John Carpenter has made some of the most highly regarded films of all time. Certain films, like Halloween, The Fog and Christine will forever be included in the more positive sections of most self respecting horror fan’s DVD collections. The first of two Carpenter films to appear on this list is also among the finest work he has ever produced, it’s the 1982 sci-fi horror classic, The Thing. To me, The Thing IS sci-fi horror. Doesn’t get any better. Not even Alien can touch it.
Sometimes considered a remake of the Hawks/Nyby 1951 classic, The Thing from Another World, Carpenter’s film actually owes a lot more to the story on which both are based, Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr.
The synopsis is simple,
A remote American research station and it’s crew find themselves harassed by a team of Norwegians who seem to be hell-bent on putting paid to a loveable little dog. The mad Norwegians are swiftly dispatched and the dog is taken in by the American guys. The pooch soon reveals itself to be a frankly, sinister, alien with the ability to perfectly replicate any lifeform it comes into contact with. It then sets about absorbing the other dogs and the crew. Much paranoia ensues as the research team try to figure out exactly who among them is not what they seem…
Frankly, I am hugely underselling The Thing with that synopsis. It really is a cut above most sci-fi offerings. Filmed on location in Alaska and British Columbia, the film is a frigid, experiment in isolation and paranoia that boasts a tremendous ensemble cast that includes the always excellent Kurt Russell (Escape from New York, Big Trouble In Little China), Keith David (They Live, There’s Something About Mary), Wilford Brimley (Cocoon) and Richard Masur (Stephen King’s IT). Each and every single member of the cast delivers an incredible performance, all of them playing their roles deadly straight. Hell, even the dog, Jed, gives a strong performance.
Of course, it’s entirely Kurt Russell’s show, having previously worked with Carpenter on Elvis: The Movie and Escape From New York, in which he starred as now pop-culture antihero, Snake Plissken. As helicopter pilot R.J MacReady, Russell’s performance is pitched perfectly throughout. Although technically playing the hero again, the hopeless nature of the situation means he is never really portrayed as such. Never standing wearing a ripped shirt, bleeding from the nose and a lone cut on his cheek. This is not that kind of film at all.
Undoubtedly, one of the most impressive things about The Thing is the special effects. It’s impossible to downplay the impact of Rob Bottin’s gruesome creations with Bottin, having worked tirelessly, for over a year, starting on the project at the age of 22. Every single effect is just as impressive today as it might have been in 1982. The transformation sequences are truly shocking and visceral, with each improving on the last. Practical effects this impressive and on this scale should shame every single director who chooses to go down the easy road of using CGI effects over practical.
I guess it stands as testament to the film that it’s perhaps more beloved nowadays than it ever has been. The Thing has spawned video game adaptations and a prequel starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton which is set for release in December 2011.
The Thing succeeds due to the fantastic set design, dedication of the cast and crew, amazing technical effects and a fantastic director who does what he wants. This is a film that will live on and on and will, with the release of the prequel, reach a whole new audience who will love it and pass it on to future generations. If you haven’t seen The Thing, please do see it before seeing the prequel. It truly is a tremendous achievement.