January 26, 2009

"Watch the Skies . . ."

Thing From Another World THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951)
Directed by Christian Nyby
Produced by Howard Hawks
Margaret Sheridan – Nikki Nicholson
Kenneth Tobey – Captain Patrick Hendry
Robert Cornthwaite – Dr. Carrington
Douglas Spenser - Scotty
Dewey Martin – Crew Chief
James R. Young – Lt. Eddie Dykes
Robert Nichols – Lt. Ken McPherson

In the majority of sci-fi films prior to the early 1950s, the direction of space travel worked one way: we visited them. We battled hostile aliens, you betcha, and we always took the fight to them. We went to the moon, we went to Jupiter and Mars, hell, we even made up names for planets to go to; we were the confident invaders. By 1950, however, the enthusiasm for invasion was dulled somewhat by our new Fat and Happy status as world beaters. We were most definitely the top of the heap after WWII, no question, and like a lot of rich folks, we began to glance over our shoulder a bit, worried someone might be making a grab for a piece of our glorious pie. Those goddamned commie bastards, more than likely. Or maybe an alien invasion was going to disturb this lovely top perch; things from another world, even. Remember, you aren’t paranoid if they really are out to get you, so always be diligent. Never, ever relax. As the last line in this magnificent film urgently demands: Watch the skies, everywhere. Keep Looking. Keep watching the skies!

So to our movie, which will stand as a classic in Radiation Cinema as long as there is popcorn to pop.

Our story opens in the officers club of an Air force Base in Anchorage, Alaska. It’s cold as hell, sure enough, as men come into the club with a howl of wind and a stamping of feet. We join a group of three officers in uniform at a table, playing cards before a cozy fire. A fourth joins them, a reporter, and is introduced around by one of the card players that knows him from the war. It is quickly established that all the men served in WWII (reporter Scotty is instantly considered one of them as he did his reporting from the front lines), and the men sit and play their cards while bantering gruffly about what WWII vets always banter gruffly about: The girls in grass skirts they made in the Pacific Theater, how lousy life is on base, what a stiff but likable bastard their general is, and all the girls they made in grass skirts in the Pacific Theater.

James R. Martin, Kenneth Tobey, Douglas Spenser, and Robert Nichols
One of the card players mentions a group of scientists, a whole herd of them from all different fields, stirring up interest at some outpost at the North Pole. It is hinted by the two lieutenants that their captain knows one of the female assistants quite well, hint hint, wink, wink; and just about then a speaker squawks that Captain Hendry’s presence is requested in General Fogerty’s quarters on the double. In the General’s office, Fogerty (David McMahon) explains to Hendry that a craft of some kind has crashed near the North Pole, and the scientists doing research up there need some help investigating. Captain Hendry and crew are sent off straight away.

This smoothly-polished opener establishes many things. First and foremost, it declares in bold style that the picture was directed by Howard Hawks despite the fact that Christian Nyby is often given director credit. All the Hawks touches are here: the long-standing bond and easy affection a group of men have for each other demonstrated by rough kidding, a rich patter of brilliant dialogue that runs over itself, and a knowledge of manly-man things like war, gambling, and foreign dames.

Also present in spades throughout the scene, and the entire picture, is a certain Hawksian intelligent energy, a complete lack of dumbing-down, that made all his work such brain candy. Nyby was a workmanlike director, competent and good at times, but absolutely nothing in his resume remotely approaches this work; whereas this film compares perfectly with the Hawks portfolio. Thus, what other conclusion can one draw?

The other important things that are established are a subtle distrust of science and scientists and a fear of spreading communism, both elements laid out in quick, efficient strokes (and absolutely essential to Radiation Cinema!). As Lt. McPherson (Robert Nichols) shuffles cards, he discusses the odd meeting of the scientists and ask Scotty if he’s ever heard of a Doctor Carrington.

“The fellow who was at Bikini?” asks Scotty with something less than admiration in his voice, referring to the island in the south pacific used for nuclear weapons testing.

“The same,” says the Lieutenant flatly, his tone speaking volumes.

Later, while getting his orders from General Fogerty, Captain Hendry establishes his anti-communist credentials as he speculates about the nature of the unknown downed craft. He reminds the General that “it could be Russians. They’re all over the Pole like flies.” Also established in these opening scenes are nearly countless examples of the kind of witty toss-offs always found in a hawks picture, whoever did the screenplay. For example, a running gag through the scene between Captain Hendry and the General are the blasts of cold air that sweep in every time the door is opened. “Close the door!” barks the General repeatedly. Finally the General asks an aide, “Freddy, do you think the Pentagon could send us a revolving door?” “Could be, Sir” answers the aide, “We got ten gross of pith helmets last week.”

