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Botanicult Fiction: The Thing From Another World

June 1, 2020

By Dr. David Galbraith, Head of Science, Royal Botanical Gardens

The classical era of science fiction films began long before 1977’s Star Wars. Several wonderful films were produced in the 1950s that reflected cold-war era tensions and fears. One, The Thing From Another World (1951), gave us a unique antagonist: an aggressive, sentient alien plant played by actor James Arness. The RKO film was based on a 1938 novella by Joseph W. Campbell, Jr. entitled Who Goes There?

The plot is simple. Researchers from an Arctic base discovered a crashed flying saucer entombed in ice. Exploring the alien ship they found a frozen humanoid figure. After the alien popsicle was brought back to the base and thawed out, it revived and of course ran amok. It turned out to be a plant, much to the alarm of the scientists, and not just any intelligent alien plant with a chip (and thorns) on his shoulder. This one needed human blood to feed its offspring! One by one the people on the base were knocked off until a trap was set that killed The Thing.

This film is now considered one of the best of 1951 and did well at the box office. It spawned several remakes and imitations over time. It also left us with two indelible quotes spoken by character Ned “Scotty” Scott, a journalist: “An intellectual carrot. The mind boggles.” and “Watch the skies, everywhere, keep looking! Keep watching the skies!”

The photo is a studio image of actor James Arness in makeup as “The Thing.” Arness (1923-2011) was better known later in his career as an actor in westerns and dramas.

Botanicult Fiction is an affectionate review of plants in pop culture viewed through the lens of plant nerds and curated for your reading or viewing pleasure during this challenging time of self isolation