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The Thing – Review

The Thing – Review

Feb 16, 2011

reviewed by hallo
directed by John Carpenter, 1982
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Arguably never in the history of cinema has a film been so universally hated upon its release at the box office only to be near universally loved upon its home video release; that is the story of John Carpenter’s 1982 The Thing.  The movie is based very loosely on the 1951 Howard Hawks film The Thing from Another World, which was in turn based on the novella “Who Goes There” by John W. Campbell Jr.  It is an apocalyptic story concerning an assimilating extraterrestrial parasite that wreaks havoc on an Antarctic research station and, like  other “virus” related movies, ultimately asks the question, “what would happen if this creature reached civilization?”  One researcher at the Antarctic station, Dr. Blair (portrayed brilliantly by Wilford Brimley), discovers the answer to that fateful question which leads him to the brink of insanity.  Thus, the movie once again leads us into that wonderful world of horror where the humans are as much of a threat as the creature.

After discovering the charred remains of a Norwegian research facility, some of the American researches stumble across a frozen creature that seems to have partially human features.  They decide to bring the creature back to the American base for research, and when the thawing out process begins, so does the carnage.  Soon, the team realizes that this creature can perfectly assimilate any living organism it touches.  The hunt is on both for the creature itself and to discover who among the team has already been infected.  This is done by a simple blood test that yields one of the most suspenseful and pulse-pounding scenes of the film.  The movie concludes with a rather pessimistic ending, leaving the viewer to wonder if the “thing” has truly been destroyed.

Apart from Halloween, The Thing is John Carpenter’s best film to date.  The movie features an all male cast with Kurt Russell playing the lead character R.J. MacReady, a character that seemed to perfectly fit the personality of Russell.  The near claustrophobic nature of the Antarctic research facility is the ideal backdrop for the horror of the “thing” and the score provided by Ennio Morricone adds the perfect ambiance for the frozen, snowed over terrain (incidentally, this is one of the few films Carpenter did not score himself, although the music sounds exactly like something Carpenter would have written).  But it is the creature effects provided by Rob Bottin that sets the film apart as truly special.  For something as elaborate as these creature scenes, and there are many of them, one would typically think that a 1982 film would dramatically show its age.  Not so.  The effects stand up to today’s standards even in the realm of a 21st century digital universe, the only possible exception being the Blair creature at the very end of the film that was created using stop-motion animation.

What is most interesting about The Thing is the nature of assimilation.  Since the creature perfectly mimics those who it is in contact with, the team must discern between normal, human emotions and “weird” actions that could point to infection.  As they discover, the difference between the human and the infected is not always easy to determine.  What ensues, then, is an increasing level of distrust among the group which ultimately leads to the great universal downfall of all civilizations:  an interest only in self.  With those sub-themes firmly in place, combined with brilliant creature effects and a beautiful shot film, The Thing is a movie for the ages.

Its legacy continues to grow.  In 2007, Universal Studio’s Halloween event called Halloween Horror Nights featured a haunted house called “The Thing:  Assimilation” (unfortunately it was not very good).  Video games have been created based of Carpenter’s film.  A comic book series was adapted and it has been released that a 2011 prequel is in the works.  The special edition DVD is one of the very best out there, the audio commentary by John Carpenter and Kurt Russell is simply priceless.

The Thing by John Carpenter probably goes on my top ten horror list of all time.  I unreservedly recommend it.

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One comment

  1. I fine review, although your summary of the beginning sounds a bit more like a mishmash of the original story that the actual move. The movie starts with the Norwegians chasing a sled-dog across the ice in a helicopter, which ends up crashing.
    The actual insight on the discover of the thing itself comes over time, with the American research team tracking back to the Norwegian base, then discovering the alien already in their midst.
    Otherwise a fine review. Keep it up!

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