Released in 1982, John Carpenter’s the Thing has emerged as one of the most popular cult movies of the modern era. At the time, its possibility of a solid run was ruined as Steven Spielberg’s E.T., and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (also affected by the success of E.T.), essentially knocked it out of the limelight – on a budget of $15 million, in America it only made back $19.5 million, meaning the film was considered a commercial failure.
As of 2017, it’s come to be recognised as one of the greatest horror movies of all time and its groundbreaking use of practical models, created by special effects genius Rob Bottin, look startling today compared to some of the dodgy CGI in use. It’s one heck of a creepy film, too, with psychological trickery and claustrophobia in use due to the nature of the Thing and its alarming shape shifting abilities. Be prepared to be spooked!
Kurt Russell stars as the beard-sporting protagonist R.J. McReady. He and a small American crew is stationed in Antarctica at a research facility when a nearby Norwegian camp triggers off an unusual incident. Investigating the other camp, the Americans discover a grotesquely deformed, seemingly alien corpse and bring it in for tests. After this, a terrifying psychological horror story emerges where it’s unclear who is human and if anyone can ever be trusted.
The film is a remake of the Thing From Another World (1951), whilst the works of H.P. Lovecraft were also a source of inspiration for Carpenter as he developed the concept. As with Ridley Scott’s Alien, the first half of the film ramps up the sense of tension and claustrophobia. Scenes such as the one below, where the character Bennings is assimilated, merely hint at what’s going on with this bizarre creature.
It’s impressive stuff for 1982, although not for the squeamish, but the fantastic performances and brilliant soundtrack (created by Italian composer Ennio Morricone, although due to negative initial critical feedback to the film, the score bizarrely – and idiotically – received a Razzie in 1982) ensure this one has stood the test of time rather magnificently.
Later in the film everything gets ramped up a notch as Carpenter delivers the special effects and gore in spectacular fashion, such as with the legendary chest defibrillation scene (which has gone down in movie legend).
An overwhelming sense of paranoia is what the film promotes as the cast descends into near madness wondering if anyone else has already been assimilated. As trust goes out of the window, primordial survival instincts kick in – the film also ends with a famously open-ended scene which, after we researched online, still has fans debating the living daylights out of its potential meaning.
Although it failed in 1982, the Thing is now considered an example of what Hollywood should be doing in the modern era, rather than relying on increasingly tedious CGI to deliver the aesthetic goods. It’s a scary, claustrophobic classic and whilst not quite at the heights of Alien, it’s nevertheless a great fun film which will stick with you for a lifetime.
In 2011, Hollywood rolled out a controversial prequel telling the events leading up to the 1982 film. To be fair, it is a decent film and perfectly enjoyable – a lot of effort clearly went into its production. With the ongoing debate about CGI in modern films (i.e. there’s too much of the stuff) and the original being so famous for its landmark practical effects, there was a major initial push to ensure the 2011 version honoured the original.
During production, the studio flipped and demanded CGI be added to replace the practical effects work (which had already been completed by Amalgamated Dynamics), resulting in hasty additions of dodgy looking CGI. This annoyed a lot of fans and the result wasn’t as good as it should have been, which once again raised the regular complaint of CGI being a lazy addition to many contemporary films.
Recent critically acclaimed blockbusters such as Mad Max: Fury Road and Dunkirk have since rectified this by applying top quality CGI alongside dramatic practical effects, balancing the two out to perfection, indicating where the future should go for Hollywood. After the Thing 2011 debacle, and continued negative feedback about the overuse of CGI, let’s hope this balance is maintained to a greater effect in future. Eh?