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Who Goes There? Is That the Thing? Or not . . .

 
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Bud Brewster
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2014 2:51 pm    Post subject: Who Goes There? Is That the Thing? Or not . . . Reply with quote

This thread comes with a music soundtrack -- an All Sci-Fi exclusive Special Feature!

Click on the link below and let YouTube play the original motion picture soundtracks for some of the best sci-fi films of the 1950s while your reading.



Enjoy!
Very Happy
____________________________________________

In 1938, John W. Campbell wrote a story about an alien that could take over human beings and imitate them so well that nobody could tell the difference. It was so scary that husbands divorced their wives when they said things like "I just haven't been myself lately".



In 1951, Howard Hawks made a movie based on the story, and it was so scary that people gave up salads because they were scared of them.



In 1982, John Carpenter made a version of the story that caused people to loose their lunches when heads tore themselves from their bodies, and hands were bitten off by chest cavities with teeth.



Obviously all these versions have one thing in common (no pun intended). They were tough on personal relationships and people's appetites.

All three versions included a lone survivor that escaped from a crashed space craft and became encased in ice. But what other similarities and differences are there between these three versions of the same basic concept — an alien creature who makes life hell for a stranded group who prefer chilly climates?

First let's analyze the source material for the two subsequent movies.

Who Goes There? has one particularly strong point — but it's so strong it almost works against it. Campbell had so many brilliant concepts and interesting details he wanted to pack into his story that it ends up bursting at the seams. Here's an excerpt (slightly edited for brevity) to show what I mean.
___________________________________

"What was it planning to do?" Barclay looked at the humped tarpaulin.

"Take over the world, I imagine."

"Take over the world! Just it, all by itself?" Connant gasped. "Set itself up as a lone dictator?"

"No," Blair shook his head. "It would become the population of the world."

"Populate the world? Does it reproduce asexually?"

Blair shook his head and gulped. "It doesn't have to. It weighed 85 pounds. Charnauk [a sled dog] weighed about 90. It would have become Charnauk, and had 85 pounds left, to become — oh, Jack [another dog] for instance, or Chinook [a third dog]. It can imitate anything - that is, become anything. If it had reached the Antarctic Sea, it would have become a seal, maybe two seals. They might have attacked a killer whale, and become either killer whales, or a herd of seals. Or maybe it would have caught an albatross, or a seagull, and flown to South America."

Norris cursed softly. "And every time, it digested something, and imitated it — "

"It would have had its original bulk left, to start again," Blair finished. "Nothing would kill it. It has no natural enemies, because it becomes whatever it wants to. If a killer whale attacked, it would become a killer whale. If it was an albatross, and an eagle attacked it, it would become an eagle. Lord, it might become a female eagle. Go back - build a nest and lay eggs!"

____________________________________

My goodness. Campbell certainly had this idea well thought out. And how did the first movie version — The Thing from Another World — deal with this?

Actually, It didn't.



The Thing from Another World gave us only one alien who landed and stayed one alien, even though it wanted everybody's blood to make baby aliens. In fact, the alien in the 1951 movie wasn't even made of animal tissue — it had more in common with the salad you order with your steak than the steak itself.

This, however, didn't stop the movie from being scary as hell, because that super-carrot was a force to be reckoned with. Even though Hawk's version threw out most of what made the short story really thought provoking, it substituted a few new wrinkles. For example, the freezing cold that worked against the creature in the short story was no sweat for Mr. Greenjeans.



And even though the alien didn't care much for being turned into flaming shish kabob, it was smart enough to be wearing a fireproof suit so we didn't have to look at Marshall Dillion walking around in the buff for the rest of the movie.



The Thing in the 1982 version, on the other hand, didn't have such good luck with fire. It got completely torched several times, and if the alien hadn't kept whipping out those tentacles and grabbing new victims, the movie would have been about half as long.



As for the actual science presented by each of the three stories, Who Goes There? is the king of the hill.

For example, the word "magnetic" is used eighteen times in the short story's text, along with "magnetism" a few times. And what does magnetism have to do with the story?