So the Captain and team, including sled dogs and Scotty the reporter, take off for the pole. As the men fly into the pole, we are given an aerial shot of the remote station, establishing it as an isolated universe, frozen in white and ice. After touchdown, Captain Hendry, wading through abuse from his lieutenants, all but sprints to reacquaint with Nikki, (Margaret Sheridan) an assistant to Dr. Carrington whom Hendry knows from a past drunken debauch for which he feels compelled to both apologize and repeat if possible.

James Tobey and Margaret Sheridan
If one needs further proof that his is a Hawks picture, the adult play between Hendry and Nikki seals the deal. The relationship between the two is light, airy, and fun without any oppressive drama or regrets – how mature adults, at their best, behave. Nikki shuts him down with a “we’ll see,” and that’s about as heavy as the romance gets. Nikki escorts Hendry to Dr. Carrington in his laboratory, and the pictures’ bouncy lightness comes skidding to a halt.

We are introduced to Carrington in his lab (which has a lead-lined door for good measure) staring into a console with a round, glowing screen that makes an ominous, bass hum. He switches the thing off and begins taking vigorous notes. We notice immediately that Carrington has a big, high forehead, gray hair swept back at the temples, and a neatly trimmed goatee, all of which, of course, spell trouble. If these danger signs weren’t enough, he’s also wearing a turtleneck.

“Dr. Carrington,” says Nikki, the joy gone from her voice in this world of science. “Captain Hendry is here.”

Robert Cornthwaite
Hawks wastes no time in confirming our suspicious. “Yes, I know,” says Carrington, giving it a bit of a contemptuous slur just to let everyone know what he thinks of the military, making sure never to look up from his precious note taking. “How do you do, Captain Hendry.” And just like that we have our antagonist. Without any further ridiculous chit-chat Carrington continues his work, reeling of coordinates and data, ordering Nikki around.

When finally deigning to talk to Hendry directly, the scientist explains that their readings indicate something has crashed into the ice nearby; something very big, about twenty thousand tons of steel worth of big. It’s a meteor, says the Captain. Nope, the thing had an odd flight path coming in, picked up by a radioactive-sensitive telescopic camera. Hmm, well, twenty thousand tons, you say, eh? “Well, perhaps we should take a look,” decides the Captain eagerly, a suggestion the pompous scientist has been waiting for, and the team rushes at trouble. Hendry hasn’t even bothered to take off his coat.

As the crew flies over the crash sight, the Geiger counter starts strobing and crackling. Hendry points down, and we see below what looks like an immense crop circle in the snow. The men land, strap up the dogs, and what follows is one of the finest and most believable sequences in all of 1950s sci-fi.

The team proceed through the snow with barking of dogs and stiff-legged snow shoe strides until they come over a small rise in the landscape and see the crash site close up. The huge scale of the thing is a bit overwhelming, and all the men come to a halt together and just stare for a moment. “Holy cats,” says the Scotty the reporter, who will speak for the viewer throughout the film and has sized up things perfectly, “that’s a weird looking thing.” Hey, the Geiger counters going nuts, says another voice.

Dr. Carrington (who is now clearly dressed like a Russian for good measure) and a colleague speculate that the thing, a craft, has generated enough heat upon landing or crashing to melt the ice and sink below the surface, whereupon the ice has refrozen clear over it. “What could melt that much ice?” asks our reporter. “Let’s go find out,” sais Hendry, and immediately snow-shoes it down to the area. Yeah, uh, OK, we’re right behind you, Cappy.

“Dr. Chapman,” asked Scotty, distinctly lagging behind and persistent in his logical question, “could an airplane melt that much ice?” Dr. Chapman (John Dierkes) in the time-honored tradition of all doctors and scientists, dodges the question with authority. “One of our own jets generates enough heat to warm a 50 story office building .” Yes, thank you, but could it melt . . . oh, never mind.

The men can see the shape of the thing dimly though the clear ice and decide to take positions around its perimeter, just to get an idea of shape and size. The man slowly fan out, reaching out their hands as if to join them, as the musical score slowly builds to intense thunder. The men, in a beautiful long shot, have form a perfect circle – a distinct saucer shape.

The music halts abruptly to a Theremin warble mixed with the howling of the wind. The men simply stare at one another, slowly acknowledging what they have found.

