This is actually my second review of this movie. The first one didn’t do it justice, The Thing being one of my favorite movies. I first saw it when I was 12 or 13 and it left a lasting impression. Since then, I have watched it at least fifty times and it’s always ready in my Best Movies folder. Something just resonated with me strongly and I can’t quite explain it. With Predator, it was easy, but with The Thing it is extremely difficult. Is this the reason I love movies with the snowy setting, closed environment and strange monsters? It is time to answer those questions. So, shall we begin?
Everything is connected. The Thing  is movie that’s actually based on two things, first one being the John W. Campbell, Jr.’s novella Who Goes There? and the second one is the 1954 movie The Thing from Another World. Carpenter stayed focused on the novella. John W. Campbell was a science fiction writer and editor of Astounding Science Fiction magazine. He shaped the modern science fiction and here’s what Isaac Asimov called Campbell: “the most powerful force in science fiction ever, and for the first ten years of his editorship he dominated the field completely”. You might think that with a story like that you just can’t miss, but as we have seen over the years things like that happen all the time. Carpenter also cited H. P. Lovecraft as an influence, although his usual motive of technology and research gone awry is somewhat missing here. I think it’s the lovecraftian atmosphere that made it in, the sense of impending doom.
Released same year as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (premiered six weeks earlier) and Blade Runner (fucking same day premiere), it did poorly on the box offices. 1982 was a great year for science fiction movies: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Tron were released that year and also became cult classics. As you probably know, The Thing became one of the most famous horror and science fiction movies, known throughout the world. Stunning visual effects were effective but they also proved to be a little too much for the puritan critiques. Shocked by the stuff from nightmares and under emotional stress, they lashed out calling the movie “a wretched excess”
Directed by John Carpenter, The Thing was released one year after Escape from New York and four years after Halloween. However, Carpenter’s first two movies Dark Star and Assault on Precinct 13, also helped him perfect two motives used heavily in this movie: strange aliens and closed environment tension. Practical special effects still look haunting and scary. Rob Bottin was only 22 when he was put in charge of special effects and he fucking nailed it. He actually worked so hard on the movie that he ended up in hospital with a severe case of exhaustion. The scenes are iconic by now and The Thing  did a wonderful job remembering the skill and vision of this very talented man. Speaking of men, the only female presence in the film is the voice of a chess computer and you already know how that went. Shot in freezing temperatures on six frozen sound stages in Los Angeles and northern British Columbia, you can feel the frostbite through the screen.
Kurt Russel and Carpenter had already worked on Escape from New York, so Kurt was a logical choice for a lead role. His rugged exterior and attitude were a perfect fit for a remote research station in Antartica. The crew feels like one of those posse’s in western movies, experienced and confident in their skills. This is where that sweet, sweet script comes into play. All of the character’s actions seemed realistic and convincing, like something you or me would do. This setup sucks you into the movie and makes the whole thing much more impactful, although its story is about aliens and filled with carnage. Childs, Nauls, Dr Blair and the rest of the characters were carefully crafted and actors fleshed them out so good, that you never get the feeling that they are actually acting. Right from that opening scene, you were filled with this uneasiness, you knew that you were alone and that there’s no police or military to help you out.
Chilling soundtrack composed by Ennio Moricone was otherworldly. That heavy and menacing bass guitar made the earth tremble, announcing that something horrible and wonderful is about to happen. To this day every time I hear that bass line, I think of this movie. And we haven’t even gotten to the story yet. A story that’s flowing like a river, adapting and pushing everything forward. The rumor is that the Carpenter was sold on the script when he first read about the blood test. Fuck me, I was sold too! Not to mention the flame thrower. Confronted with such a overpowering opponent and stuck in a flimsy station in the middle of nowhere, the tension just mounts and mounts. So, on top the natural environment you also have the creatures, coworkers who might be infected and finally the fate of all humanity if this thing gets to populated areas. With stakes this high, you don’t need cheap gimmicks, you just let the story go where it takes you.
People often compare The Thing to Ridley Scott’s Alien and the two movies are similar, what with the crew stuck in closed environment with creatures chasing them and all. However, The Thing hits closer to home with a familiar setting and storyline that’s much more fleshed out than in the original Alien. There’s also another aspect that made this movie what it is today. It’s setting is pretty much timeless, I mean research stations haven’t changed much, it’s not like we invested into science and gave funding for research purposes, so it could be happening even today and it wouldn’t be much different. Secondly, there are only a few elements that you can interact with. There are no fancy weapons, cars, radios, planes, special forces, apps or other gimmicks. Basicaly, most of humanity’s progress has been erased. In the end it all boils down to our original predicament: Humans trying to survive in hostile environment and fight off predators, the stuff we have been doing even before we were humans. This motive is especially accentuated in this modern and complex world we live in. Here, most of the people cannot identify the elements you can interact with and while the beasts are tamed now, man have became much fiercer beasts than our ancestors could have ever imagined. This is why it feels almost educational to watch this movie, to try and see what people would do in certain situations without the clutter of everything modern.
There a lot of things that still fascinate me so I will try to update this review regularly, with new insights. Cheers and watch out for those stray dogs…
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, David Clennon, T.K. Carter
Fun Facts: This movie has become part of the culture in Antarctica. It is a long standing tradition in all British Antarctic research stations to watch The Thing as part of their Midwinter feast and celebration held every June 21.