The Thing: Collector’s Edition
John Carpenter, Director
Review by Wayne C. Rogers
I picked up a fairly new copy of the DVD for John Carpenter’s The Thing: Collector’s Edition, which was released in 2004, last week for a couple of bucks. The movie itself came out on June 25th, 1982. Blade Runner with Harrison Ford came out on the same day, plus E.T. the Extraterrestrial had been released two weeks earlier in June of ’82.
I’d already seen E.T. that summer and loved it.
On the 25th, I went to see Blade Runner because Harrison Ford was in it. I’d been a really big fan of his since Raiders of the Lost Ark. Blade Runner, with its unbelievable special effects, production design, acting, and Ridley Scott’s direction, literally blew me right out of the seat. It was a movie I immediately wanted to see a second time because I knew I’d missed a lot. It didn’t hurt that I’d instantly developed a crush of Sean Young, Daryl Hannah, and Joanna Cassidy, all of which played extremely strong female characters in the film.
Instead of watching Blade Runner a second time that day, I slipped over to the next theater in the complex and saw The Thing. I’m also a big horror geek and wanted to see what John Carpenter was able to do with the movie. I’d already read John W. Campbell’s short story, “Who Goes There,” several years before and had also seen the original 1951 movie, The Thing From Another World that was directed by Howard Hawks and starred James Arness as the creature. For all of you who don’t know, James Arness became famous for his role as Marshal Matt Dillon in the television series, Gunsmoke, which ran for twenty years.
John Carpenter’s The Thing also blew me out of my seat. The creature special effects were awesome and the actors had me believing I was right there with them at the Antarctic research station, trapped in a snow blizzard with the Thing coming after my ass.
This is what I did after the movie was over.
I went out front to the ticket counter and bought me a ticket to see the next showing of The Thing. I couldn’t wait till the next weekend. That’s how impressed I was with the film. After I’d watched it a second time, I left the building and walked out to my car, shaking my head because I knew it wouldn’t do good at the Box Office with E.T. and Blade Runner showing right at the same time. Maybe it would’ve had a better chance in August or September, but not then. I will tell you this, quality horror beat out my raging hormones and strong desire to see the three ladies in Blade Runner once again. Of course, I finally did see Blade Runner for a second time a few weeks later, but I also saw The Thing two more times in July for a total of four viewings.
It should also be noted that Poltergeist came out that year, too. This was certainly a fantastic year for great films in the horror and science fiction genres … films that would become classics in their own right.
Anyway, when I purchased the DVD I hadn’t seen the movie since it had been out in the VHS format, which was at least fifteen years. I saw that this particular edition of the film had an 80-minute behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of the movie, and I definitely wanted to see that. That’s what caused me to buy it on DVD.
For those of you who don’t know the movie, it’s about a group of American scientists and a helicopter pilot who find themselves stranded at an Antarctic research station during a snow storm. What creates the tension for this movie is that a very aggressive alien is also at the station with them. The alien and its space craft were discovered by a Norwegian station several miles away. The alien wiped out everybody there, except for two men who chased it in the form of a dog across the snow to the American station. The two Norwegians die, and then the Americans take the animal in, not knowing a pissed off alien is inside of it.
I mean the alien was frozen in the snow for like 70,000 years, so it was a little cranky when the Norwegians thawed it out.
The alien is a shape changer and can take any form it desires whether it be a dog or a human being. So, it doesn’t take long before the scientists realize the alien is amongst them. They just don’t know who’s real or who’s an alien. In other words, they don’t know who to trust. The film is therefore filled with a strong sense of claustrophobia and distrust, not to mention violence when the alien goes after someone. To add to the utter sense of isolation is a great musical score by Ennio Morricone that’s both haunting in nature and adds to the sense of loneliness at the research station.
Besides Kurt Russell who plays the helicopter pilot, MacReady, John Carpenter was able to assemble a strong cast of secondary actors who brought their superb skills to the set and delivered performances that were Oscar worthy. You have Wilford Brimley (before he grew his white mustache) as Blair, Keith David (Platoon, Marked For Death, Pitch Black) as Childs, Donald Moffat as Garry, Richard Masur as Clark, and Charles Hallahan as Norris, whose head rips off during the movie, falls to the floor, develops crab-like legs, and then scuttles hurryingly out of the room, hoping to escape the flame thrower.
The great Stan Winston did the creature/dog special effects as a favor to Robb Bottin (The Howling, The Fog and Robocop), who was busy doing the special effects for the rest of the movie. In many ways, this was Robb’s picture because without his special effects, it would’ve been just a good film, instead of a great one. His creatures (remember, this was pre-CGI) took special effects to the next level with their awe-inspiring believability and astounding gruesomeness.
Though a lot of the movie was filmed on sound stages with the temperature turned down, much was also filmed in Stewart, British Columbia because of the snow there. Though it was a grueling shoot, the actors loved it and felt it made their character’s reactions more real to the audience.
The Thing was John Carpenter’s first big studio project, and everyone was expecting great things from it at the Box Office. When it didn’t happen, it was a letdown for all the people involved as they tried to figure out what went wrong. Of course, the movie has become a classic and has since sold a ton of DVDs to its legion of fans.
I need to point out that the screenplay was written by Bill Lancaster, who was the son of Burt Lancaster, and who had written The Bad News Bears. He gave the film its foundation, and then it was up to the cast and crew to bring the movie to life.
The Collector’s Edition of this DVD has a great documentary that’s nearly an hour-and-a-half long and tells you everything you need to know about the making of the movie and about its after affects. There’s also a look at the production design, some other special effects, and trailers.
This is a great horror movie that still holds up well after thirty years with special effects that will knock you right out of your little white cotton bobby socks. It’s good that the movie has finally found its audience and the deserved recognition for such fine directing, acting and mind-blowing special effects. The Thing is a true classic in every sense of the word. Highly recommended!