Forgotten Sci-Fi Films

By Carl Slaughter: Them! is a forgotten classic science fiction movie.  Despite a premise involving ants mutated into giants and spreading rapidly, this is not a typical creature feature.  The insects make few appearances and are on screen briefly.  Killings mostly occur off screen, happen quickly when they are shown, and don’t involve gore.  No, this is a true science fiction story.  Part detective, part exploration, part hunt.  The scientists provide scientific background through interaction with military and law enforcement personnel during strategy sessions and battles rather than resorting to info dumps.  The New York Times called it “taut science fiction.”  Variety called it a “top notch science fiction thriller.”  The closing line is, “When Man entered the Atomic Age, he opened the door to a new world. What we may eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict.”  Rotten Tomatoes approval ratings is 100%.  Nominated for an Oscar for special effects.

The Thing from Another World is another forgotten science fiction movie.  Based on “Who Goes There?,” a novella by John Campbell.  Scientists and soldiers discover a crashed alien with hostile intent and learn the hard way how intelligent, strong, and adaptive he is.  Turns out the alien is vegetable based and carnivorous, feeding on blood.  After several misfires, a few casualties, a failed attempt to establish a relationship, severe damage to the station, and numerous science-military agenda disputes, they finally outsmart him.  The alien shows himself to the crew only twice and briefly both times.  Instead, they have to follow his trail of activity.  Ends with, “Tell the world. Tell this to everybody, wherever they are. Watch the skies everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies.”  Beat all other science fiction films at the box office, including Invasion of the Body Snatchers and When Worlds Collide.  Lester del Rey described it as “just another monster epic, totally lacking in the force and tension of the original story.”  Time Magazine chose it as the best sci-fi film of the 50s.  Dialog is rapid and crisp, so you might even want to watch a subtitled version.

The Thing is a remake of The Thing from Another World.  This screen version is closer to the print version.  After the success of Alien, Universal executives were convinced commissioning The Thing was a good call.  They miscalculated.  Alas, John Carpenter couldn’t compete with Steven Spielberg.

Gruff explorers couldn’t compete with the adorable E.T.  The hideous metamorphosis of the shape shifter couldn’t compete with phoning home.  Suspicion and paranoia over which member of the team is a camouflaged invader couldn’t compete with children bonding with each other and their alien friend.  The destruction of the outpost couldn’t compete with a bicycle flying in front of the moon.  The harsh landscape of Antarctica couldn’t compete with sunny suburbia.  Body count horror couldn’t compete with a main character being rescued from death.  Lack of female characters couldn’t compete with young Drew Barrymore.  Channeling Lovecraft couldn’t compete with channeling Capra.  R-rating couldn’t compete with family friendly viewing.  Nihilistic couldn’t compete with upbeat.  An ending left open about the survival of Kurt Russell’s character couldn’t compete with an ending in which everyone lives happily ever after.

If all this wasn’t enough, 1982 was a year cluttered with speculative fiction, including Poltergeist, Wrath of Khan, Tron, Conan the Barbarian, Blade Runner, and Road Warrior.

The fallout for Carpenter was severe.  Universal bought out his contract, thus he lost a chance to direct Firestarter.  The Thing was panned by critics, but has since been rehabilitated and has gained a cult following.

40 thoughts on “Forgotten Sci-Fi Films

  1. I’ll take your word that “Them” has been forgotten but I saw it on TV as a kid and was mezmerised by it and have made others watch it in all its corny glory.

  2. It’s hard for me to forget Them! because I grew up in LA and on school field trips to various things downtown I’d see out the windows of the bus all those places the giant ants crawled out of, and climbed on.

  3. First, the dialogue in “The Thing From Another World” is arguably among the best in any film, much less any ‘monster’ movie. They even have a couple of toss away lines that are a nod to the original novella’s concept that the alien had telepathic abilities.

    About four years ago (maybe, sorta, something like that), I did a shoot in the LA River downtown. They led us through a long (and foul-smelling traffic tunnel) to the riverbed itself.

    As we were waiting for the final camera and light placement, I turned around looking back at that tunnel, and realized that I must have been standing right where they’d placed a camera for the film “Them” when two of the good guys were standing outside the “Los Angeles sewer system”.

    I love being an actor. Much more so when I find myself in a situation like that.

  4. They watch “The Thing from Another World” regularly at the Antarctic stations. It’s a tradition, like the 300 Club.

    Go ahead, ask me what that is.

  5. I saw “Thing from Another Planet” on TV many years ago (70s, IIRC). It’s pretty good, for a movie from that period.

  6. What is that, JTM?

    And is it …From Another World, or …From Another Planet, anyway?

  7. @David Shalcross

    When the temperature at the Amundsen-Scott Station (at the South Pole) is -100 degrees F., people will strip down to boots (boots are very important, as we shall see) and sit in the sauna, set at 200 degrees F, for as long as they can take it (usually about ten minutes). Then they run out of the station to the Ceremonial South Pole (usually near the real one, but the ice moves), run around it, have a picture taken, and run back in to warm up. The boots are very very important because, you see, if you don’t wear them, your feet will freeze to the ice and that could be inconvenient.

    P.S. The picture is not “obscene” because everyone is covered in a mist.

  8. Ed: Thanks for the IMDB link. (It was even more forgotten than Carl knew….)

  9. I’d dispute Them being forgotten at all. One way you can tell this isn’t true is that it isn’t (and never has been to the best of my knowledge) available on any of the streaming services. The only way you can stream it is to buy it.

  10. There’s a scene from “Them” just before the “Ant Man and the Wasp” credits roll. Notice the contrast of the two characters. One an adult, one a child. One a scientist, one a would be superhero. One scared screaming because an entomologist knows what a giant ant can do to a human, one not scared at all because she’s seen giant ants and knows her father can control them.