A lot.

The saucer is discovered imbedded in the ice because the scientists detect a strong "secondary source" of magnetism 80 miles from their base — which is right at the South Pole.

The scientists are there in Antarctica to study the Earth's magnetic field, and the alien spacecraft crashes because it's engines malfunction when the ship gets too close to the Earth's magnetic south pole.

Part of the reason the spacecraft explodes when the men try to melt it out with thermite bombs (yes, the dreaded thermite, just like in the 1951 movie) was because the hull was partially composed of magnesium -- a metal that actually burns when it's hot enough -- and also because the ship's engines had (somehow) absorbed magnetic force during the crash landing.

I'm not sure how scientifically accurate that is, but it sure sounds good.

The Thing from Another World mirrors this concept just a little by indicating that the crashed space ship is a source of magnetism. But the movie does not suggest that the ship crashed in the arctic because of the Earth's magnetic field.

That's to bad, because it should have.

This would have explained why an alien invader with a vegetable composition that required nutrients and dirt to raise a fine crop of bloodthirsty little hellions from the planet Cellulose happened to land in a place so cold and snowbound it made Minot, North Dakota, look like a Kansas corn field! Shocked



John Carpenter's The Thing was much closer to the short story in that respect — even though it didn't say the word magnetism in the whole blessed movie. But the alien is said to have crashed in the distant past, like in the short story.



In The Thing from Another World the alien was the lone occupant of it's small space craft (as far as we know). In The Thing we don't find out if the alien was a member of the race that built the ship or just a disguised stowaway.



But in Who Goes There? the brilliant Mr. John W. Campbell gave us the best of all possible worlds; the characters speculate that the creature might have been either one or the other, in this piece of dialog.
________________________________________

"I wonder if we ever saw its natural form." Blair looked at the covered mass. "It may have been imitating the beings that built that ship — but I don't think it was. I think that was its true form."
________________________________________

At the end of the story, the Earth men discover that the alien has secretly built a miniature atomic reactor and an antigravity backpack, both to be used to fly it from Antarctica to South America — and the alien made these technological wonders from parts and materials it stole from the base supply room after turning itself into protoplasm and oozing under doors late at night!

Clever little devil, eh?

So, the smartest puppy in this alien litter would seem to be Mr. Campbell's literary pooch. The second smartest was Mr. Greenjeans from The Thing from Another World. And the intellectual runt of the litter was the energetic but not overly intelligent mutt in The Thing, who didn't demonstrate too many brilliant strategies during his battle with the people.

It's interesting to note that the intelligence quotient of each alien seems to relate closely to the degree of subtlety it was capable of. In Who Goes There? the whole story hinges on the fact that the creature starts out looking so ugly the men can barely stand to look at it.
________________________________________

Eagerly Blair was stripping back the ropes. A single throw of the tarpaulin revealed the thing. The ice had melted somewhat in the heat of the room and it was clear and blue as thick, good glass. It shone wet and sleek under the harsh light of the unshielded globe above.

The room stiffened abruptly. It was face up there on the plain, greasy planks of the table. The broken half of the bronze ice-ax was still buried in the queer skull. Three mad, hate-filled eyes blazed up with a living fire, bright as fresh-spilled blood from a face ringed with a writhing, loathsome nest of worms -- blue, mobile worms that crawled where hair should grow

Van Wall, six feet and 200 pounds of ice-nerved pilot, gave a queer, strangled gasp and butted, stumbled his way out to the corridor. Half the company broke for the doors. The others stumbled away from the table.

___________________________________________



But before you can say "Excuse me, have we met before?" the alien gets free, tries to assimilate one of the sled dogs, and the men electrocute it with a jury-rigged cattle-prod-device that they managed to slap together during the attack (which seemed awfully quick when I read the story).

For a while the men think (and hope) the creature is dead — when in fact it's hiding in plain sight, having already converted at least one human into a non-human.

In The Thing from Another World, the alien thaws out, fights with the dogs, and runs away. When it does show up a while later, it always makes a dramatic entrance, and everybody knows its coming before we even see it.



