The Thing (1982 film)
Theatrical release poster by Drew Struzan
|Directed by||John Carpenter|
|Produced by||David Foster
|Screenplay by||Bill Lancaster|
|Based on||Who Goes There?
by John W. Campbell
|Music by||Ennio Morricone
John Carpenter (uncredited)
|Edited by||Todd C. Ramsay|
|David Foster Productions
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Running time||109 min.|
|Box office||$19,629,760 (US only)|
The Thing (also known as John Carpenter's The Thing) is a 1982 American science fiction horror film directed by John Carpenter, written by Bill Lancaster, and starring Kurt Russell. The film's title refers to its primary antagonist: a parasitic extraterrestrial lifeform that assimilates other organisms and in turn imitates them. The Thing infiltrates an Antarctic research station, taking the appearance of the researchers that it absorbs, and paranoia develops within the group.
The film is based on John W. Campbell, Jr.'s novella Who Goes There?, which was more loosely adapted by Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby as 1951's The Thing from Another World. Carpenter considers The Thing to be the first part of his Apocalypse Trilogy, followed by Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness. Although the films are narratively unrelated, each features a potentially apocalyptic scenario; should "The Thing" ever reach civilization, it would be only a matter of time before it consumes humanity.
On June 25, 1982, The Thing opened #8 in 840 theaters and remained in the top ten box office for three weeks. The lower-than-expected performance has been attributed to many factors, including Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which was also released by Universal Studios around the same time and featured a more optimistic view of alien visitation, as well as another popular science fiction film, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, being released on the same day. However, The Thing has gone on to gain a cult following with the release on home video. The film subsequently spawned a novelization in 1982; a comic book miniseries adaptation, entitled The Thing From Another World and published by Dark Horse Comics, in 1991; a video game sequel, also titled The Thing, in 2002; and a prequel film with the same title on October 14, 2011.
- 1 Plot
- 2 Cast
- 3 Production
- 4 Release
- 5 Reception
- 6 Soundtrack
- 7 Legacy
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
In the Antarctic, a Norwegian helicopter pursues an Alaskan Malamute to an American research station. Upon landing the helicopter, a Norwegian accidentally drops a thermite charge, destroying the helicopter and killing the pilot. A surviving Norwegian pursues the dog, firing a rifle, until he is killed by Garry, the station commander. The Americans send a helicopter pilot, MacReady, and Doctor Copper to the Norwegian camp for answers, but find only a charred ruin, with the body of a man who committed suicide and a large block of ice with a hollowed cavity. Outside they discover the burned remains of a humanoid corpse with two faces. MacReady and Copper return with the humanoid corpse and Norwegian documents. Upon returning, biologist Blair performs an autopsy on the corpse, finding a normal set of human internal organs.
The camp wrangler, Clark, kennels the Malamute with the station's sled dogs where it begins to metamorphose and attacks the other dogs. MacReady pulls the fire alarm when he hears the commotion, and calls for the station mechanic, Childs, to bring a flamethrower. Childs incinerates the creature. Blair performs another autopsy, which leads him to believe the creature is capable of perfectly imitating other life forms. The Norwegians' records lead the Americans to a crater containing a flying saucer and a hole left by the block of ice they suspect the creature came from. The station's geologist, Norris, hypothesizes that the crater is likely over 100,000 years old. Blair becomes increasingly suspicious of the others and withdraws, calculating that if the alien escapes to a civilized area, all life on Earth will be assimilated in a few years. Another biologist, Fuchs, tells MacReady that he is worried about Blair, and that according to Blair's journal, the creature's "dead" remains are still active on a cellular level. The camp is warned not to share food or drink, and to avoid being alone with the creature, which has been brought into a storeroom.
Meteorologist Bennings is assimilated by the creature but he is caught outside by radio operator Windows before his metamorphosis is complete. MacReady burns Bennings before he can escape. They realize Blair is conspicuously absent. They discover Blair wrecked all the transports and killed the remaining sled dogs. The team corners Blair as he is destroying the radio, and then locks him in an isolated tool shed. Determined to learn who is infected, they discover the blood stores have been sabotaged before they can perform a blood-serum test Copper recommends, and the paranoid men begin to turn on each other.
