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The Thing
3 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
John Carpenter

Written By:
Bill Lancaster

Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, T.K. Carter, Richard Masur, Keith David, Richard Dysart, David Clennon, Donald Moffat, Thomas G. Waites, Charles Hallahan, Norbert Weisser, Larry J. Franco, Nate Irwin

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The Thing (1982)
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Movie Review by Ben
March 8th, 2009

Many of you probably know the story behind "John Carpenter's The Thing;" It came out in the summer of 1982, two weeks after Steven Spielberg's "E.T," and while the alien from that movie was warm and cuddly, the one in Carpenter's movie was cold, ugly, and utterly vicious. As a result, the movie was unceremoniously smashed by both critics and fans alike, and they never tried to hide their disgust towards Carpenter for what they saw as pornography of movie violence. In all fairness though, the movie was released at the wrong time of the year. To release this movie during what Carpenter had called the "summer of love" opposite not just "E.T.," but also "Star Trek II" and "Tron" among other movies was a big mistake on the part of Universal Pictures, and they would have had more luck with it had it been released during the winter instead.

Years later however, "The Thing," like many of John Carpenter's movies ("Big Trouble In Little China" is another perfect example) ended up finding the audience it deserved through home video and later DVD. Perhaps it was ahead of its time, but it is now considered (and rightly so) one of the best horror and sci-fi movies ever made, and it is easily the best horror remake in a sea of horrendously crappy ones. I think plays better today than it did when first released, and it is still utterly terrifying 25 years or so after its initial release.

Unlike the original Howard Hawks version of "The Thing," Carpenter's movie hews much closer to the short story it was based on called "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell, Jr. The movie takes place at an American scientific research outpost in Antarctica, perhaps the coldest place to be on the entire planet. We are introduced to a bunch of men who are studying the surrounding area, and they look bored and listless as they pass the days smoking, drinking scotch, watching "Let's Make A Deal" reruns, and playing ping pong. Then they are met by a wolf that is being shot at by a Norwegian for no discernable reason. This later leads to events that make them realize that they have encountered an alien of unknown origin that has been unearthed from the ice after thousands and thousands of years. It then proceeds to imitate every creature it comes in contact with, however imperfectly. Soon, they come to realize that anyone of them could be the thing, and they have to destroy it before it reaches the civilization and infects all living things on this planet.

The premise of this movie is genius because it allows for an unending escalation of tension and suspense throughout. Like the characters, you have no idea who to trust and of who is the thing. The paranoia that closes in on these characters puts them in an airtight cage that gets smaller and smaller as it heads to its inevitable climax. There are no women to be found in this movie which eliminates any sexual tension that might have added an unnecessary element to the movie. Many say that this makes the movie sexist, but that's a ridiculous charge. There's no hatred of women to be found here, unless you count how Kurt Russell's character treats the Chess Wizard computer with a female voice.

This movie also came out when the whole world was starting to become aware of the AIDS virus. The idea of any sort of virus infecting us completely and rearranging our body to the point may have seemed unreal to us back then. But today, it is a reality that is more horrifying than ever, and it still presents itself with no real cure. This makes "The Thing" all the more scarier to take in when watching it now. The scene where Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley) observes a computer image of the virus infecting a human host is one of the movie's scariest moments, and seems all too real a possibility when watching it today. The only thing truly dated about that scene is that the computer graphics look like they are from an old Atari game, but it doesn't change the frightening concept that it is. Other movies like "Outbreak" have used imaging like this, and it is still an incredibly effective way of conveying the danger of an uncontrollable disease.

"The Thing" also marks one of several collaborations between director John Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell who started working together on the TV movie "Elvis." After all these years of being a movie star, Kurt can still make you believe that he is a down to earth guy like the rest of us, and his role as helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady is one of his most underrated. You never get the feeling that Kurt is acting in this film. Instead, Kurt inhabits the character he plays, and you follow him every step of the way without any doubt of who the hero (or in this case, the antihero) is.

In the past, we have been exposed to Mr. Brimley through countless oatmeal commercials and roles as the grandfather we had or wished we had in our lives. But his role in "The Thing" offered him one of the few opportunities he had to go completely against type. As Dr. Blair, Wilford goes from curious to utterly horrified by what this unknown creature can do, and he ends up wreaking havoc in a way that you would never see in any oatmeal commercial (except maybe for the ones with not enough fiber).

But c'mon! Let's talk about who the real star of "John Carpenter's The Thing" really is, other than the director himself. That would be Mr. Rob Bottin who designed the movie's horrifically brilliant special effects and makeup designs. Long before the advance of computer technology and CGI, Rob had to make all these designs from scratch, and what he came up with is now considered a benchmark in the field of special makeup effects. This is not your typical slasher movie where the murders are bloody but not altogether creative. The thing mimics everything it touches, and this must have been a pure inspiration for Bottin to let his imagination run amuck with what he could come up with. You never know what's coming next in this film, and that makes it even scarier than it already is.

I also imagine that a big complaint people have about "The Thing" is that we never learn much about the alien or where it came from. Basically, we know it's from outer space (the spaceship crashing on earth during the opening credits pretty much spells that out), that imitates whatever it comes in contact with, and that it deals with the cold better than any of these men do. Here's the thing, do we really need to know everything about this creature? Maybe not knowing is more terrifying than knowing. It leaves a lot of things to the viewer's imagination, and I love that because it leaves open so many possibilities for how this horrific situation is going to play out. Your worst fears come out of your unconsciousness, and you find yourself experiencing the movie more than watching it.

I still think that this movie is really John Carpenter's masterpiece, even over the classic "Halloween." With this movie, he proves to be one of the true masters of horror and suspense as he endlessly generates unbearable tension throughout the movie's running time. Just when you think the movie has peaked, you quickly realize that it has not. Carpenter's goal here is not just to make us jump out of our seats (he does get some serious ones in though), but to make us feel the terrifying isolation and complete lack of trust that these scientists cannot escape from. What the hell would we have done in that situation?

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Mar 9, 2009 11:47 AM
also wrote a review of The Thing
Critics and fans alike still don't understand the lightning in this bottle. There can never be a scarier creature to feature and it was flawlessly executed to boot.

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