Is John Carpenter's the Thing Worth Watching?

Cast: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, Richard Masur

Director: John Carpenter

Synopsis: A research team in Antarctica is stopped in its tracks when an alien, who can take on the appearance of its victims, takes over the base.

Review: This is a film I have been meaning to watch for years and finally got around to it at the age of 32! What sealed it for me was Kurt Russell. He’s an actor who I’ll watch any film for. However, Kurt or no Kurt, The Thing has a great cast, a brilliant horror director (John Carpenter – Halloween) and painstakingly detailed visual effects. No wonder it has gained a cult following over the years.

The film starts by showing us the beautifully white, sparse coldness of Antarctica. The camera pans wide, then cuts in close so we can follow a hunting scene between a dog and a helicopter; I was rooting for the dog at the beginning! Despite the odds, the dog survives and reaches an American base camp.

What follows is over an hour and a half of ‘guess which one of this all male cast is now an alien’. I write this with a light tone, but I genuinely loved the film.

It wasn’t just the horror/sci-fi that I enjoyed, but also the thriller-type suspense that kept you guessing. It was a brilliant, if claustrophobic, masterpiece, made even eerier by Ennio Morricone’s main synthesizer track, which incidentally was the only bit of music Carpenter used out of everything Morricone gave him. Still, the constant underlying thrum of that main track throughout the movie worked well with what was happening on screen.

A main point to remark on for the film is its visual effects. Rob Bottin who has worked on films such as Robocop, Total Recall and Seven, created such visceral visual effects in The Thing that some people call it works of art.

It’s certainly a far cry from today’s CGI, but that’s what makes it such a pleasure to watch. You can’t see a man’s arms bitten off by teeth bursting out of a chest cavity and not feel somewhat horrified, but also in awe of the work that went into it. Even more so when I learnt how it was actually done. Click on the link at the end of this review and you can watch a short video on how the visual effects were made - you’ll be sure to appreciate the film even more.

Carpenter’s The Thing was apparently a remake of the 1951 Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby The Thing from Another World. However, Carpenter’s film is a supposedly more faithful adaptation of the 1938 novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr.

Unfortunately, the film was a little overlooked at the time of release, mainly because of other alien films such as, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and Alien. However, it has since gained a large audience and finally having watched it, I can see why.

Carpenter keeps up the momentum and tension, creating an uneasy atmosphere of paranoia. A brilliant, if overlooked at the time, 80’s sci-fi/horror. Overall, 8/10.

Visual Effects Video Link:

Written by Rebecca Perkin

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