Thursday, August 19, 2010

#13. The Thing (1982)


Directed By: John Carpenter

Starring: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David




Tag line: "Man is The Warmest Place to Hide"

Trivia:  Donald Pleasence was the original choice for the character of Blair, but was unable to perform the role due to a scheduling conflict








More a re-telling of John W. Campbell’s short story, Who Goes There, than a remake of the 1951 Howard Hawks-produced film, John Carpenter's The Thing whisks us away to Antarctica, where twelve strung-out Americans are manning a Research Station, preparing for the hard winter ahead. The preparations are temporarily interrupted by the arrival of a stray dog, which, as they'll soon discover, is really an alien creature in the “shape” of a dog. Helicopter pilot MacReady (Kurt Russell) destroys the alien with a flamethrower, but this doesn't bring an end to their troubles. The creature, able to take on the appearance of any living being it comes into contact with, may have ‘infected’ other members of the crew, meaning some of the twelve might not be what they appear. With such a threat hanging over them, hostilities rise and suspicions mount, but to survive the ordeal, these men must band together and locate the traitor (or traitors) among them. Failure to do so will result in both their own demise, and the possible destruction of all mankind. 

John Carpenter’s The Thing is one hell of a monster movie.  For one, the monster itself, in all its manifestations, has become an icon of the horror genre. The first time we see the creature in its true form, its changing from a dog into a bloody mess of limbs and tentacles right before our eyes.  This gives us a taste of just how creepy this intruder can be, yet it’s only the beginning.  Once it starts mimicking members of the crew, the creature becomes even more terrifying, raising the tension to a nearly unbearable level. 

But then tension seems to be a way of life for these twelve men, existing in the camp well before the danger ever got there. Carpenter gives shape to his characters early on, leaving us with the distinct impression we’re watching a dozen guys ready to jump at each others throats. Our introduction to Kurt Russell’s MacReady has him playing a video chess game against the computer, a game he eventually loses. Far from taking his defeat gracefully, MacReady pours his drink into the computer's CPU. Discipline among the men had all but broken down by the time the monster arrives; Nauls (T.K. Carter) plays his music way too loud, and Palmer (David Clennon) smokes pot right out in the open. The combination of harsh weather and isolation has already taken its toll on these men. Throwing an alien into the mix only intensifies the situation. Add the fact that any one of them might also be that alien, and you have a time bomb set to blow any second.









13 comments:

Fred said...

You need to watch the original. One of my all time favorites.

Joel G. Robertson said...

The original is a classic, but I'm definitely partial to the Carpenter remake. Actually, it's one of the few remakes I prefer to the original. I'm sure this has a lot to do with the fact that I grew up with this one. But I agree with Dave's review, I think it's also that the only thing that could break the tension is a flame thrower... Great movie and a great review!

Dave Becker said...

Joel: Thanks for commenting, and thanks for the kind words. I appreciate it.

I also prefer Carpenter's version, though admittedly it's been years since I've seen the original. But then they're very different films. I remember reading that Carpenter didn't feel he was remaking the 50's classic so much as more closely interpreting the original short story. Of course, Carpenter was definitely a fan of the original himself (he uses clips from the film in HALLOWEEN), which is obviously what led him to the material in the first place.

And yes...the flame-thrower was a nice way to relieve a little tension!

Ian said...

I recently rewatched the original THING & have a hard time comparing the two. I think they're both great, but they tell different stories in different ways.

My initial reaction to Carpenter's THING was a bit negative -- not because it was a remake but because it was more overt & gory than I'd grown accustomed to Carpenter's films being. HALLOWEEN & THE FOG all implied more than they showed, so it was a bit of a surprise to have so much be in your face!

Dave Becker said...

Ian: There is definitely a difference between each version of THE THING (Carpenter wanted to make a film more faithful to the short story), so you're right in that they do tell distinctly different stories.

THE THING was certainly, as you said, in your face, but that's one of the things I really liked about it. This is a very rough film, not just for Carpenter, but for the time period as well, yet it told a great story, and I get wrapped up in it every time I watch THE THING. So much so, in fact, that the violence doesn't bother me; it just feels like a natural extension of the story.

Ian said...

In & of itself I had no problem with the gore. By that time I'd already seen & loved Romero's first two DEAD movies, and I'm pretty sure I was subscribing to Fangoria.

I had just gotten used to Carpenter being more subtle & implied, but as a kid I think I got confused when directors did new things!

Dave Becker said...

Ian: Yeah, if you were familiar with Romero's DEAD films to that point, then you'd certainly seen worse! And it was a deviation of sorts for Carpenter stylistically, so I do understand where you're coming from.

AdamMoody said...

I am one of the few people who is not a fan of this. I didn't think it was bad, but it sure did have flaws and I also, astonishingly, was not impressed by the gross-out visuals. Great review though.

Dave B. said...

Adam: Personally, I love the movie, but I have met others who prefer the original 50's film to this version. Either way, I appreciate your stopping by to post your opinion, and thanks for the kind words.

Jill Durocher said...

The monster/creature special effects are the highlight of this film. Truly grotesque and a pure delight. Enjoyed Kurt Russell in bad ass mode. Liked this one more than I thought I would. Wish the plot hadn't been so "stereotypical horror" with people wandering off alone for no good reason.

Dave B. said...

@Jill: Sorry for the late reply! Yeah, the effects are incredible, but i also liked the suspense and tension generated as the character started turning on one another. Glad to hear you liked it!

Juan Esparza said...

One of the best movies of all time (not just horror), and the greatest isolation movie (along with The Shining). What else could be said about The Thing that hasn't been said before?

James Robert Smith said...

Easily one of my favorite movies. The bonus is that it's a really good adaptation of the John W. Campbell short story "Who Goes There?". The original only superficially uses the plot of Campbell's story, whereas Carpenter's film sticks to it.

When the film first appeared I liked it, but not all that much. It was only upon later viewings that I realized what a great film it is. Possibly Carpenter's best, but I have to admit to a great admiration of Starman.

The later film...the one that's a kind of prequel...awful.