This is actually my first ever Historical Circuit review…go figure. One would have thought that I would have done a few in the past couple of years, but they always escaped me. That changes now. The subject for my de-virgining is 1982′s ‘The Thing’. This version of ‘The Thing’ is a different animal than the 1951 Howard Hawkes film ‘The Thing from Another World’, so even though it’s a remake it’s worth approaching on its own terms. More graphic/gory and actually more faithful to the story upon which it’s based than the Hawkes flick (which I fully confess to never having gotten the chance to watch), this is a sci-fi action/thriller/horror hybrid that is now considered a classic. In my eyes, it’s not quite an untouchable work of cinema, which makes me somewhat curious about the impending remake coming this week. It’s not a perfect movie, but I do think that for its time it was an impressive film to behold. Director John Carpenter really knows what he’s doing, and while I think he did his best work elsewhere, this is still a very solid outing for him. Featuring state of the art special effects at the time, audiences got something very different when they sat down to take in ‘The Thing’. Those who were fans of the original flick or the original story were in for a gruesome time.
Those not familiar with the plot will soon realize that it’s not overly complex or anything. A group of scientists at a research station in Antarctica see a helicopter and its crew shooting at a dog in the snow. The crew are Norwegians from a nearby outpost and desperately want to kill the canine. The men at the research station stop them and take the dog in, but soon enough they realize that it wasn’t a great idea. Helicopter pilot R. J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) is part of a team that goes over to investigate the Norwegian outpost and they find mangled bodies and what appears to be an empty ice coffin. Eventually they come to understand that the dog wasn’t really a dog. It’s simply a copy of one, housing an alien life form that imitates organisms around it in order to blend in. While the guys try to avoid being picked off by the thing (get it?), they also have to try and figure out which of them are actually who they claim to be. Fear and mistrust become just as big an issue as the alien, leading to a grim but understandable conclusion.
The acting is nothing to write home about, but Kurt Russell is an effective heroic leading man here. The entire cast is subject to almost no background information for their characters (hell, there’s not much characterization to speak of at all), but Russell fares the best of them. He’s worked with Carpenter more than once, and this is definitely not his most memorable collaboration with him, but there’s no arguing that he’s the right man for the part. When the going gets tough, MacReady gets tougher and tries to literally save the world. The rest of the cast do their jobs fine, but without any real attention called to themselves. The crew includes Wilford Brimley, Keith David, T.K. Carter, David Clennon, Richard Dysart, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, Richard Masur, Donald Moffat, Joel Polis, and Thomas G. Waites. Honestly, the real character here is the thing and the many shapes that it winds up taking.
John Carpenter is known as a genre master, and this is more evidence that he’s a filmmaker who knows what he’s doing. It may have been over 2 decades since he’s really made a memorable flick, but this is the guy who gave us the original ‘Halloween’, ‘Escape from New York’, to name two of his best known works. A lot of people are very high on ‘The Thing’ as one of his best works, but I’m not so sure (I think his best work is ‘Halloween’). His direction is excellent, but at times he makes it such a slow burn that you run the risk of losing momentum. The script by Bill Lancaster is less a remake of the original film than a more literal adaptation of the John W. Campbell Jr. short story “Who Goes There?”, and it’s good but not great. That sums up most of the flick, which the exception of the creature effects. Those are impressive, and I’d imagine they were even more so in the 80′s. Everything else is solid, but the effects go above and beyond.
As you can no doubt tell, ‘The Thing’ is a good movie in my eyes, but not the great one that many claim it to be. It hits all of the necessary marks for being an effective fright flick, but it never really gives you that something extra that I was really hoping for (I’ve only seen the film once a number of years ago prior to this revisiting of it, and had nothing but vague recollections of liking it). I’m not under its spell, so perhaps that makes me the ideal target for the remake opening this week, which is not even a remake honestly, but a prequel. Time will tell if that’s any good, but in terms of this film, it’s a good one…just not a great one. I don’t have any big complaints, but I don’t have any big praise for it either.
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