Saturday, August 13, 2011
THE THING (JOHN CARPENTER'S THE THING) (1982)
Directed by John Carpenter
Kurt Russell - R.J. MacReady
Wilford Brimley - Dr. Blair
Keith David - Childs
Scientists in the Antarctic are confronted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of the people that it kills.
One of the fun things about doing reviews is I get to go back to older movies I haven't watched in awhile. Then there's movies I go back and watch every year, just because they're personal favorites. The Thing was one of those movies my dad rented for me to watch on a spring break one year. Well, the movie did a good job completely freaking me out. Now this was when I was about 12 or 13 years old, but happily that night after watching it, I didn't have nightmares (that was saved for when I saw Alien and Aliens a couple years later). Anyway, I really didn't connect this movie with being a Mythos type till later on, yet here we are at the movies almost 30th anniversary and a "prequel" coming out later this year so this is a good time to go back and re-watch it as well as review it.
I'm going to start off with the acting in this film. As all the characters aren't giving a back story where they came from, it was up to the actors to make the audience care for them through their actions and personalities and each one pulled it off brilliantly. What's even more striking is that everyone isn't talking twenty four seven. When something is odd or they can't explain it, the characters just keep quiet instead. This adds a lot more to the characters than one might imagine as you don't know what they are thinking. Kurt Russell, who plays R.J. MacReady, to me gives the best performance of his career in this film. Nothing he does is hammed up, he speaks more softly, yet with authority, plus he can't stand computer chess. Kieth David, who portrays Childs is very effective as the pissed off black guy. Yes, I know that's basically type casting him, but that is exactly what David is playing and does surprising well.
One of the main reasons this movie works so well while others built around the same premise is because of the setting of the film. The isolation that is present in the film is palatable to the audience as there really is nowhere to run. All the scientific team can do is stay in one place and rely on each other to help them stay sane in their environment. So what happens when an outside presence is introduced that can take the shape of the living around it is really no surprise as they're trapped. As the paranoia sets in as the team finds out that there is a alien presence among them that is killing and taking on that said dead form. No one is what they seem and that helps feed the unease among the characters as well as drive some to madness. Even in scenes you know will go bad, the shock of watching it happen doesn't really fade over time, no matter how many times this movie is watched. Part of the reason for the tension that is built up during these scenes is the score by Ennio Morricone. I say this because with most horror movies when something bad is about to happen, the music swells to a forceful level which basically lets the audience know something is about to happen, and in return kills part of the surprise. Morricone though went the opposite way and killed the music so where all that you here is the background noises and characters talking. This might not seem that big of a thing, yet in reality it just adds to the tension of the screen.
Another aspect of the film is the special effects. While CG creatures is what is mostly shown on movie screens now, nothing will ever replace practical in camera effects. The reaction of the cast is real when they can actually see and interact with something in front of them. I'm not saying CG effects are terrible, in fact I love what is possible with CG now, but it can never replace practical in my mind. The closest I can put the creature in the film is a shoggoth from Mythos stories made real as it is always taking on a new form. Thank you Rob Bottin for this nightmare creature. But I would be remiss to not mention Carpenter himself who brought all these elements together and put it on screen for all to see, as this is his movie and unlike other movies during that time it has withstood the test of time to become a classic not in just horror, but also in films in general that still has the power to scare, shock,and gross out viewers after all these years. Besides, I love the nihilistic ending where you don't know if Childs is really himself or the Thing.
Dr. Cooper's forearm mini-meal.
You gotta be fucking kidding.
Kurt Russell was almost injured in the scene where he blows up the alien Palmer with a stick of dynamite. Apparently, he had no idea exactly how big of an explosion it would produce, and the reaction that he has in the movie is genuine.
Both Nick Nolte and Jeff Bridges turned down the role of MacReady.
This is the first film in what Carpenter calls his "Apocalypse Trilogy". In order they are:
The Thing (1982)
Prince Of Darkness (1987)
In The Mouth Of Madness (1994)
For a scene where Dr. Copper arms are severed, a real-life double amputee stand-in was used wearing a mask in the likeness of Dysart. The audience focuses on the bloody stumps while the mask goes unnoticed.