Wednesday, June 18, 2014

MR John Carpenter's The Thing

"The ultimate in alien terror"...

Man is the warmest place to hide.

Movie: The Thing also known as The Thing (1982) or simply John Carpenter's The Thing 
Directed by John Carpenter
Release date 1982
Genre Science-fiction horror
Country USA

Said several times in the past to be one of his favorite films growing up, Christian Nyby's The Thing from Another World was certainly a major influence through John Carpenter's entire career as a film director.

In fact Carpenter was such a huge fan of the original he actually wanted to remake the classic black & white horror film for many years, some of its footage even found its way his 1978 Halloween film.

If anything Carpenter wanted to try a better attempt at representing the creature from the original 1938 short story by John W. Campbell, "Who Goes There?". Keeping the sense of paranoia from the original novella while updating the setting and the technological aspect. This time the cold isolation would be directly used as a major aspects of this Thing.

The 1982 The Thing was his 8th full feature-length production for a big Hollywood studio, Universal Studios in this case.

Bill Lancaster's screenplay tried to stay as faithful as possible from the book while slightly updating it here and there. For one this second adaptation based on Campbell's story brought the action back to the remote location of Antarctica. The plot also did away with the vegetable creature from the first movie to bring the shape-shifting alien creature from Campbell back. Also this time the story wouldn't revolve around a conflict between scientists vs. the military but go back to the original source of tension here, "it" was some "thing" against all of us. And this "it" could be any of us, at any moment. Anyone could be "it". The conflict here revolving around the distrust rampant amongst our human protagonists. Who is human and "who" isn't anymore.

While most people expected it to be a simple remake of the 1951 classic, the film turned out to be so much more...

A story about paranoia in a huis clos. 12 men trapped in a research facility station with a creature that could take any living form... Mistrust taking over...

Our lead character was played by a fantastic bearded Kurt Russell. Trapped with a monster he would have to use his smarts and stay in control if he wanted to make it alive at the end of the day, where you couldn't trust anybody anymore...

Kurt Russel was the perfect fit for our ruggedly hero, leading a cast rounded by the likes of Wilford Brimley, Keith David and Donald Moffat.

The Thing was simply well executed from top to bottom. Featuring a fantastic ensemble cast and stunning timeless practical special effects.

To bring his vision of The Thing, John Carpenter turned for best in the industry as far as creature effects went back in the day.

He enlisted the help from Rob Bottin and Stan Winston to do the make-up effect works in The Thing.

It's a classic tale taking as much from the original novella and film as from the likes of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Directed by the very talented great John Carpenter at the height of his career, what would in my eyes become one of his best films of all time.

He was by then merely a director mostly known for his B-movies, showcasing in The Thing his immense talent, what he could produce at best, yet still very much rooted in the B-movie genre. Only this time the movie was sporting amazing impressive special effects and a very tight perfect flawless script.

Updating The Thing from Another World  to a "Whodunit?" for adults.

Our story takes place in an Antarctic research station.

The movie begins at this American base inhabited by a bunch of bearded dudes, when a surprising arrival would shake things up one day...

A dog appears to be chased by some crazy Norwegian guy aboard an helicopter. The helicopter blows up and they are able to save the dog.

The next day three of the Americans decide to go back to the Norwegian base to see what happened there. Only to find it completely burned down to the ground. Corpses everywhere, those bodies barely looking human anymore for some reason.

They bring that body back to their own facility to understand if that was some kind of virus that hit the Norwegians. The chief scientist analyses the organism and discovers something incredible - it probably wasn't human at all! But instead some strange living form able to replicated its prey down to the cellular level!? How could they ever detect such a thing!?

Our dozen or so men quickly find out rescuing that dog was a bad idea..

It already spread through their compound. Our hard-drinking main protagonist pilot J.R MacReady (Kurt Russel) sees this hopeless situation might soon spiral out of control, and there's no possible escape for them... or this Thing.

Who came into contact with this dog so far!?

Soon our human characters quickly turn on each other. And this "body snatcher"-like formula become something much bigger than them. They have to prevent if from spreading into the outside world and contain it before it's too late!

Since these characters are a bunch of pretty smart regular men, they try to devise some ways to separate the infected from the rest. But also having to question each other, they hesitate to take actions which buys some time for the creature. It prefers to stale the situation and hide in plain sight rather than shape-shifting some tentacles and ripping people's limbs.

The creature merely bids its time,  waiting for the rescue party, laying low to find a way back to civilization.

The Thing is a story about regular men facing an alien threat from outer space in a confined space. With a monster with a talent for mimicry.

In the end another remaining survivor, Childs, who was separated from the group earlier on comes back to find only MacReady in the aftermath of the destruction of an improvised makeshift space craft. Each character wondering if the other is actually the creature... (There's many hints to answer this question ultimately)

Much of the actual film was shot in actual remote freezing locations as possible.

Everything looked so downright frightening and real, it's one of those rare case a movie can still easily stand the test of time.

And it's all thanks in part to Rob Bottin's stunning work. His groundbreaking effects were like nothing anyone had ever seen at the time, and I believe to this very day.