“Holy cats,” says Scotty. The camera pans across the wide circle of men as bits of sentences are heard. “It’s almost . . .” “yeah, it is . . “ It’s round.” “It’s a perfect circle.”

It's a circle
“We finally found one” says a crewman, breaking into a grin.

“We found a flying saucer!” declares Scotty, practically leaping into the air with enthusiasm. The tension of the circle is finally broken as the men move in over the clear ice, kneeling, getting down on their knees, trying to see specifics. Its all too smooth, though, no doors or windows.

The beauty of the scene is the realism and drama achieved by the fine acting and direction, and by the sheer, immense scope of the shot. The science is completely believable, as far as it goes, and a small tip of the craft has been left above the surface of the ice. The material of it, of course, is impossible to identify or scratch. When asked by Scotty if the thing is from this world, Dr. Carrington, clearly not a man easy to convince of anything, says, “I doubt it,” in simple, flat tones.

It’s decided a bit hastily to melt the surrounding ice with thermite explosions. We are told that this is standard operating procedure for melting ice. Well, OK. Is it standard operating procedure for melting ice away from a twenty thousand ton alien craft? Perhaps we should go up the ladder a bit, consult someone above, say, a lowly Captain before tearing loose with the thermite? Not a chance. All concerned are way too exited for any thoughtful planning, and the thermite charges are set.

Scotty tries to file a story, but Hendry calmly puts a stop to that. Scotty tries to hop up on a First Amendment soapbox, saying the world has a right to know, etc. etc., but Hendry doesn’t even bother to raise his voice. “Stop,” he says finally, and continues to direct the placement of the thermite charges. “Why, the Russians wouldn’t even act like that,” declares Scotty, clearly whipped. During this thermite scene it is also established that a front’s moving in and the temperature is dropping fast. Thus, all the elements have been carefully put in place so that, if something should go amiss with the brilliant thermite plan, our crew may be unable to either get help from the outside or fly out.

The thermite charges are ignited and something goes amiss. As hard as it is to believe, why, yes, the thermite has set the craft itself on fire. Hit the deck! The ground trembles violently and the impossible to foresee happens: the craft’s engine suddenly blows to bits, rocking the tundra and sending a mushroom cloud into the sky. After brushing himself off, Scotty immediately tears Dr. Carrington a new one, thinking that, of course military standard operating procedure is bound to blunder, but an egghead nuclear scientist like Carrington should have known better.

“That’s just dandy,” says Scotty. “Standard Operating Procedure, ha.”

“I should have thought . . .” says Carrington, staring at his next Nobel Prize sputtering away in the melted ice.

“You sure should!” says Scotty helpfully, and just to drive the point home adds, “the greatest discovery in history up in flames. Turning a new civilization into a Fourth of July piece.” The reporter seems to forget, however, in his perfect 20/20 hindsight, that he didn’t utter a peep of protest while the thermite plan was put in action; and had, at best, offered one timid question about the procedure.

Even the ever-present Geiger counter isn’t sputtering anymore, dammit, and the radiation levels are now practically normal, curse the luck. But wait, there is a ray of hope upon closer inspection. A reading of some significant radiation. Perhaps something can be salvaged from this fiasco after all; at least enough, lets pray, so that all present can avoid being stripped of rank and, in Carrington’s case, having his career plummet to earth in a fireball of disgrace.

They find something, all right, which sends the picture into overdrive.

The men cluster around a spot on the clear ice. It’s a man shape. They can see it’s arms and legs. Hallelujah, careers and reputations are saved! How do we get it out? “We could use thermite,” jokes smart-ass Scotty, but no one else is laughing. They opt for axes this time and load the chunk of ice up into the plane and head back to base.

Once back at the base Carrington and Dr. Voorhees (Paul Frees) insist on busting or melting the body out of the ice right now, but Captain Hendry has learned his lesson; he isn’t going to zip up his pants from here on out unless a general, at least, tells him to. This leads to some head butting between Hendry and the men of science, but It’s no contest as Hendry has the military authority thing down pat. As they “argue” Hendry has a crew member bust out the windows of the lab so the thing won’t defrost. Discussion over.

The isolation of the men is tightened into a noose: The discussed weather front has come in, so no planes in or out. No radio contact, either, except in very patchy bursts. In a nice touch, all the local Eskimos in the employ of the base have very reasonably headed for high ground at the sight of the eight foot alien frozen in a block of ice (scientists want to chip it out immediately, military officers want to wait for orders, locals run like hell; who really deserves the PhDs here?)