Ah, but that old devil in The Thing could literally pop up anywhere — including right out of somebody's chest! It was shocking and dramatic, but I kept wondering how that big ugly beastie below was able to grow inside that poor man's chest.



The Thing did try to pass itself off as human a few times, but the minute it's cover was blown it went beserk and started splitting open and spewing out those handy tentacles again.



That wasn't always the best way to survive, especially with Kurt Russell standing nearby with a flame thrower -- which seems to indicate that smarts just didn't run in The Thing's family.

But that's not really fair, because we can't ignore one important way John Carpenter's version remained very close to the short story: the secret construction the alien was doing in the tunnels under the camp.



Does that put The Thing in a tie with Mr. Campbell's creepy creature when it comes to intelligence?

Well, it might.

Wilford Brimley's character is one of the humans who is taken over, and he/it manages to trick the others into leaving him/it alone in the isolated hut (just like in the short story) while he/it constructs a small flying saucer out of stuff stolen from the repair shop (again like the short story).

Come to think of it, the only example of intelligence The Thing from Another World gives us is when it shuts off the heating oil to force all the humans to gather in the generator room.

And this just allowed the human's to rig up there high-voltage Corridor of Cauterization!



So all of a sudden Mr. Greenjeans is looking like the dummy of the group. Shocked

Let's make a scorecard for all three versions and see how they rate on a scale of 1 to 10 in four different categories. Let's start with the 1982 movie and work chronologically backwards.
__________________________________

The Thing

Concept — A possible parasitic life form that survives by imitating other species. Wilford Brimley's notes (speaking for the author of the screenplay, we assume) states this: "It's imitated a million life forms on a million planets. Now it wants Earth. It needs to be alone and in close proximity of the life form to be absorbed."

But the manner in which the alien is presented is inconsistent. Too much attention is given to shocking scenes and gory situations which don't reflect the "one cell absorbing another" scenario that Wilford Brimley demonstrates on his computer.
***** Score: 7

Intelligence — Questionable throughout the story, but confirmed at the end with the discovery of the small spacecraft it has constructed from stolen materials. However, this might be a sort of "instinct", like the way ants build complex nests, and spiders weave geometric webs. The alien could be perfectly imitating the skill of some other intelligent creature — but not capable of original thinking.

If we also look at the way The Thing sort of slams around, calling attention to itself instead of hiding inside it's "human" disguise, it just doesn't demonstrate the kind of stuff that get's one admitted to MIT.
***** Score: 7

Strengths — It can sprout new and deadly body parts to defend itself faster than seems physically possible. It can be killed by fire, but nothing else (as far as we know).
***** Score: 10

Weaknesses — The alien does a poor job of hiding it's attacks on it's victims. It leaves ripped and bloody clothing where they are later found. One victim's blood-soaked clothing is shown laying all over a chair while the man struggles on the floor six feet way, wrapped in tentacles. It also unsuccessfully attempts to take over another man and causes an apparent heart attack, and then the alien is exposed when a deliberator causes various separate creatures to suddenly make loud but ineffective attempts to escape. As a result, the creature is incinerated by the humans.
***** Score: 3

Total = 27 out of 40
__________________________________

The Thing from Another World

Concept — A straight-forward alien in human form, but made of vegetable matter rather than animal tissue. The characters speculate that it might have come to Earth to create an army of offspring to turn mankind into a food source. This idea has several problems. Why did only one alien come? Why did it crash at the North Pole? Why does a vegetable-based life form need blood to nourish it?
***** Score: 3

Intelligence — Though the alien's race may be intelligent, this member of the race shows no signs of above-average intelligence. It makes no attempt to communicate with the humans. It seeks to kill them and use their blood for nourishment, not seeming to realize that if it succeeds it will be stranded at the remote arctic station with a limited food supply for its growing offspring.
***** Score: 3

Strengths — I can survive being shot and burned. It can regrow severed limits in a relatively short time. It possesses great physic strength, and it can survive indefinitely in subfreezing temperatures.
***** Score: 9

Weaknesses — It can be burned up if prevented from escaping, and it can be completely destroyed by electricity. It reacts to voltage like a human, becoming paralyzed.
***** Score: 8

Total = 23 out of 40
__________________________________

Who Goes There?