MacReady takes charge and orders Fuchs to continue Blair's work, but Fuchs disappears when the power goes out. As a storm closes in, MacReady, Windows, and Nauls continue the search for Fuchs outside where they eventually find his burned body. Windows goes back to tell the others, and MacReady takes Nauls to check MacReady’s shack, where the lights have mysteriously come on. On the way back, Nauls cuts MacReady loose from the tow line, assuming he has been assimilated when he finds a torn shirt with MacReady's name on it. As the team debates MacReady's fate, he breaks in and threatens to destroy the station with a bundle of dynamite if they attack him, causing Norris to suffer an apparent heart attack.
When Copper attempts to revive Norris by defibrillation, his chest gapes open and closes with giant fanged teeth, biting off Copper's arms and killing him. MacReady incinerates the creature and orders Windows to tie up everyone for a new test. Clark attempts to attack MacReady who shoots and kills Clark. MacReady explains his theory that every piece of the alien is an individual organism with its own survival instinct that will react defensively when threatened. One by one, MacReady tests everyone's blood with a heated piece of copper wire. When they test helicopter pilot Palmer, his blood flees from the copper wire and he is exposed. Palmer begins to metamorphose and attacks Windows, forcing MacReady to burn them both.
Leaving Childs on guard, the others head out to test Blair, only to find that he has tunneled under the tool shed. They realize that Blair is infected and has been scavenging the equipment in order to build a small escape craft. Discovering that Childs is missing and the spacecraft that the station's power generator is destroyed, MacReady speculates that the Thing now intends to freeze itself until a rescue team arrives in the spring. MacReady, Garry, and the cook Nauls, decide to dynamite the complex hoping to destroy the Thing. While setting the explosives, Garry is killed and Nauls disappears. As MacReady rushes to set the charges, a larger monster emerges from below and destroys the detonator. MacReady triggers the blast with a stick of dynamite and the base explodes.
MacReady sits as the camp burns and Childs appears. Childs claims he was lost in the storm while pursuing Blair. Exhausted and with virtually no hope of survival, they acknowledge the futility of their distrust, sharing a bottle of scotch as the camp burns.
- Kurt Russell as MacReady
- Wilford Brimley as Blair
- Donald Moffat as Garry
- Richard Masur as Clark
- Keith David as Childs
- David Clennon as Palmer
- Charles Hallahan as Norris
- Richard Dysart as Copper
- T. K. Carter as Nauls
- Peter Maloney as Bennings
- Joel Polis as Fuchs
- Thomas G. Waites as Windows
- Norbert Weisser as Norwegian Pilot
- Larry J. Franco as Norwegian Passenger with Rifle
The screenplay was written in 1981 by Bill Lancaster, son of Burt Lancaster. The film was shot near the small town of Stewart in northern British Columbia. The research station in the film was built by the film crew during summer, and the film shot in sub-freezing winter conditions. The only female presence in the film is the voice of a chess computer, voiced by Carpenter regular (and then-wife) Adrienne Barbeau, as well as the female contestants viewed on a videotaped episode of Let's Make a Deal.
According to the sign post outside the camp, the Antarctic research team is stationed at the United States National Science Institute Station 4. However, in early drafts of the script, the base was called, "U.S. Outpost 31". When making a recording of events, Kurt Russell's character, MacReady, signs off as, "R.J. Macready, helicopter pilot, U.S. Outpost #31".
The film took three months to shoot on six artificially frozen sound stages in Los Angeles, with many of the crew and actors working in cold conditions. The final weeks of shooting took place in northern British Columbia, near the border with Alaska, where snow was guaranteed to fall. John Carpenter filmed the Norwegian camp scenes at the end of production. The Norwegian camp was simply the remains of the American outpost after it was destroyed by an explosion.
The Thing was the fourth film shot by cinematographer Dean Cundey (following Carpenter's Halloween, The Fog, and Escape from New York) and the third to feature Kurt Russell as the lead actor. Russell would appear in two additional Carpenter films following The Thing: Big Trouble in Little China and Escape from L.A.. Most of the special creature effects were designed and created by Rob Bottin and his crew, with the exception of the dog creature, which was created by Stan Winston. Winston was brought in when Bottin's team found themselves overloaded with work on the other creatures seen in the film.
The film was shot anamorphically for the 2.39:1 "scope" ratio. Despite current trends leaning towards digital shooting, the 2011 prequel was also shot on film in the anamorphic format.
In the documentary Terror Takes Shape on the DVD, film editor Todd C. Ramsay states that he made the suggestion to Carpenter to film a "happy" ending for the movie, purely for protective reasons, while they had Russell available. Carpenter agreed and shot a scene in which MacReady has been rescued and administered a blood test, proving that he is still human. Ramsay follows this by saying that The Thing had two test screenings, but Carpenter did not use the sequence in either of them, as the director felt that the film worked better with its eventual nihilistic conclusion. The alternate ending with MacReady definitively proven to be human has yet to be released.