A crew member, watching the block of ice, can’t stand the sight of the thing, so he covers it with a blanket, not realizing the blanket is of the electric variety. After a bit, water begins to drip, unnoticed except to our eyes. The dogs outside, sleeping under the snow, stir themselves and begin to bark frantically. Our crewman, reading to pass the time, notices a shadow. It’s the Thing, come to life. We can tell by the reaction shot of the crewman as he immediately leaps to his feet and welcomes the space traveler to Earth by pulling his Colt .45 and emptying the magazine into it before fleeing in terror, slamming and barring the door behind him.

As the crewman blubbers out his story, the Thing escapes out of the lab window and is set upon by the dogs. It slaughters two in quick fashion before the men charge out of the lab and scare it off; but the dogs manage to tear off one of the creatures’ arms which is taken back for study.

So far, if the Thing sends back any postcards to his home planet, Earth civilization might not come off so good: “To: Dave and Shirley. Dear D & S; have landed here on Earth and must say my vacation is not working out as planned. So far, I have been frozen in an ocean of ice. I swear it looked solid, but when I landed, I sunk right in. My craft was destroyed as the natives attempted to “save me” by blasting me out (have you ever heard of anything so stupid?). My craft blew up (well, duh) but they did chip me out in a solid block. They eventually thawed me out, but one of them defecated in his pants as I tried to say hello and put a surprising number of holes in my body with a primitive yet crudely effective weapon. Just to make my day complete, I was then attacked by a group of beasts with a very limited vocabulary but an inordinate amount of teeth. Also, one of the four-legged teeth creatures has torn my arm off. I end the day by fleeing for my life. Hoping for a better day tomorrow. Yours, The Thing.”

The creatures’ arm is taken to the lab where many things are established: The Thing is a kind of plant life, sort of, and that it is doubtful it can be killed by traditional methods. Also, it is terribly strong, which is a fact the crewmen who watched it wade through the huskies don’t need to be told.

At first Hendry and his men make a pretense of “capturing” the creature, armed with Geiger counters, fire and pick axes, hatchets, and semi-automatic rifles. Dr. Carrington, at first, seems rational in his defense of the creature and rightly observes the creature is more sinned against than sinner. Scotty gauges the mood of the men and asks only for a picture or two before the men “make a salad of him.” Our party rifles through the base, storming into the radio room at one point where radioman, “Tex” takes one look at the men and says, “Hey looks like a lynching!” In his crude way, good ol’ boy Tex has grasped the situation in a New York minute.

A growing distrust and ratcheting tension is established beautifully between the scientists and the search party as the military crewmen search the labs and research facilities harshly – with a pointed lack of tact – as the scientist make timid noises of complaint.

This growing riff between the men of science and the crewman becomes a central theme that drives the remainder of the movie. The scientists, primarily Dr. Carrington, have begun to act independently of the Captain Hendry and his men. They have found a slaughtered dog in the base greenhouse, drained of blood, but failed to report it; surmising correctly that the creature uses blood as a nutrient and came to the greenhouse for soil and safety (a little too correctly, it turns out, as the Thing returns to butcher two of the scientists like hogs, hanging them up by their heels to better drain them of blood.).

Dr. Carrington becomes increasingly unhinged. Even his fellow scientists begin to take a step back when he, without informing Hendry, he takes pieces of the creatures’ severed arm, plants them, and nourishes the ground with plasma from the base’s stores (the new creatures sprout as hanging lungs, taking pulsing breaths). It becomes clear that Carrington is exhausted, so driven by his need to study the creature that he develops a strange fixation, a kind of worship of the mind that begins to sound like a kind of perverse love. “this creature is more powerful and intelligent than we are,” explains Carrington to his colleagues, his eyes glassy with admiration. “He regards us as important only for his nourishment. He has the same attitude toward us as we have toward a field of cabbages. Only science can conquer him.”

The film’s attitude toward science and scientists (particularly nuclear scientists like Carrington) becomes clear: Men of genius, yes, but men that need to be directed by more rational men with smaller brains and bigger hearts. If scientists are allowed to follow their own instincts, they loose sight of the human consequences, forge ahead at the cost of human suffering; as does Carrington who clearly is unconcerned with how many colleges get hung from the rafters and drained. Carrington was one of the big brains at Bikini Atoll, remember, and that tidbit of atomic history isn’t given to use by mistake.

