[Cinema Sunday] John Carpenters’ “The Thing” – Monster from Above

The Thing
First goddamn week of winter.” – MacReady

Throughout the course of the summer, all manner of 80’s sci-fi has been covered with these articles. Straight up sci-fi-, space opera, sci-fi/comedy, etc. But not horror sci-fi, at least nothing else besides Aliens. So today, things are about to get very scary. Bump-in-the-night monster scary. So hold on to something and get ready. It’s time for a look at John Carpenter’s 1982 classic The Thing.

Any movie that has made as big an impact as The Thing has, carries with it a large and vast backstory.

(L.-R.) Keith David, John Carpenter and Kurt Russell

For John Carpenter’s movie, there was a lot of previous material. First and foremost is its literary origin, with John W. Campbell’s 1938 science-fiction novella Who Goes There?. After that, there is the loose film adaptation from 1951’s Thing From Another World. What follows with the 1982 production is something that was closer in plot to the Campbell novella, with a focus on the creature being able to absorb its victims personalities and memories.

Initial work on this sci-fi/horror great started back in the mid-70s with its producers David Foster and Lawrence Turman. Their suggestion of adapting Campbell’s work to Universal Pictures brought with it interest, but also a lot of headache (to the mind of this reviewer). Before John Carpenter was even attached to the movie, several writers (William F. Nolan, David Wiltse, and Hooper Henkel) took cracks at producing a script.

After Carpenter entered the scene in 1976, he threw out the previous scripts, claiming they ignored the chameleon-like nature of the monster. Some of the headache previously mentioned included John nearly leaving before filming began and having to go and beg for more money from film executive Ned Tanen. The final budget, including overhead costs, went from its startup of $10 million to $15 million.

In spite of all this, John took to this movie and really made it his own. There is a heightened sense of tension throughout the story. No one knows who they can trust, who has been taken by The Thing, and who is real or not real. All of those elements from such a great director, alongside the cast and its production, have made this one unforgettable flick.

Speaking of cast, who can ignore such star power? Kurt Russell in the main role of MacReady, with Keith David, Wilford Brimley, David Clennon, and a host of others. Kurt carries the most screen-time, and mixes it up with the rest of the cast in succumbing to the fear and paranoia of being trapped in a frozen wasteland with a monster like this. It is a testament to his, and the other actors, skills that have carried them through the years into the legendary stardom each has achieved.

While there has been some brief mention of the went into the making of this 1982 classic, this reviewer wanted to share something special found. A full length “making of” video including interviews with John Carpenter, screenwriter Bill Lancaster, other crew members and the cast.

It is a sad thing to say that despite performing well at the box office (taking in $19.6 million against its $15 million budget), critics did not love this movie.

Roger Ebert gave it a proper lashing in the press.

The Thing” is a great barf-bag movie, all right, but is it any good? I found it disappointing, for two reasons: the superficial characterizations and the implausible behavior of the scientists on that icy outpost. Characters have never been Carpenter’s strong point; he says he likes his movies to create emotions in his audiences, and I guess he’d rather see us jump six inches than get involved in the personalities of his characters. This time, though, despite some roughed-out typecasting and a few reliable stereotypes (the drunk, the psycho, the hero), he has populated his ice station with people whose primary purpose in life is to get jumped on from behind. The few scenes that develop characterizations are overwhelmed by the scenes in which the men are just setups for an attack by the Thing.

While Vincent Canby of The New York Times was even less warm towards it.

JOHN CARPENTER’S ”The Thing” is a foolish, depressing, overproduced movie that mixes horror with science fiction to make something that is fun as neither one thing or the other. Sometimes it looks as if it aspired to be the quintessential moron movie of the 80’s – a virtually storyless feature composed of lots of laboratory concocted special effects, with the actors used merely as props to be hacked, slashed, disemboweled and decapitated, finally to be eaten and then regurgitated as – guess what? – more laboratory-concocted special effects.

Despite the negative feedback it received at the time, The Thing has remained a firm favorite with both sci-fi and John Carpenter fans over the years.

Hard to believe that the summer is almost done. School has started in many places, while others are getting ready for the coming fall classes. Which means that the fall round of new movie releases is coming up soon. And also screenings on various TV networks of hits like the science-fiction features covered over the course of the summer on here. So take time to really dig in and enjoy some of these hit 80s favorites that have been reviewed. Make today, or any day before September, a time to take a load off and enjoy any of these sci-fi greats. And remember, there’s no limit on the amount of quality films to enjoy, so make sure to include John Carpenter’s The Thing with your viewings.