By Marc S. Sanders
Often, a great beginning to a film offers an intriguing question. So as I finally watched John Carpenter’s 1982 interpretation of The Thing, I was especially curious as to why a sniper aboard a fast moving helicopter was targeting a dog running across the open plains of Antarctica with a pulse pounding beat from legendary film composer Ennio Morricone. The film has me hooked and none of the gory horror to come, compliments of creature effects wizard Rob Bottin, has even presented itself yet.
Gore never did anything for me in horror, and horror has never been my most favorite genre of film. Rather, suspense always held my attention and kept me thinking long after the movie was over. Carpenter’s film is full of Bottin’s imaginative gore but the paranoia and mistrust among a crew of science operatives is the real centerpiece here. Whether it’s the innocence of a dog or the star power of Kurt Russell, I never trusted the narrative of The Thing and that’s the point.
An exceptional scene on the same level as the dinner scene in Ridley Scott’s Alien occurs following a crew man suffering a heart attack. The defibrillator is brought out, “CLEAR” is shouted and the man is zapped. Then something else happens. I won’t spoil the moment. Yet, this is where imagination was put to work; where effects and storytelling work cohesively. Thankfully, moments like these become a running theme throughout The Thing. You never know what to expect from an unmeasurable and incomprehensible enemy. The fact that resources are scarce and escape is impossible traps our characters and the viewer as well.
Convenient, fast learning knowledge only tells you that this entity can duplicate anything it comes in contact with. So, you might just be sidling up to the thing itself and you won’t even know it until it’s too late.
Isolation, lack of trust, fear, paranoia – all of these elements work towards the advantage of superb imagination and storytelling in Carpenter’s piece.
The Thing was always a movie that eluded me. I’m now so grateful to have witnessed it. It makes me yearn for better storytelling in today’s films beyond remakes and superhero exhaustion.
John Carpenter’s The Thing is an absolute must see motion picture. Watch it with friends and watch it with the lights turned off.