Film Fridays – ‘The Thing’

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.

15 Comments

  1. Not a fan of horror..although, books are slightly more ok!!! Visuals always seem scarier than words. Odd? In a film, the walls and doors are ‘real’, in my imagination, they are real, but not. So, if there is a door in my house that has the look of one in a movie where a scary person has shown up, that is more terrifying than reading about the door and imagining it in my head. Yup, odd! lol the other day, this is rather funny, The Craftsman opened up the curtain of a window I was sitting next to. I jumped because for some stupid reason it reminded me of a window in a horror movie where a guy wearing a Santa mask killed people. He’d often be in the window before he killed anyone. Or at least, that is how it was remembered!!!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Funny thing is that I used to read a lot of horror novels but no longer do. I still enjoy the movies though.
      That is a great story! I find I jump more than I used to, probably because my increasingly poor hearing allows people to surprise me more😂.
      I used to work in a factory on nights and had to take samples in a dark room at the top of a tower. I would be the only person there but the vibration of machinery on the metal floor felt exactly like someone running up behind me. Always gave me the shivers!

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I love reading about the movies you care about Darren, even when I know I’ll never watch them. I can’t do horror — I can never un-see stuff and there’s a bit of my brain that loves reminding of that.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you Su. I get that – but I can cope with this sort of fantasy horror no problem. I will never watch Cold Mountain or Dead Man Walking again though – not technically horror movies, just horrible and with scenes that still make me feel sick thinking about them.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have to confess that I tried watching The Thing and failed miserably! 😂 The moment the Thing came out of the dog was just too much for me and I instantly had to switch channels. Which is quite sad because up until then I really enjoyed it, the tense atmosphere, Kurt Russell- it was really cool. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stomach said scene again though and am terrified there might be more like that one as the film continues. 😂
    I didn’t know Ennio Morricone composed the score for this one too – awesome!
    By the way I love Blade Runner!! 💕

    Liked by 2 people

    1. 😂. As I said, Sarah, it is definitely not for everyone!. And it gets far worse after the dog scene. I recall the first time I saw it and it was pretty shocking.
      I remember vividly the hostile reaction this and Blade Runner got from critics. Same for Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China a few years later. All now considered classics of their genres.
      The Morricone theme for this is really simple but very sinister and claustrophobic. Carpenter was a huge admirer of his and practically begged him to do it. It does sound more like Carpenter’s music than Morricone’s though.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I feared as much! 😂
    I watched Blade Runner way after that first screening on video so can’t remember any hostilities. Which wouldn’t have put me off anyway – critics almost always suck!😂 Need to have a listen to the score!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Funny isn’t it? In many other respects I am not a typical boy at all. My interest in fantasy/sci-fi and horror, starting with books, was probably an escape for traumatised teenage me and it just stuck with me. I do find I get drawn back at times of stress.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We like what we like. I guess comedy is my comfort zone.

        Hope you’re feeling alright, Darren. Online it’s difficult to give a sympathetic smile. So I hope a virtual one will do. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. My wife won’t watch anything over a PG certificate and usually prefers kids movies. Total opposites. Hence late night horror films after she goes to bed.
          Am ok thank you Lani. Slowly bouncing back after a hard summer😍

          Liked by 1 person

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