Friday, January 30, 2015

E.T. vs. The Thing, 1982

"El-li-ott.. Pull my finger."
I was sitting in the theater for the second time, only now with my girlfriend Christine Lantrip. We were watching little E.T. die on the operating table. She started crying. I started crying. [This was my first lesson in sympathetic reaction; I knew he'd be O.K. but dadgum it, when you're seventeen in a theater with your first girlfriend, you don't get a chance to veto your emotions!]

You know what happened that December of 1982: E.T. "phoned home" and millions of moviegoers were touched by this little ugly visitor from another world with wondrous abilities. It became one of the highest grossing films of all time.

Two weeks later, John Carpenter's remake of the sci-fi classic The Thing from Another World was released. Based more truly on the novella, "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell, Jr., it starred former Disney kid Kurt Russell as Macready, a helicopter pilot trapped in frozen Antarctica with a team of scientists and workers who have unwittingly allowed a shape-changing alien into their midst.

This doppelganger unearthed from the frozen tundra is thousands of years old, has absorbed hundreds of lifeforms across the galaxy and can re-form to any part or parcel of them that will allow it to survive, to hunt, to assimilate and to destroy.

I did not see this one in the theater. Most Americans didn't either. I saw it later on cable, streamed right into the color Magnavox mounted on my hotel wall while vacationing with my family. [We did not have cable in our home. Too un-Christian.]

I will never forget my reaction to the alien on the operating table in this film, either.

Nor the head plopping off. Nor it sprouting legs to run away.

Nor the most carnal, most apt, most apropos line ever uttered in sci-fi monster history: "You gotta be @#!&^$ kidding!"  - just before the skittering Spider-Head Creature was burned to death by Kurt Russell.

That was not  sweet little E.T. in any sense, form or fashion.

Rob Bottin did the special creature effects with a minor last-minute assist from Stan Winston. They made film history. Even today, it is not for the faint of heart.

E.T. made over a billion dollars. The Thing did not make five million in profit.

Obviously, the viewers voted for love, hope, healing, magic, mystery and joy. It has been said that E.T. was, quite by accident, the story of Jesus. When pointed out to the Jewish filmmaker, Spielberg was himself surprised; he'd pulled much of Elliot from his own feelings. He wanted a friend to help him through all the difficulties he faced when his parents got divorced, including his abandonment by his father.

E.T. was the answer to that. He was a Christ figure, complete with healing, death, resurrection and ascension.

So if E.T. was Christ - and everyone loves Jesus - what was The Thing?

The devil, you dummy. The enemy of mankind.

Jesus told us what he is like in John 10:10a: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy..." and when blasting the religious leaders of his day, He said: "You belong to your father, the devil... He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies." [John 8:44]

The Thing does all this marvelously, using deceit and perfect mimicry to murder every animal, every man it touches. Grotesque and gargantuan when revealed at last there is nothing good in this monster once it is uncovered by fire.


John Carpenter not only tapped into this to give you a horror that you truly feared, he tapped hard on the very nature of a fallen world: isolated, cold, alone, wounded, we have to face an ancient evil that can be found hiding in anyone.

"Man Is the Warmest Place to Hide." said one poster tagline.

This is what we do not want to hear, what we do not want to face: evil can be  within our homes, our community, our very selves.

Who can you trust when all around you are not what they seem?

Kurt Russell's character, Macready answers this in the film. Sure, he means it as a cynical remark, but maybe... well, maybe he's not as flippant as we might think.

When Doc [likeable Wilford Brimley] has destroyed any chance of anyone leaving the base -, he confesses why to Macready as he's being locked up, "I don't know who I can trust, Mac!"

Macready replies "Trust in the Lord, Doc."

When it gets cold outside and the winds howl by, kids, and you have things that just may swallow you whole, do that.

Trust in the Lord.

Amen.

2 comments:

Sean Shimmel said...

Very insightful. I read it entirely

Justice said...

Thanks, Sean. It sorta seems obvious in hindsight, but one strange thing I see over and over again is when we get a good message, the Adversary is right there with an opposing view.

All part of the fallen world and our First Father's choice, I am afraid.

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