You are probably aware that the science fiction movie classic you know as “Blade Runner” was based on a short story by Philip K. Dick with the infinitely more imaginative title “Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep?” You might also know that movie execs decided that Dick’s title “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” was too literate for projected fans of the movie they released as “Total Recall.” Less well known, in part because the original title was not as whimsical perhaps, is that these science fiction movie classics are also based on literary works.
The greatest science fiction movie ever made is John Carpenter’s brilliant study of the effects of rampant consumerism on human psyche. “They Live” seems particularly well suited for the medium of film so it may come as a bit of a surprise to discover the original source material was a short story written by Ray Nelson way back in 1963. Nelson was more concerned about the hypnotic power of the media and how it could be used to manipulate the public than he was specifically about advertising and consumerism, but much of the central thrust of Carpenter’s film is right there in the short story including a protagonist named Nada and the imperative for citizens to Obey.
John Carpenter’s version of “The Thing” is much more faithful to the original literary inspiration than the classic 1950s monster movie that it remade. “Who Goes There” by John Campbell, Jr. using the pen name Don A. Stuart will immediately seem familiar to those who have seen either version of “The Thing.” You’ve got a scientific expedition in Antarctica who come upon a alien vessel buried deep beneath the ice. In the original film, the alien who wreaks havoc upon the scientists is little more than a lumbering doof who can easily overpower the weaker earthlings. Carpenter wisely understood that the story’s shapeshifting alien who could assume the memories and personality as well as the outward appearance of anybody was a much more frightening concept. In fact, the decision by the original filmmakers to ignore facet of the alien which seems ripe for exploitation during the McCarthyist paranoia of the 1950s is one of the more inexplicable choices ever made in the entire history of cinematic adaptations of literature.
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Another case of one story producing two different films. In this case, however, the original is clearly the superior adaptation. Both versions of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” are based on a 1940 story written by Harry Bates titled “Farewell to the Master.” In case you are wondering, yes, Klaatu is the name of the alien visitor beloved by science fiction movies for decades.