Movie Review: The Thing, John Carpenter, 1982 theatrical release

Uncategorized November 22, 2010

The Thing… Excellent movie. I must be a jaded old fart, because I wasn’t scared at all, in fact I cheered at some points just because of how great they were. I watched this movie twice yesterday and listened to part of the commentary. Oh, and the sprog asked us to turn it down last evening because he could hear it. He actually pounded on the floor above the family room because he didn’t want to risk coming down and seeing any of it. Heehee…

Okay, brief synopsis: Ping pong, alcohol, and chess. Geek’s dream place. Norwegian helicopter chases down dog, American outpost 31 employees save dog. Bad choice. Dog is actually housing a dethawed alien that splits said dog’s head like a pumpkin (shocker number 1 here, I don’t usually do well with animals in bad situations and avoid movies using animals, but this one didn’t bother me, maybe because it was at the beginning and I didn’t have time to get attached to the dogs and because it seemed so completely unreal). Flamethrower is applied to alien-thing, but alas, bits of it get away. A group goes to the Norwegian camp to see WTF happened and finds that those pesky Norwegians have been digging. Alien-Thing has its way with base occupants and Blair has a breakdown (more about this later). Really fricking fantastic scene when Norris has the heart attack and then his chest eats Copper’s arms. I did have a moment of questioning here, because it looked to me like MacReady saw the head-spider scuttle away. I thought he was letting it go because he was really a Thing. Much paranoia and gory death occurs. MacReady decides to test the other base inhabitants blood to see who the Thing is. More goriness and blood, lots of paranoia, and they blow the base to smithereens. MacReady and Childs end the film with a bit of firewater before they freeze, thereby saving the rest of mankind.

The bad (from specific to more general):

Some of the FX. Apparently I am either spoiled by the FX we get today or just really picky, because some of the blood looked really, really fake. I was willing to go along with the look of the Thing, because how would I know what this Thing looked like? (I was, however, a bit put off by the resemblance of the Thing to the chimeric head from Big Trouble in Little China. I think this was the scene when Childs was first going to burn it and you see the multiple eyes rolling around… looks just like the many-eyed balled head thing that wonders around the palace in that OTHER Kurt Russell/John carpenter movie/not Escape from LA.) But the bright red, almost transclucent blood? Doesn’t happen. That would have been an easy fix.

Blair’s breakdown. Maybe it’s more a problem with Wilford Brimley’s acting. He just didn’t seem like a man on the edge. I nearly peed myself laughing when he threw the gun. Totally unconvincing. And maybe too soon.

The complete lack of characterization. I can’t tell if this is a problem with the horror genre in general, but for me to relate to a character, to care for the character, and therefore feel emotion when they are in danger, I have to know that character just a bit. These folks were all two-dimensional.

It seemed like these characters existed in an emotional vacuum. How in a horror movie does a writer deal with characters who show very little emotion? Was this because they were men in a manly world and couldn’t show a lot? Was it a sign of 1982? If I were standing with a flamethrower, watching the Thing transform, not only would I not hesitate to burn the fucker, I would probably wet my pants. They’re all very matter of fact. I list this problem separate from the problem with characterization, because I think you can develop a character without a ton of emotion and vice versa.

The good:

Aside from the points I mentioned above (Norris’ death, the moment of questioning), I loved the Thing. We never knew what it really looked like. It was like one of those wonderful Russian dolls, one form on top of another form, until you just don’t know what you’ve got. I loved that it demonstrated all the different forms, for instance, the dog’s head looked like a flower blossoming. When Blair did the necropsy, you saw many different things that it must have assimilated over so many years and worlds. Nice touch.

The tension in the movie was driven by paranoia. This was particularly effective. I loved the scene where they’re testing the blood. All those guys are tied to the bench and one of them is a Thing. Tied. to. the. bench. with. it. Lovely. The paranoia was handled very well, except, I think, for Blair’s breakdown.

This movie, despite what others said, did not feel at all “spaceshippy” to me. It did not feel metallic or claustrophobic, in fact I loved the scenes from the helicopter and the beautiful snow. I loved the dogs. (Bless them, and listen to the commentary if you can. Those dogs are amazing.)

Overall, this movie will probably enter into my rotation of favorites.


Tattooed writer with an attitude seeks like minded people who appreciate snark and ink. Or snarky ink.

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