Concept — A creature whose cells invade like a virus and convert the host organism into a perfect copy. It reads the victim's mind and assumes his personality and behavior flawlessly.
***** Score: 10

Intelligence — A super-genius, plain and simple. It constructs a small nuclear power plant and an anti-gravity belt out of common objects and materials. Based on it's ability to read minds and deduce the correct behavior for the person it's imitating, this seems less like the kind of "instinct" the The Thing (1982) seemed governed by.
***** Score: 10

Strengths — It can read minds, understand human thoughts, perfectly copy mannerisms, and exactly mimic the behavior of the converted victim, right down to doing things that seem to prove it wants all the other aliens to be caught.
***** Score: 10

Weaknesses — It is no team player, no sir. A complete organism is just as mindlessly devoted to it's own survival as a piece of its tissue or a sample of its blood. When other "men" are proven to be aliens in the climax, each alien which has not yet been discovered helps the humans rip the exposed enemy to pieces with their bare hands.
***** Score: 5

TOTAL = 35 out of 40
__________________________________

So, unless my grading is way off, Mr. Campbell's nasty little three-eyed meanie is the clear winner. The two movie versions are highly entertaining, but they just don't really have the thought-provoking complexity and consistency of the original short story.

But hey, that's Hollywood for you, eh?

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 13, 2020 5:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

________________________________

Well, I just read my own post above again, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! Yeah, me! Very Happy

I'm glad somebody else didn't write it, because then I be intensely. Wink

But I'm a little surprised that it's been sitting here for 6 1/2 years without a single reply! Shocked

Jeez, with all the opinions I tossed out like I was some kind of expert, you'd think I get a few nibbles at the bait. It's packed with things that other people could disagree with! Surely I didn't do such a sterling job that all my pompous pronouncements are considered inarguable! Rolling Eyes

However, if somebody just wanted to say something nice, there's plenty of stuff to agree with, and plenty of points I probably left out of such a comprehensive discussion.

Come on, folks! Jump in and straighten me out if I got something wrong! Or fill in the important ideas I might have overlooked!

And don't forget to click on the "soundtrack" at the top of the post. Listening to that great suite of 1950s sci-fi music is half the fun of enjoying this thread. Cool

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Krel
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2020 12:54 am    Post subject: Re: Who Goes There? Is That the Thing? Or not . . . Reply with quote

Bud Brewster wrote:
The Thing from Another World

Concept — A straight-forward alien in human form, but made of vegetable matter rather than animal tissue. The characters speculate that it might have come to Earth to create an army of offspring to turn mankind into a food source. This idea has several problems. Why did only one alien come? Why did it crash at the North Pole? Why does a vegetable-based life form need blood to nourish it?

Why did only one alien come? We don't know that there is only one. This ship crashed, others may have landed in a forested, or jungle area. We don't even know that there was only one alien in the ship. There might have been two or three that didn't make it out of the crashed ship.

Even if it was only one, it could have been sent alone to establish a beachhead, or even to test how we would react to it's attacks.

There's an idea. The Alien purposely crashed near a small outpost to test our weapons and tactics to see how the main invasion force should proceed. Other Aliens, or a probe are watching from orbit.

Why does a vegetable-based life form need blood to nourish it? Why do animals need vegetables to survive. Blood might not be the only thing it consumes.

Why the North Pole? Engine trouble and a bad orbit. Or maybe it is the other reason I speculated.

The Alien survived being frozen in a block of ice. Maybe that is how they travel. They freeze themselves to conserve life support, and the ship is on robot control until it reaches it's destination. This one just malfunctions, or took a meteor hit, knocking it off course. Or maybe the other reason I speculated.