According to the 1998 DVD release, the "Blair Monster" was to have had a much larger role in the final battle. However, due to the limitations of stop-motion animation, the monster appears for only a few seconds in the film.
One of the film's associate producers, Larry J. Franco, has a credited cameo as the Norwegian rifleman from the beginning of the film. Director John Carpenter and his then-wife Adrienne Barbeau have uncredited cameos as a man in the Norwegian video footage and the voice of the chess computer, respectively.
Although the production's helicopter pilots are not characters within the movie and only serve as body doubles when the helicopters are in flight, they are listed under the credits. Nate Irvin is listed as Helicopter Pilot and William Zeman is listed as Pilot.
Two names were changed from Bill Lancaster's second draft of the script. The character Windows was originally named Sanchez, who was described as "hating it here" and "lousy at his job". The second character changed is the Norwegian rifleman, who was identified as "Jans Bolan" in a deleted scene from his dogtags and named Lars according to the 2011 prequel.
The film's musical score was composed by Ennio Morricone, a rare instance of Carpenter not scoring one of his own films, although Carpenter did score a few pieces of music with Alan Howarth which were also used in the final film. In 2012, Morricone recalled,
|“||Regarding The Thing, by John Carpenter, I've asked him, as he was preparing some electronic music with an assistant to edit on the film, "Why did you call me, if you want to do it on your own?" He surprised me, he said - "I got married to your music. This is why I've called you." I was quite amazed, he called me because he had my music at his wedding. Then when he showed me the film, later when I wrote the music, we didn't exchange ideas. He ran away, nearly ashamed of showing it to me. I wrote the music on my own without his advice. Naturally, as I had become quite clever since 1982, I've written several scores relating to my life. And I had written one, which was electronic music. And [Carpenter] took the electronic score.||”|
After its cinema run, the film was released on VHS and laserdisc, and a re-edited version was created for television by TBS and Universal Studios. The edited version was heavily cut to reduce gore, violence, and profanity; additionally it featured a narrator during the opening sequence (in the same manner as the original 1951 film), a voiceover during Blair's computer-assisted study, and an alternate ending. In the alternate ending, the "Thing", which has once again mimicked one of the sled dogs, looks back at the burning camp at dawn before continuing on into the Antarctic wilderness.
The Thing has subsequently been released twice on DVD by Universal in 1998 and 2005. The 1998 edition was a Universal Collector's Edition, featuring The Thing: Terror Takes Shape, an extensive 83-minute documentary. It details all aspects of the film and features interviews from many of the people involved. There are detailed stories from the cast and crew concerning the adapted screenplay, the special effects, the post-production, the critical reception, and more. Other features include deleted scenes, the alternative ending shown in the television version, a theatrical trailer and production notes. Additionally, John Carpenter and Kurt Russell provide commentary throughout the film. An anamorphic widescreen transfer was not included, but this omission was remedied with the second DVD/HD DVD release in October 2004, which featured identical supplements to the 1998 release, with the exception of the isolated score track from the documentary. The film was released on Blu-ray Disc in Europe on October 6, 2008.
Unlike the American version of The Thing released on Blu-ray, the European version features most of the extras from the 1998 and 2005 DVD releases. These extras include the documentary The Thing: Terror Takes Shape although several extras, most notably the alternate ending, were not included. The Blu-ray version also includes various Blu-ray only features, such as a HD version of the film (although the extras are still presented in 480i/p, depending on the extra) as well as a picture-in-picture mode that pops up at various points of the movie. Although the feature is new, the footage included in the picture-in-picture mode are all taken from "The Thing: Terror Takes Shape" documentary. The Blu-ray versions of The Thing are Region Free, making any version playable in any BD player.
The Thing opened #8 and remained in the top 10 at the box office for three weeks. The movie was released in the United States on June 25, 1982 in 840 theaters and was issued an "R" rating by the Motion Picture Association of America (limiting attendees to 17 and older without a guardian). The film cost $15,000,000 to produce, and debuted at #8 at the box office, with an opening weekend gross of $3.1 million. It went on to make $19,629,760 domestically. Carpenter and other writers have speculated that the film's poor performance was due to the release of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial two weeks earlier, with its more optimistic scenario of alien visitation (which received a "PG" rating from the MPAA). The Thing also opened on the same day as Ridley Scott's science fiction film Blade Runner, which debuted at #2.
