US Release Date: 06-25-1982
Directed by: John Carpenter
- Kurt Russell, as
- R.J. MacReady
- Wilford Brimley, as
- Dr. Blair
- T.K. Carter, as
- David Clennon, as
- Keith David, as
- Richard Dysart, as
- Dr. Copper
- Charles Hallahan, as
- Vance Norris
- Peter Maloney, as
- George Bennings
- Richard Masur, as
- Donald Moffat, as
- Adrienne Barbeau as
- Computer (voice)
Kurt Russell in John Carpenter's The Thing.
After recently watching the 2011 The Thing, I decided to give John Carpenter’s 1982 version a try, as I’d never seen it before. For me therefore, these two movies played out as if the 1982 version was the sequel rather than the newer version being a prequel. Apart from the obvious differences in special effects between the two, they do work well together.
This one opens immediately after the 2011 films end. The dog they are chasing in the helicopter when that movie ends runs into the American Antarctic Station as this movie opens, with the Norwegian helicopter in hot pursuit. When the Norwegian we know as Lars from the new film opens fire at the dog and hits one of the Americans instead, the Americans shoot back, killing Lars and destroying the helicopter and its pilot in the process. The dog, they take into their camp.
Kurt Russell in full beard plays MacReady, a chopper pilot at the station and the hero of the film. He and a bunch of other recognizable character actors inhabit the station. It doesn’t take long for the dog to reveal that it's really an alien monster able to mimic other life forms. The rest of the film is taken up by a combination of paranoia and terror as the crew is picked off one by one and the survivors are left to wonder which of them are still human and which of them aren’t.
Like the 2011 film, this one feels very familiar. This was the second direct film adaptation of the novella "Who Goes There?" It also shares some plot elements with Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Alien. And its group of people trapped with a killer in an enclosed location plot has been rehashed in other movies and television shows from Doctor Who to The X-Files, among many others.
While the special effects may have been cutting edge in 1982, they haven’t aged all that well. The biggest difference between the alien here and in 2011 is that here the monster doesn’t move very much. It’s large and obviously controlled by animatronics and puppetry and is therefore unwieldy and difficult to move. It generally sits in one spot and shoots out tendrils to attack those near it. In 2011, the alien is free to move and chase people down. Because of these differences, the creature is forced in this film to work from the shadows and rely more on stealth and the dark to wage its attacks. Fortunately for it, members of the station keep wandering off on their own despite knowing that a shapeshifting monster is in the area.
There is plenty of paranoid suspense, some decent action and even gore that stands the test of time. What it doesn’t have, is characterization. We learn almost nothing about the men at the station and most of them are interchangeable and only there to allow the body count to rise.
Although a bit of a disappointment at the box office upon its release, this movie has grown in stature over the years. It is enjoyable enough, but only at the most superficial level. The passage of years has also given it a sense of novelty. It’s a reminder of the old fashioned real world special effects that were sci-fi and horror film’s bread and butter before the advent of CGI. Sometimes unintentionally funny, they’re also still impressive in a way, given that everything you see had to be physically created by hand.
You could definitely continue this series of movies, but if they did, they should move the story out of the Antarctic. It's time they set it in the populated world.
Actually Scott, this one opens with the alien space craft entering earth's atmosphere. The special effects may be noticeably different from modern CGI, but they hold up very well. The people who came up with the human/alien images in mid morph/death are grotesquely creative. How many people lost jobs with the advent of CGI?
Scott is correct that character development is at a minimal. McCready is a loner who enjoys spending time by himself in his shack drinking. Everyone else is only notable for some superfluous reason. There is the doc, the hip black guy, the old guy with the gun, the quiet dog guy. Personalities are moot as they all end up feeling and acting the same way.
If Carpenter had added twenty minutes of characterization, we would likely complain that the movie took too long to get going. This is a suspenseful horror film. The pace is great as it starts right out with a death and a whole lot of questions. Although the characters are not that interesting, the situation in which they find themselves in, is.
The blood test scene is one of the best in the movie. It is at first suspenseful, then scary and finally over-the-top with gore and bizarre imagery. It sums up and exemplifies the entire film.
I have often wondered what Kurt Russell brings to a movie as he is such a generic actor. He is not bad here, but as in all his films he is nearly forgettable. His most memorable moment is when he throws the dynamite at the alien and yells, "Fuck you too!"
The Thing has lots of dialogue, some of it's good. One of the funniest lines is when one of the guys is referring to the Norwegian, "Maybe we're at war with Norway?" When talking about aliens one says, "Chariots of the Gods, man. They practically own South America. I mean, they taught the Incas everything they know."
The Thing delivers what it sets out to. It is tense, creepy, gory and cheesy. The problem is that it did not set its goal very high. Clearly more thought was put into the makeup and special effects than the characters. Without decent heroes to root for we are left as cold observers instead of invested participants.
The thing in The Thing or WTF part II.
I’ve never heard so much kvetching about lack of characterization in a horror movie before. The Thing is damn good and scary as hell. If I had seen this at 15 when it came out it would have frightened the bejeezus out of me and given me nightmares for weeks.
Unlike Scott I find good old-fashioned make-up and animatronics to be gorier than any modern computer generated image. Mark my words, in 20 years today’s CGI will look cheesier than the special effects in this movie will. The scene where Wilford Brimley’s doctor (nearly unrecognizable without his trademark beard) puts his hands inside the alien’s body holds up very well. There is nothing fake looking about it.
John Carpenter is a master of the horror genre. He paces the story brilliantly. It begins, intriguingly, in the middle of an action scene. Once the true nature of the dog’s identity is discovered the action and mounting paranoia never let up. It climaxes, as Eric wrote, in a cluster fuck of violence, gore and bizarre imagery.
The setting and basic plot may be a bit cliché, as Scott said, but the creature itself is one of the most unique and original monsters in movie history. Another impressive thing about The Thing, which neither of my brothers mentioned, is the cinematography. Great use is made of the snowy vistas right from the beginning with the shot of the helicopter chasing the dog over the rugged frozen terrain.
As for the characters, they are as developed as your average group of soldiers in any war movie. I mean what do you really need to know about them other than the fact that they are deep in some serious shit? I had no problem rooting for them to defeat the thing from outer space and stay alive.
Eric you say the filmmakers didn’t set their goals very high but I disagree. What higher goals can a horror movie have than to be as disturbing and frightening as possible? You and Scott are both too harsh on The Thing, which I have no problem bestowing the term classic on.
Photos © Copyright Universal Pictures (1982)