  11. I too was impressed with the script for “The Thing from Another Planet.” The script for them was pretty good too.

  12. I like the discussion about the plant species that eats small mammals and communicates with each other. Couldn’t remember the terminology and there know subtitles to help with my memory, so I couldn’t Google it.

  13. “Them” was not forgotten by the filers. It was part of the Cult Movie Bracket. Sorry to say, I can’t check the SF Movie Bracket right now because the links are broken.

  14. Hampus Eckerman: “Them” was not forgotten by the filers. It was part of the Cult Movie Bracket. Sorry to say, I can’t check the SF Movie Bracket right now because the links are broken.

    Them! had the misfortune of being matched against The Empire Strikes Back in the second round of the SF Movie Bracket, where it lost, quelle suprise.

    Hampus, you can find the correct replacement for a broken File 770 comment link by just using the main part of the post URL (http://file770.com/?p=99999) which will redirect to the new post URL, then going to the page specified in the “&cpage=9” part of the link to look for the specific comment.

  15. I’ll join the chorus: Neither “Them!” nor “The Thing from Another World” are forgotten. These are well known in my circles. Seems a bit insulting to call them forgotten.

  16. I’ve seen a lot of lists of best sci fi movies and have never seen “Them” or “The Thing from Another World” on any of these lists.

  17. Stephen Jay Gould hated “T.H.E.M.” because of its violation of the square-cube rule. But accept that, and the movie works. I particularly like that the ants aren’t intelligent and don’t give us the standard anti-nuke or anti-war lecture at the end.

  18. Very interesting. I found Them to be pretty good, even thought I saw it via MST3K. The original Thing is outstanding. The scene where the men form a circle on the Arctic is absolutely chilling, showing that the understated approach can be quite effective. I would nominate as interesting SF movies of that era: Kronos, The 27th Day, Earth vs the Flying Saucers (literate script and Ray Harryhausen Effects), The Day the Earth Caught Fire. In a class by itself, of course, are Forbidden Planet and The Day the Earth Stood Still. The 50s were a rich era indeed, with its undercurrent of Cold War paranoia.

  19. I particularly like that the ants aren’t intelligent and don’t give us the standard anti-nuke or anti-war lecture at the end.

    Well, maybe not anti-nuke, but certainly cautionary-nuke…

    Last lines of the film.

    Robert Graham: Pat, if these monsters got started as a result of the first atomic bomb in 1945, what about all the others that have been exploded since then?

    Dr. Patricia ‘Pat’ Medford: I don’t know.

    Dr. Harold Medford: Nobody knows, Robert. When Man entered the atomic age, he opened a door into a new world. What we’ll eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict.

  20. 15 or so years ago, I was part of some testing at White Sands Missile Range. We had an afternoon with nothing going on, so a co-worker and myself drove up to the National Monument (where the white sands are, and where part of THEM was filmed).

    I had a camera, and my co-worker insisted on tracing out a giant ant footprint in the gypsum sand, and making me take a picture of him next to it.

  21. I’ve seen a lot of lists of best sci fi movies and have never seen “Them” or “The Thing from Another World” on any of these lists.

    I’d say you’re looking at the wrong lists then.

  22. These films are shown on basic cable on Turner Classic Movies all the time (meaning several times a month). The next time THEM is on will be on Monday, July 30th. So not forgotten at all, unless you don’t have a TV or cable service.

  23. Bill, on reading your post, I realized that I have absolutely no idea what an ant foot looks like….

  24. I watched Them recently on Turner Classics and found it pretty suck-free. It’s always been my favorite of its type.

    I haven’t seen the original Thing in many years, but I have seen it as an adult, and felt that for a B movie it was a definite B+, with superior writing and directing.

  25. This thread keeps reminding me of things.

    During my 20 years in the military, I actually was offered a chance to do what was called fam fire (more properly familiarisation fire) with a flamethrower.

    Jumped on the chance, because you never know when you might run into giant ants.

    One of the scariest god damn things I ever did.

    Ever.

  26. Yeah, I’ve not forgotten any of these either. I’ve never seen The Thing From Another World, but The Thing scared the crap out of me as a teenager. I think the BBC had a series of old SF movies on when I was relatively young, too, and Them definitely stuck in my mind. (As did Village Of The Damned, although I think I was sent to bed before the end.)

  27. This Island Earth…It Came From Beneath the Sea…
    I’m a big ’50’s sci-fi fan, as was my Dad who introduced me to the genre. My favorite memory of him is explaining the end of 2001 after we saw it together.

  28. @Bill:

    Your testing at WSMR – were you working for B-SVS or ATA? I was part of some testing at NOP (North Oscura Peak) for B-SVS at the same general time.

    I remember standing on NOP, looking down on Trinity and thinking about the event. I have stood on the actual site a couple of times, and in the farm house. What they accomplished with primitive tools was staggering – of course, the power and resources of the govt was behind it. (The Trinity anniversary was a few days ago on July 16).

    History note: At that time, Socorro county was legally *not* part of the USA. It was *explicitly* excluded in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago. Which means Trinity was exploded on foreign territory. What Socorro County was legally is unknown, but it wasn’t part of the USA.

    Thanks for the list of movies! I need put them on my list.

  29. @bandit — I was at LC-38 (SE corner of the range) making some measurements on some Army radars. I was/am a civilian employee of the Army.

    I was out there several times, but never on the days that Trinity was open. I thought more than once about driving up there, but it was at least 60 miles as the crow flies (and more like 100 if the map was to be trusted), and I wasn’t sure the site would be accessible anyways.

  30. THEM! is the favorite Creature Feature at our house and we watch it at least yearly… in fact, we watched it Friday night.

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