The stunning effects Bottin did with help from legendary Stan Winston have since become cult and a standard to strive for. With no CGi whatsoever available at the time  no less, which ends up nowadays being used as easier route instead of a complementary tool. The Thing was mostly done with animatronics and fantastic puppetry. It looked real, because it was because it could get dirty on the set, because blood spurts and smoke could work their way around those.

As a huge fan of 1951 The Thing, Carpenter managed to get a couple of very distinctive shots and memorable scenes directly taken from the original. With the original, the 1982 film mostly only shares its promises moving the plot back from the Arctic to Antarctica. Some scenes were direct allusions or homages to the black & white original, such as the block of ice containing the monster, the footage of the Norwegian crew circling the spaceship or when our heroes start putting up planks over the doors. It almost seems to act as a modern-day follow-up to the 1950s film (if that story took place in a Norwegian camp instead of American scientific installations).

The new shape-shifting creature is very intelligent, compared to the old vegetable man. It is a very smart film, well written. The creatures seemingly doesn't possess a shape of its own, instead borrowing elements from all of its previous hosts, exposing our very own insides as its limbs, animating these carcasses...

This alien organism is able to impersonate anything it comes in contact with, causing our destruction via assimilation. It's something very much akin to other space invader movies, the paranoia causing a lot more harm than it actually does. Making it a film about who you can trusts, making The Thing much more a Cold War-era subject than even the original was in a way!

The Thing also appears to try to escape near the final act, later seen trying to built a new spacecraft out of spare parts to make an escape. It makes us question.. just how intelligent was this being? It can talk to hide amongst us and it can even build a spaceship!?

I always liked how this take on The Thing wasn't simply asking us to "Watch the skies" but instead the people next to you...

You can only note a lack of women in this all-male cast, but it does sort of work for this film's notion of something hiding in plain sight. Reinforcing the claustrophobic tone and avoiding the usual cliché Hollywood romance angle.

And despite all the gore and the horror, John Carpenter's The Thing is actually more of a psychological tale.

Nothing feels useless in the film, everything is here for a reason. (Think about the ending, even MacReady playing computer chess can serve a purpose..)

It's a very graphic but well executed film.

With a lot of very memorable faces, characters you could root for, each recognizable and identifiable.

Kurt Russell's has to quickly take charge of this crew, if they wanna survive this dreadful situation. There's a big sense of isolation and paranoia taking over our characters. The remote setting really helps buy this desperate situation where no help is available, this claustrophobic atmosphere.

It's a very memorable suspenseful tense film that still holds up pretty darn' good to this day.

Scientist uncover an alien life form from a nearby Norwegian camp where people disappeared after uncovering a spaceship beneath the ice. Death ensues.

The Thing is a brilliant classic, with great slow tension, a fantastic sense of paranoia.

I always loved the classic blood testing scene, it's a very tense moment.

The film is creepy, well-paced, full of tension. In one word, perfect!

And it features what is probably without a doubt one of my all-time favorite endings in films.

The effects are stunning and a big part in the film's impact. Something you would lose nowadays with CGi, you can't make up such creepy creatures without practical effects, its rough aspect really help buys these things happening to these bodies, very much giving a presence on the set.

Finally the perfect musical score was provided by the equally talented Ennio Morricone, a classic favorite of mine, along an uncredited John Carpenter himself on a couple of tracks. Mixing the atmosphere with Carpenter's own-recorded theme here and there. I'm glad he went with Morricone for the music, Carpenter tends to drown his films in synthesizers usually (case in point, Halloween). The Thing uses this creepy slow music to enhance the experience, making you feel as you were there in the camp, along these characters. To be precise some of the best dramatic scene actually don't feature any music whatsoever.

Overall, John Carpenter's The Thing is a timeless scifi horror classic.

Considered now an all-time classic of the genre, right alongside Ridley Scott's original Alien.

It is probably one of - if not Carpenter's biggest masterpiece.

The Thing would spawn books, comic books (by Dark Horse Comics who were able to snatch the license at the time) and much later on a videogame continuation in 2002 as well as a prequel/semi-remake in 2011 (but that is for another time...).

For many years Carpenter himself wanted to make sequel for a time. It also almost got made in 2003 when he was discussing possibilities with SyFy to produce an original mini-series which would have featured an older Kurt Russell, and Keith David's character as well. The Thing II would have followed the surviving characters as they dealt with The Thing trying to spread out to Earth. Much of what would have been the plot is what made it in the 2002 The Thing game so Carpenter considers that to be the only true continuation of the film.

John Carpented would consider The Thing to be the first of his apocalyptic horror trilogy of films, which was followed 5 years later with "Prince of Darkness", featuring Donald Pleasance, and the later 1995 final entry, "In the Mouth of Madness" with Sam Neill, which was a more H. P. Lovecraft-ian entry mostly based on Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness story - originally the basis for Campbell’s own "Who Goes There?" See, it all comes full circle!

All in all, an Highly Recommended classic!!

I give it:
3 / 3 Necronomicons!

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