Bud Brewster wrote:
Intelligence — Though the alien's race may be intelligent, this member of the race shows no signs of above-average intelligence. It makes no attempt to communicate with the humans. It seeks to kill them and use their blood for nourishment, not seeming to realize that if it succeeds it will be stranded at the remote arctic station with a limited food supply for its growing offspring.

Why should it try to communicate with it's food source. We really don't try to communicate with our food animals. Why should we? They're FOOD!

If it had succeeded in killing off the outpost personnel it, and it's offspring wouldn't have been stranded. There was a perfectly good DC-3 sitting out on the snow. Besides who knows what it could have constructed with the outpost resources


Bud Brewster wrote:
Strengths — I can survive being shot and burned. It can regrow severed limits in a relatively short time. It possesses great physic strength, and it can survive indefinitely in subfreezing temperatures.

Or maybe it and it's offspring could have just walked out, growing more troops as it comes across other outposts.

Okay, more baseless speculation:
The Alien's ship was fairly small, not much room for supplies. That indicates that it knew there were resources on Earth that could sustain it. That would seem to indicate a prior scouting mission, or at least robot probes.

David.
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Gord Green
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2020 1:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Why would an alien race have its' eyes on our world?

Quite simply....The biomass. That is the protein available to be harvested!

Water...Hydrogen...All are available from much more access able sources. But complex protein, DNA, and other more complex resources are only available....on Pluto--no, On Venus....NO----On Earth...Oh...yes. And we're sending out radio messages saying "Come and get us! We're yummy!".

Any questions?

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Pow
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2020 3:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My apologies, Bud. You are right that this thoughtful post of yours doing an analysis & comparison of the 2 Thing films and the novel deserved responses.

All 3 are true classics.

I'm in the camp of loving both Thing films instead of picking one over the other.

Both are indeed different, but both entertain and frighten in their own unique way that was reflective of the era they were produced.

Howard Hawks was correct in keeping the Thing in the shadows, at a distance, or on fire for the film. If you see the still photos of Jim Arness as the alien they are underwhelming.

If not for Jim's size (6'6") the makeup rates no better than what we'd see in a low budget B movie.

Some have said that this was the level of makeup that was achievable back in 1952 and it simply was the best they could do at that time.

Then what is the explanation for the 1930's superb makeup for the monster in "Frankenstein", "Dr.Jekyll & Mr.Hyde", or in "The Mummy"? In 1940 we see the werewolf makeup for Lon Chaney Jr in "The Wolf Man."

Speaking of sensational makeup for Lon, how about his father's creations back in silent films for "The Phantom Of The Opera" or "Hunchback Of Notre Dame"?

No, Howard Hawks was far too powerful a producer not to be able to demand a lavish makeup budget or the top makeup artists of the day for his "TTFAW."

I always assumed he did not want the makeup to detract from the riveting story & suspense with not getting a good look at the creature.

And there is that school of thought in film making that elaborate & incredible makeups, no matter how brilliantly achieved, is somehow pandering to the crowd. It is more artistic or intellectual NOT to clearly see the monster or alien.

There were some critics that espoused this belief with "The Wolf Man" while a truly fine Universal Pictures film was somewhat ruined by the very clear scenes of Lon in Jack Pierce's wonderful makeup.

Me? I like to see my aliens and monsters. Sure, you can introduce them in subtle ways in the beginning to add dread & curiosity. But not for an entire film. Feels too much like a cheat to me. Tease the audience right to the very end and then STILL don't do a reveal.

I also would have loved a full gander at the alien space craft in the 1951 movie. Don't get me wrong, as the scene with the military soldiers & scientists works very well as they form an outline of the mysterious craft buried beneath the ice. The music and the realization of just what have found is powerful.

I'm just a curious type. After seeing the splendid flying saucer created for "Forbidden Planet" and Ray Harryhausen's "Earth vs The Flying Saucers" or "The Day The Earth Stood Still" vessel, you feel a bit of letdown not seeing the Thing's star ship in total.

I loved it when John Carpenter showed the Thing's ship briefly in the opening of his marvelous version of the Thing.