We get our first good look at the monster nearly an hour into the film, and I can only imagine how theater goers jumped in their seats seeing this powerful moment on the big screen (indeed, I hope someday to somehow see this masterpiece as it was meant to be seen: on a huge canvas). Despite this long wait by the clock, the film never feels slow or drawn out. Quite the reverse, in fact. This great film never takes a misstep as it hums along from the opening credits to the end theme.

Along with the crisp pace of the direction, many of the players had their finest moments in this classic; with Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan and Douglas Spenser in particular bringing their A game. Kenneth Tobey, who had a magnificent square head and jaw that looked perfect atop a flight jacket or uniform, played the exact same part in The Beast from 20,000 fathoms a couple of years later, minus the Hawks life, intelligence, and sense of humor. A solid actor with an extensive television resume, he is used to perfection here. James Young and Robert Nichols carry much of the humor and bounce in the picture as Captain Hendry's pair of razzing lieutentants, and things wouldn't have been neraly as much fun without them.

Margaret Sheridan takes easy control of any scene she is in, only letting Tobey shine now and then because she likes him so much. The minute we are introduced to her, as she spins around in her chair, beams a smile, and says “Hello, Pat!” we know we have another Hawks’ woman on our hands, right down to the easy, sexual confidence and catchy, male nickname. Douglas Spenser was a character actor with solid chops, born to play behind the lead or even second lead, and he knew it. So did a lot of other people, and thus Spenser’s resume was filled with good performances in major A-list pictures. My favorite performance from him, other than this piece of immortality, was as the Swede in Shane. In Thing, he enlivens his classic tall, earnestness with a gangly wise-ass intelligence, hitting the liberal member of the fourth estate part right on the button.

Perhaps the most memorable performance comes from Robert Cornthwaite as Dr. Carrington. He is tight as a drum throughout, strung with all the flexibility of a piano wire; his fevered gaze holding nothing but utter contempt for his fellow man, and even for himself. This was one of Cornthwaite’s first roles, and he hit the mark as an intense scientist/doctor so well, Hawks cast him as one again in his film, Monkey Business, a year later. He was a doctor again in War of the Worlds a year after that. In fact, so many of the signals about Dr. Carrington that immediately put us on edge (the neat goatee, the dome forehead, the swept-back silver hair) were set in our subconcious by Robert Cornthwaite.

I also loved John Dierkes as Dr. Chapman, who distinguishes himself as the only scientist to go against the maniacal Dr. Carrington from the beginning. Dierkes was a huge, towering actor with a looks of a weather-beaten Norwegian harpooner. He was nearly always cast as a heavy as there wasn’t a friendly or warm bone in his whole face. Hawks loved that kind of casting, and Dierkes is a pleasure here, giving his scientific theory in his menacing, deep voice, staring down the increasingly Looney Dr. Carrington in more than one scene. Lastly, James Arness gets the thankless role as The Thing. Way? I bet he was cast because he was a giant among men. Notice the scene where he is standing next to Dr. Carrington, who looks childlike, his eyes level with Arness’ armpit. You won’t see any Boris Karloff platform shoes here, either, my friends. Arness was six foot seven. Didn’t you every wonder why Marshall Matt Dillon could walk into a barroom full of respect without even showing his badge? He was a full head taller than the tallest man in the room, that’s why. Not to mention lightening with a six shooter, but I digress. Back to the movie and hand, please.

So, while Carrington becomes obsessed with saving the creature so as to pick its brain, the men become increasingly determined to kill it, completely ignoring orders to capture the creature alive (it seems the military brass sense a potential weapon in the creatures’ advanced technology). They try burning it alive by luring it inside and dousing it with kerosene. This idea seems, at face value, even stupider than the thermite plan: douse a living creature with kerosene, and light it up with a flare gun inside the staff quarters? Would could possibly go wrong there? Sure enough, Nikki, who has clearly defected over to the “guys” side, nearly gets killed in the failed attempt, just managing to save herself with a mattress grabbed from a bunk as the thing flails with its razors claws and buckets of kerosene are splashed around the burning room like rose water. It makes for an absolutely spectacular scene, though, and marks the first time a full body flame suit was used in a movie. Amazing stuff. The scene seems wildly alive with the horribly screaming creature diving through a window and into the hissing snow for the finale.

