reaches full development, it assimilates the physical traits, memories, and personalities of each sleeping person placed near it; these duplicates, however, are devoid of all human emotion. Little by little, a local doctor uncovers this “quiet” invasion and attempts to stop it.[^]
It added up to a genuinely frightening film in 1956 and remains one today. It was selected in 1994 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”[^]
The 1982 movie The Thing (streaming here) is not so much a remake of our featured film as it is the more faithful treatment of its source material, John W. Campbell’s novella “Who Goes There?”, which depicted a group of people trapped in an Antarctic research outpost with shapeshifting alien monsters able to absorb and imitate any living being.
1951’s The Thing from Another World, originally released as “The Thing”, worked around the need for the extravagant special effects that would have been necessary (and really didn’t exist in 1951) by hiding the creature, which wasn’t a shapeshifter, until the shocking climax. In it, a U.S. Air Force crew and scientists find a crashed flying saucer and a humanoid body frozen in the Arctic ice nearby. Returning to their remote research outpost with the body still in a block of ice, they are forced to defend themselves against the still alive and malevolent plant-based alien when it is accidentally defrosted.
A wisecracking journalist is present as an audience proxy, asking questions and receiving exposition when the unmonitored alien (an unrecognizable James Arness (Gunsmoke) thaws out beneath an electric blanket (!) and escapes, losing an arm to a sled dog. It’s examined by the resident scientist and found to consist of plant material. The plant in question, however, would be carnivorous, as the alien surreptitiously finds and kills another dog and two soldiers, storing the carcases in the outpost’s greenhouse before disappearing again. Like The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing from Another World is in claustrophobic and beautiful black-and-white. A colorized version was released in 1989 on VHS by Turner Home Entertainment. It was billed as an “RKO Color Classic,” and was a big bowl of wrong. Some films, like The Maltese Falcon, this one, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, just need to be in black and white, In 2001, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film “culturally significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. Released in April 1951, it made $1,950,000 at the box office by the end of the year, making it the year’s 46th biggest earner, beating all other science fiction films released that year, including The Day The Earth Stood Still and When Worlds Collide.
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