The film received mixed reviews upon release. The film's groundbreaking makeup special effects were simultaneously lauded and lambasted for being technically brilliant but visually repulsive and excessive. Film critic Roger Ebert called the film "disappointing," though said he found it scary and that it was "a great barf-bag movie." However, he criticized what he felt were poor characterizations and illogical plot elements, ultimately giving the film 2½ stars out of 4. In his review for The New York Times, Vincent Canby called it "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 80s." Time magazine's Richard Schickel wrote, "Designer Rob Bottin's work is novel and unforgettable, but since it exists in a near vacuum emotionally, it becomes too domineering dramatically and something of an exercise in abstract art."
In his review for the Washington Post, Gary Arnold called the film "a wretched excess." Jay Scott, in his review for the Globe and Mail, called the film "a hell of an antidote to E.T." In his review for Newsweek, David Ansen wrote, "Astonishingly, Carpenter blows it. There's a big difference between shock effects and suspense, and in sacrificing everything at the altar of gore, Carpenter sabotages the drama. The Thing is so single-mindedly determined to keep you awake that it almost puts you to sleep."
Despite mixed contemporary reviews, the film has been reappraised substantially in the years following its release, and now maintains an 79% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the site's consensus stating "Grimmer and more terrifying than the 1950s take, John Carpenter's The Thing is a tense sci-fi thriller rife with compelling tension and some remarkable make-up effects." It's been listed as one of the best of 1982 by Filmsite.org and Film.com. The film ranked #97 on Rotten Tomatoes' Journey Through Sci-Fi (100 Best-Reviewed Sci-Fi Movies), and a scene from The Thing was listed as #48 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Similarly, the Chicago Film Critics Association named it the 17th scariest film ever made. The Thing was named "the scariest movie . . . ever!" by the staff of the Boston Globe. In 2008, the film was selected by Empire magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.
In 2011, The New York Times asked prominent horror filmmakers what film they had found the scariest. Two, John Sayles and Edgar Wright, cited The Thing. "The theater was full, and I had to sit in the front row," Sayles recalled.
The Thing received nominations from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films for Best Horror Film and Best Special Effects, but lost to Poltergeist and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, respectively. The film was nominated in the Razzie Awards for Worst Musical Score.
|The Thing Original Motion Picture Soundtrack|
|Soundtrack album by Ennio Morricone|
|Released||June 25, 1982|
The original soundtrack was released by Varèse Sarabande in 1991 on compact disc. It was also available as an isolated score track on the 1998 DVD release, but is not present on the 2005 edition. The soundtrack has since gone out of print. A re-recording of the soundtrack, produced and arranged by Alan Howarth and Larry Hopkins, is currently available. It is the only version of the soundtrack that contains the unused Carpenter and Howarth pieces.
All music composed by Ennio Morricone.
|1.||"Humanity (Part I)"||6:59|
|8.||"Humanity (Part II)"||7:16|
Re-recording by Howarth and Hopkins
All music composed by Ennio Morricone except where * is indicated;
(* denotes John Carpenter in association with Alan Howarth).
|2.||"Main Theme - Desolation"||4:29|
|10.||"To Mac's Shack*"||2:52|
|16.||"Main Theme - End Credit"||4:34|
Sequels and prequel
The Sci Fi Channel planned to do a four-hour mini-series sequel to the film in 2003. Carpenter stated that he believed the project should proceed, but the Sci Fi Channel later removed all mention of the project from their homepage. In February 2009, a positive review of the abandoned screenplay for the Sci-Fi miniseries was published on Corona's Coming Attractions.
In 2004, John Carpenter said in an Empire magazine interview that he has a story idea for The Thing II, which centers around the two surviving characters, MacReady and Childs. However, Carpenter felt that due to the higher price associated with his fee, Universal Studios will not pursue his storyline. Carpenter indicated that he would be able to secure both Kurt Russell and Keith David for the sequel. In his story, Carpenter would explain the age difference of the actors between the two installments by having frostbite on their face due to the elements until rescued. The assumption of the sequel would rely on a radio signal being successfully transmitted by Windows before Blair destroyed the communications room. Thus, after the explosion of the base camp, the rescue team would arrive and find MacReady and Childs still alive. Carpenter has not disclosed any other details.