Rob Bottin, all of 22, created the most awesomely horrific special effects for the film that remain just as chilling and startling today.

My own sad observation is between the members of the '51 movie and the Carpenter iteration.

In the Hawks film the military and the scientist (with the exception of the head scientist Dr.Carrington) all come together to defeat a common foe.

There is a fellowship among the group, along with their joshing one another you know they have one another's backs. A real sense of we're in this together. Idealized perhaps as to what humans might really do if faced with such a situation, but nonetheless comforting.

You really rooted for them all.

Carpenter's group are cynical. They do at times work together but underneath there is the sense of every man for himself.
They were more distant emotionally from one another even before the creature arrives.

People performing their jobs with no real attachment to one another. If you needed help for something they might help you, but they'd be annoyed at having to step out of their insular comfort zone.

I found them to be a less likable bunch of people as a whole as compared to the Hawks film.

You felt that after the end of the 1951 film the military men, scientists, and Scotty the journalist would try to at least stay in touch as they all eventually would go their separate ways as life takes us.

Carpenter's crew, had they all survived that is, would have run for the door. Once the experience was over they would not ever attempt to remain in touch. In fact, if one of them did reach out to form a reunion, you had the feeling the others would not even R.S.V.P.

Still, I truly love both films. Always fun to watch on a wintry day.
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Bud Brewster
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2020 4:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

________________________________

Wow, you guys sure made up for lost time! Thank you, one and all! Very Happy

You've all provided so much fabulous feedback that I could spend the next week picking out individual comments and quoting them, then adding my replies.

In fact, I promise to do exactly that! Cool

I won't make one gargantuan reply with a dozen quotes-with-replies. Instead, I'll take my time and address your magnificent comments a few at a time.

And I'm betting you guys will do that do that too! Hot damn, this thread is a gold mine of great discussions!

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Gord Green
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2020 5:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Pow wrote:
In the Hawks film the military and the scientist (with the exception of the head scientist Dr.Carrington) all come together to defeat a common foe.

There is a fellowship among the group, along with their joshing one another you know they have one another's backs. A real sense of we're in this together. Idealized perhaps as to what humans might really do if faced with such a situation, but nonetheless comforting.

You really rooted for them all.

Carpenter's group are cynical. They do at times work together but underneath there is the sense of every man for himself. They were more distant emotionally from one another even before the creature arrives.

People performing their jobs with no real attachment to one another. If you needed help for something they might help you, but they'd be annoyed at having to step out of their insular comfort zone.

I found them to be a less likable bunch of people as a whole as compared to the Hawks film.

I think that points out the difference between the "Pull together" WW2 generation and the jaded "Me, me, me!" Generation of their children.
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2020 5:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

________________________________

You've both nailed it perfectly. The Optimist Fifties vs the Pessimistic Vietnam Era Sixties, and beyond.

We lost our ability to be hopeful. Will we ever got get the optimism back?

I'll be optimistic and say . . . maybe. Rolling Eyes

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Krel
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2020 8:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Pow wrote:
In the Hawks film the military and the scientist (with the exception of the head scientist Dr.Carrington) all come together to defeat a common foe.

It should be noted that the movie gave Dr. Carrington an out, in that it was stated that he was sleep deprived, and as such not thinking clearly.

David.
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 15, 2020 11:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Krel wrote:
It should be noted that the movie gave Dr. Carrington an out, in that it was stated that he was sleep deprived, and as such not thinking clearly.

David.

I actually defend most of Carrington's actions as being wise and noble. He certainly understood the threat the alien posed, but he (like all of the other scientists) hoped desperately that mankind could benefit from the knowledge which could be learned from the alien. He understood that even if some tragic sacrifices had to be made, it would be worth it for the sake of our civilization.

And he put his own life on line to prove the strength of his convictions. I don't think he would have done things very differently even if he hadn't neglected getting a proper amount of sleep.

But I'm not disagreeing with Krel's assertion. Carrington's last desperate act to communicate with the alien probably was caused in large part by sleep deprivation.

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