James Arness
Finally, licking their broken bones and burns after nearly torching the camp to the ground, they decide to try the same thing again, only on a bigger scale, meaning simply more kerosene, lots more. Excuse, me, ahem, Captain Hendry? One of the eggheads, an electrical expert, actually comes up with a good idea (and not a goddamn moment too soon). Instead of kerosene, which will more than likely incinerate all the flimsy wooden structures of the arctic base, along with all personnel inside them, why not try something, well, a whole lot better? Like electricity. As Hendry stands still and watches, doing his best to keep up, his men and the electrician embellish this concept into an actual plan (Hendry has throughout the film recoginized good ideas rather than actually had them. His talent is effective implementation. This quality is a comfortable running gag, in fact, between Hendry and his men, everyone knowing their role in the bond of men. More Hawks genius at work).

A huge electrical grid is set up to fry the creature, sentencing it, in essence, to death in the electric chair (Scotty will later, at crunch time, bring to mind the time he covered the Ruth Snyder execution, the first woman to die by electrocution). Dr. Carrington makes one last attempt to explain his position to the men, but it’s no dice. The men are freezing to death, (the creature has cut off their oil supply) terrified, angry and have just plain had it with the scientist and his world of theories.

“Knowledge is more important that life, Captain,” says the bug-eyed Carrington, as the men stand around him, stamping their feet and blowing on their hands. “We have only one excuse for living. To think, to find out, to learn”

“What can we learn from that thing,” says a grinning Scotty, “except a quicker way to die.”

“It doesn’t matter what happens to us,” snaps Carrington. “Nothing matters except our thinking. We have thought our way into nature, we have split the atom . . .”

“Yeah,” says Lt. Dykes, “and that certainly made the world happy, didn’t it.”

Carrington, not appreciating the mood, presses on: “We owe it to our brains to stand here and die instead of destroying a source of wisdom.”

Ooookay, right. You might want to stand back a bit, Doc. It’s gonna make a hell of a flash when we fry up this head of lettuce. A still blabbering Carrington is hustled off none to gently (he’s given the hand-locked-inside-upper-arm escort, Scotty and the lieutenant each taking a side) as the Geiger counter indicates the monster is approaching.

After a couple last attempts by Carrington to save the creature, (finally his own team of scientists turn on him, disarming him when he tries to cut the power to the generator) he finally makes a made dash as the creature is about to get the volts and tries to reason with it. “you are much wiser than me,” begins the doctor in an embarrassingly self-depreciating rant, but the creature just stares at him as though he were crazy. The Thing has, since its landing on earth, been frozen, shot, bitten, had an arm torn off, hacked, chopped, set afire, and had a door slammed on its fingers - all in all, simply not much in the mood to be persuaded by Dr. Carrington’s charm. He finally clubs the gibbering doctor aside in what might be considered the creature’s single act of mercy.

James Arness
The creature finally moves into position, and Hendry, just like an executioner at Sing Sing, throws the switch. The following death scene is simply a hallmark of 1950’s sci-fi – grisly and punishing in it’s power. Even the men, their faces light in flashes of electricity, seem to recoil at the terrible death throes of the Thing - it’s body slowly diminishing under the arcs of voltage, its horrible thrashing reduced to pathetic pawing, until it resembles a child staring out at its killers from the white flashes, nearly pleading. “Oh, that’s enough,” says one of the men, turning in disgust. “Turn if off.” No, says someone, we have to be sure.

Robert Nichols and James Tobey
So the small, burning child-shape curls into a fetal shape, sizzling and burning, no longer moving, until it becomes an infant, pulling its head up into its knees, being born into death. Finally, gratefully, it is a pile of smoking slime, no longer recognizable, and Hendry cuts the power without the slightest hint of satisfaction.

“You can take your picture now, Scotty,” says Hendry, his voice impossible to read. Scotty, still locked in a horrified stare, tries to say something and faints dead away. No one laughs as they move to pick him off the ground.

The cast adjourn into the radio room to compose themselves, and we return to the place we began, the perfect movie making a perfect circle: officers talking over one another in glib fashion, teasing their beloved Captain Henry about Nikki, only now the teasing makes it clear that a marriage is in order. All that’s left is for a now revived Scotty to read the most famous line in sci-fi movie history into the microphone, the line that launched a thousand geek t-shirts and so perfectly captured the strange mixture of enthusiasm and paranoia that filled the drive ins. I’m sure you know it, even if you think you imagine you don’t.

Watch the skies, everywhere. Keep Looking. Keep watching the skies!

Oh, yes. Yes indeed. I sure will.

1 comment:

  1. Lol this movie was so epic. I remember watching it when i was like 12 on tv scared shitless. If you have seen the new carpenter thing, check this one out makes the experience of both better.

    PS i agree with lol “We owe it to our brains to stand here and die instead of destroying a source of wisdom.”