This past week was exactly 50 years since the first American landed on the moon. There was a lot of media coverage about it, about how from each opposite perspective the moon and the earth could be clearly seen as just two marbles floating through the cold darkness of space, about how Grumman Aerospace, with its facilities in Bethpage and Riverhead, built the moon lander, about how when our first astronaut stepped off the metal ladder and onto the Moon’s sandy surface, he said, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Not mentioned, however, was a report of a recent discovery on the moon that could have disastrous consequences for mankind.
Scientists at NASA and the University of Baylor in Texas have reported that the moon has an increased pull of gravity at its south pole. The area is in a place called the Aitken basin, a circular crater with a diameter of more than 1,000 miles.
Something metallic is under there. We’ve got all sorts of little vehicles that scoot around on the surface, measuring things, as you know. And the belief is that something very large—perhaps an asteroid or something else metal—must have hit the moon a few billion years ago and burrowed itself into this crater, with dust and ice eventually covering it over so that nobody until today has noticed it.
Well, I’ve seen this movie. It came to the Edwards Theatre in East Hampton when I was about 14 years old and scared the hell out us. The trouble started because the scientists at this remote base at the Earth’s North Pole—we hadn’t been to the moon yet—couldn’t leave well enough alone. Exploring around outside their Quonset huts in their awkward white-canvas suits with the flashlights strapped to their foreheads just above their snow goggles, they come across a huge dark shadow just under the ice. One of them comments that the shadow seems to be in the shape of one of those fake flying saucers crazy people talk about. They pace off the shadow, measuring it. It’s about the size of a football field. They dig a little with shovels, but that’s not getting them very far very fast.
They trudge back to the communications hut—there’s an aerial attached to a pole outside—to report this to their base at Thule by short-wave radio. They make initial contact, but then, suddenly, the radio issues only a buzz of static. Did any message get through? Hello? Base to Thule, hello? There doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with the short-wave. The buzz seems to be coming from some other broadcast device the technician operating it says. But how could that be? There’s nobody here on the ice for more than a thousand miles.
Then night falls, and the scientists—there’s eight of them, seven handsome men and one smart, savvy woman—bring out big floodlights to shine down into the ice to keep whatever is there under surveillance while they all, except for one who agrees to sit in a truck with the motor running keeping watch, return to the barracks hut to go to sleep for the night. Now, snow begins to fall, the flakes illuminated in the glare of the lights.
Big mistake, going to sleep and leaving the lights on.
During the night, the floodlights begin to melt the ice. We see trickles of cold water flowing across the ice. Then, the ice cracks to reveal the silvery metal outside of the ship, way down below, where there is a door. The crack widens and the ice pulls away. Then the door slowly creaks as it begins to open. There is a close-up of the edge of this door. A puff of steam billows out. Then a big, hairy green hand appears in the opening and reaches around from the inside, gripping the door tight on the outside and pushing it open further. The hand’s fingernails are long and filthy. Its knuckles are enlarged with some sort of alien arthritis. A deep grunting sound echoes from within the ship.
And then, in a shower of sparks, all the floodlights go out, the volunteer in the truck awakens with a start, and suddenly, in the seat next to me in the theater, my best friend’s 10-year-old younger brother, Davey, moans, leaps up and runs as fast as he can up the aisle to the lobby. We find him up there at the end of the movie, hiding in the theater manager’s office.
The movie was The Thing. The original, in black-and-white, circa 1955.