Forgive me for expressing my undying love for one of the best sci-fi horror flicks of all time. I (re)watched ‘The Thing’ for the umpteenth time today and my admiration towards the film and for all those behind it, has only augmented. Here are five reasons why the film will remain a cult-classic for the decades to come:
1. The Man Himself: John Carpenter
Fresh off 'Halloween’, ‘The Fog’ and ‘Escape from New York’ which were all commercial successes, Carpenter took over the reigns to direct his first studio picture – ‘The Thing’, which would be set in Antarctica and deal with a bunch of researchers who come in contact with an extra-terrestrial being. Unlike the one-massive-monstrous antagonist in Christian Nyby’s ‘The Thing from Another World’, Carpenter wanted to present a more devout adaptation of the science fiction novella by John W Campbell Jr, and introduce a shape-shifting, human(or rather all living being)-assimilating alien. While this meant a lot of additional work, Carpenter seemed up for it. He shot the film in artificially frozen sets, and extensively applied practical FX to recreate the claustrophobic terror. However, the movie was a box-office failure, owing partly to the success of Spielberg’s E.T and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.
2. Practical Effects By Rob Bottin
(A then 22 year old) Bottin worked on the sets of ‘The Thing’ for a year, a project he worked his butt off for, so much that he had to be treated for stress-relief afterwards. Bottin worked with concept artist Mike Ploog to design the various gruesome creatures, their transformations and assimilation phases that would take centrestage in the film. The creatures looked absolutely scary yet the suspension of disbelief while witnessing the set-pieces was kept minimal. The spider-creatures, the two-body assimilation, the defibrillator chest chomp, the dog-things, everything looked on-point and downright grotesque.
What is indeed sad to notice is the fact that while the 2011 prequel starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead had also employed practical FX by Amalgamated Dynamics (ADI), they were almost completely replaced digitally with the application of subpar CGI. The irony here is, critics and audiences alike wrote off the 2011 film citing horrible CGI in place of practical FX. Even the 1982 film’s FX were shunned by the critics at the time of its release. Some even went on to call it a moronic, B-grade slaughterhouse film that used stuff like rubber, foam latex, gelatin, creamed corn, mayonnaise, strawberry jam and KY jelly for its effects. However, when the movie eventually achieved its cult status, the effects work was slowly getting the appreciation it had always deserved (some uncredited work from Stan Winston too!).
3. The Minimal Soundtrack By Ennio Morricone
The minimal beat-and-eerie-tune compositions (especially the Main theme) make my hair stand up every time they start playing. ‘The Thing’ is also one of the rare instances where Carpenter himself hasn’t composed the music. It was indeed satisfying to see Morricone win the Golden Globe and the Academy Award 33 years later for ‘The Hateful Eight’ which held so much similarity to his compositions in ‘The Thing’. I’d rate the OST for ‘The Thing’ as one of my personal faves when it comes to music in film. An ironical fact is that Morricone was nominated for a Worst Musical Score Razzie. I wonder what those guys were even thinking (or smoking!).
4. Kurt Russell (And To An Extent, Keith David)
Kurt Russell as helicopter pilot R J MacReady left the audiences with a character that was certainly going to be remembered for ages. He was a bold, quick decision-maker who did just about anything to survive. It is impossible to fathom another actor who could have pulled off MacReady so well. Fun-fact is that Kurt almost blew himself up while throwing a stick of dynamite in a scene towards the end of the movie. That climactic scene where MacReady and Childs (Keith David’s character) finally sit down to share a scotch while they decide to wait out, is truly unforgettable. It is also notable that the cast comprised purely of men.
The Prequel, The video Game, The Comics, The Theme Park Attractions, The Yearly Screenings
It took nearly 29 years to spawn another film set in the same universe (which ended up as a prequel detailing the events at the Norwegian camp mentioned in Carpenter’s film), that was partially able to recreate the ambiance and narrative style but lacked memorable characterization and the replacement of CGI over practical effects made it look sluggish.
The video game (that served as a sequel) received positive reviews and it was deemed an excellent showcase in survival horror. The ‘trust’ system was met with praise. Personally, I loved every bit of it.. the storyline, the voice-overs, the in-game mechanics, the seemingly impossible-to-defeat boss levels.
Alan Dean Foster, Dark Horse Comics and Clarkesworld Magazine published comics based on ‘The Thing’ at different points in time, all contributing as off-screen prologues, additional material or simply as heritage for the film.
Haunted attractions based on the film were featured at some of the theme parks in the U.S.A.
It is indeed inspiring to hear that ‘The Thing’ is annually viewed by members of the winter crew at the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station during the first evening of winter. It is also viewed by scientific personnel at the Summit Camp on the apex of the Greenland Ice Sheet.
Here is a modern version of the trailer for all those who haven’t seen it (yet):