In September 2006, it was announced in Fangoria magazine that Strike Entertainment, the production company behind Slither and the Dawn of the Dead remake, was looking for a writer or writers to write a theatrical prequel to The Thing. After accepting a script from Eric Heisserer, Strike Entertainment began production to the prequel, also titled The Thing and was filmed in 2010. The prequel focuses on the Norwegian crew that first discovered the alien three days prior to the dog arriving at Outpost 31. The film directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. was shot in Toronto and released on October 14, 2011.
In 2007, the Halloween Horror Nights event at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, the film property was designed as a haunted attraction called The Thing - Assimilation. Guests walked through Outpost 3113, a military facility where the remains of Outpost 31 were brought for scientific research. Scenes and props from the film were recreated for the attraction, including the bodies of MacReady and Childs. In 2009, the event's icon house, Silver Screams, contained a room based on the film.
Universal Studios also featured Haunted Attractions based on "The Thing"'s 2011 prequel at both the Florida and Hollywood editions of Halloween Horror Nights in 2011.
Books and comics
A novelization of the film based on the second draft of the screenplay was published in 1982 by Alan Dean Foster. Although the novel is generally true to the film, there are minor differences: the Windows character is named Sanders, and an episode in which MacReady, Bennings and Childs chase after several infected dogs which escape into the Antarctic tundra was added (this sequence was featured in Lancaster's second draft of the screenplay). The disappearance of Nauls is also explained in the novel; pursued by Blair-Thing into a dead end, he kills himself rather than allow it to assimilate him.
Dark Horse Comics published four comic sequels to the film in the form of three miniseries and one serial (The Thing from Another World, The Thing from Another World: Climate of Fear, The Thing from Another World: Eternal Vows which sees the return of MacReady, as he pursues The Thing to New Zealand's Stewart Island, and The Thing from Another World: Questionable Research, which was serialized in Dark Horse Comics #13-16), again featuring the character of MacReady as the lone human survivor of Outpost #31 and depicting Childs as infected (The Thing From Another World: Climate of Fear issue 3 of 4). Questionable Research explores a parallel reality where MacReady is not around to stop the Thing and a suspicious scientist must prevent its spread, after it has wreaked destruction on Outpost 31. The comic series was titled The Thing from Another World after the original 1951 Howard Hawks film in order to avoid confusion and possible legal conflict with Marvel Comics' Fantastic Four member, the Thing. Much later, Dark Horse released a digital comic called The Thing: The Northman Nightmare as a prelude to the film's 2011 prequel.
In January 2010, Clarkesworld Magazine published "The Things", a short story by Peter Watts which retells the film events from the alien's point of view and paints it in a much more sympathetic light by describing the thing as an alien with an innocent impulse to share with the human race its power of communion and its frightened, not to mention severely saddened, reaction when they attack it. The story received a nomination to the Hugo Award in 2011.
In 2002, The Thing was released as a survival horror third-person shooter for PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox, acting as a sequel to the film. The video game differs from the comics in that Childs is dead of exposure, and the audiotapes are present (they were removed from Outpost 31 at the start of The Thing from Another World: Questionable Research). At the completion of the game, R.J. MacReady is found alive and helping the main character complete the last mission. The game used elements of paranoia and mistrust intrinsic to the film. Some retailers, such as GameStop, offered a free copy of the 1998 DVD release as an incentive for reserving the game. In 2011, a region of the Entropia Universe was created based on the theme of The Thing.
The story follows on where the movie left off: Childs is found dead and frozen where he was last seen at the end of the film, but at the end of the game it is revealed that R.J. MacReady survived as he evacuates the game's main character in a helicopter.
In September 2000, as part of the third series of its "Movie Maniacs" line of toys, McFarlane Toys released two figures based on the film. One was the Blair Monster seen near the ending of the movie, and the other is the Norris Creature seen during the defibrillator scene. The latter included a smaller figurine of the disembodied head with spider legs also seen in the film. Sota Toys also released a bust of the spider head, as well as a box set of the kennel scene showing the thing imitating the dogs.
The Thing is regularly viewed by members of the winter crew at the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station after the last flight out, usually in a double-feature with The Shining. It is also viewed by scientific personnel at the Summit Camp on the apex of the Greenland Ice Sheet.
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- Further reading
- eBook All About ‘The Thing’; analyzes the film in depth
- Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, the novella on which The Thing is based
- The Thing by Anne Billson; a monograph about the film in the BFI Modern Classics series
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: The Thing|
- The Thing at the Internet Movie Database
- The Thing at AllMovie
- The Thing at Box Office Mojo
- The Thing at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Thing at theofficialjohncarpenter.com
- Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum's Set Visit