Film Fridays is a project initiated by Sarah and I. See previous posts for a longer preamble!
We would be delighted if you would join us! We don’t necessarily want to talk about the nerdy technical details but more about why these films speak to us as individuals, why they have a place in out hearts, and any personal memories they evoke.
‘The Thing’ (1982)
The Trailer is on youtube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ftmr17M-a4
This sc-fi/horror is about as far as you can get from my recent ‘comfort food’ movies!
Definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, I know. I have mentioned my love of John Carpenter’s movies many times and this I consider to be his masterpiece, which is ironic as it took some persuasion for Carpenter to take the job on. He also now considers it his best film.
The story is set in a US antarctic research base and begins with the (all-male) residents saving the life of a sled dog being chased and shot at by two men in a helicopter. It transpires that the dog is not what it seems. A trip to the origin of the helicopter – a neighbouring Norwegian base – shows the residents all dead, some seeming badly mutated, and evidence that they had retrieved something buried in the ice.
It turns out the dog was actually hosting an alien parasite that can take over the body of any living thing it comes into contact with – by now any of the crew could be similarly infected and waiting for the chance to infect their colleagues and then take the infection to civilisation when they go home at the end of their tour….
There are a number of reasons to admire this movie:
The performances are very convincing, with Kurt Russell turning in an unusually restrained (and better for it) lead performance as Macready. At this point I insert my minor criticism – unlike the not-dissimilar ‘Alien’ these characters largely seem undeveloped and hard to sympathise with. The only female presence is a computer voice (played by Adrienne Barbeau, who starred with Russell in Carpenter’s ‘Escape from New York’ and was the lead actor in Carpenter’s ‘The Fog’.
The direction and cinematography are astounding. The palpable atmosphere of dread persists no matter how many times I watch this film.
The terrific score by Ennio Morricone – a rare occasion of Carpenter not scoring his own movie – though the synth-based Morricone score is very much in Carpenter’s style.
But most of all it is Rob Bottin’s stupendous visual effects (all done ‘practically’ on set, not CGI) that are the stand out. Only 21 at the time, Bottin poured everything he had into this movie, even damaging his health with the workload. On release the brilliance of the effects was recognised but they were TOO good for audiences and critics at the time, who were quite repulsed. It is testament to Rob Bottin that the effects are still peerless 40 years later.
The story itself was not new – originating as John W Campbell’s 1938 novella ‘Who Goes There?’, which had had a more loose adaptation in 1951 as ‘The Thing from Another World’. This is also well worth watching. One of Carpenter’s reasons for his reluctance to make his version was his admiration for the 1951 film. Eventually he acknowledged that the technology in 1951 only allowed the alien to be portrayed as humanoid, not the shape-shifter of the original novella, and that perhaps it was time to adapt the story more closely.
The shoot itself was famously gruelling. Location shooting was done on a glacier in Alaska where the weather caused severe difficulties, and interiors were shot on a refridgerated sound stage which was uncomfortable for all concerned.
The reception on the release of the movie is, sadly, also legendary. It did not do well at the box office, with the very harsh critical reception to the ultra-realistic effects not helping. The timing was very poor – it was competing with the much more upbeat and optimistic ‘alien visitation’ tale ‘E.T.’ It did, however, build up a huge cult following on home-video later.
Interestingly it was released the same day as ‘Blade Runner’ which was also poorly received. Both these movies have had a huge retrospective reappraisal and are now regarded as the pinnacle of their genres and of their director’s careers. Audiences were just not ready for them in 1982!
2011 saw the release of a ‘prequel’ (also called ‘The Thing’) which explored the events at the Norwegian base and the ending finishes exactly where the 1982 film starts. The makers were huge fans of the original and wanted to do their best. Unfortunately they were scuppered when their lovingly-created practical effects were covered over later with CGI at the behest of the studio who said (wrongly) that audiences today expect slick CGI effects. It is not a really bad film, just not what it could have been.