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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

The Thing  (1982)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
3.5 Stars
(Release Date: October 11, 2016) – Made in John Carpenter's golden directorial age of the late-1970s/early-'80s (following 1978's "Halloween" and 1980's "The Fog"), "The Thing" is one of the great monster movies—not only of the era, but full stop. Notable for its unnerving layers of ambiguity and some of the most astonishing special effects ever committed to film, this adaptation of the short story "Who Goes There?" By John W. Campbell Jr. (previously inspiring 1951's "The Thing from Another World") methodically works itself into a lather of hair-raising paranoia. What the screenplay, penned by the late Bill Lancaster, lacks in character dimensionality, it largely makes up for with its teeth-chattering claustrophobia and stylistic artistry.

The isolating winter months have only just begun for an American research team stationed in Antarctica, but when their base is accosted by a group of gun-toting men on a Norwegian helicopter chasing after a dog, the ensuing confrontation ends abruptly following a showdown and explosion. Their investigation into this mysterious occurrence leads R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) and Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart) to two alarming discoveries at the otherwise abandoned Norwegian research facility: the frozen corpse of a man who seems to have taken his own life, and the remains of a humanoid entity the likes of which they've never before seen. What the men do not realize is that something not of this world is already lurking at their U.S. base—something that ruthlessly mimics the living beings to which it assimilates. If it is not stopped soon, it could very well reach civilization and overtake the entire planet.

"The Thing" gradually drops its narrative breadcrumbs, not immediately tipping its hat to exactly what is going on until the characters uncover the terrifying truth of their doomed situation. As the stakes grow ever more perilous, director John Carpenter sweeps his ensemble of men in a wave of fearful suspicion, the lot of them unsure who among them has been taken over. A semi-variation on Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" with an extraterrestrial twist, the film not only proves masterfully foreboding, but orchestrates a plot trajectory that fast spins delectably out of control. A set-piece where each man's blood is tested, revealing in an instant whether it is human or something else, is the nail-biting centerpiece, escalating in intensity as it moves toward a maelstrom of a payoff. Meanwhile, the nightmarish imagery brought to life by Rob Bottin's creature designs and make-up effects is astonishing, holding up to the closest of modern-day scrutiny while making the case for why tangible practical effects continue to be preferable to a reliance on CGI (something 2011's otherwise successful prequel, also titled "The Thing," fell victim to).

Like Ridley Scott's 1979 classic "Alien" before it, "The Thing" is science-fiction/horror with a visionary punch that continues to resonate and inspire filmmakers decades later. While the snowy exteriors were shot in remote locations in Alaska and British Columbia and the interiors were done at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, the seams do not show. Watching it, the spell is never broken; these look and sound like real people helplessly stranded on a frozen tundra alongside a powerful otherworldly force. John Carpenter and cinematographer Dean Cundey find an elegant terror in their mise en scène, while performances (led by Kurt Russell, who had previously collaborated with Carpenter on 1979's "Elvis" and 1981's "Escape from New York") are believable in their lack of showiness. Little is learned about who these characters are and what their Antarctic research consists of—this is its one lesser element, keeping them from being people for whom the viewer actively roots—but it is a minor detail next to all the picture gets spine-tinglingly right. "The Thing" is not easily forgotten, a thrilling, chilling entertainment for the not easily rattled—and then proceeds to rattle anyway.

Read Dustin's Theatrical Review

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

"The Thing" is a frostbitten 1080p stunner in this new 2K scan of the inter-positive supervised and approved by director of photography Dean Cundey. Looking as if it was made last week rather than thirty-five years ago, the image retains a lush, at times eye-opening, sense of clarity, each frame awash in detail (right down to the smallest of background objects and surfaces). Colors (from exterior blues and velvets to inky blacks to snowy daytime whites) exquisitely pop, as does the exceptional, slimy, monstrous practical effects wizardry. Grain is gorgeously and evenly resolved, with no signs of overbearing mosquito noise or age-related damage. Indeed, this sparkling new high-definition transfer is flawless. There are three audio options to choose from on this release (including 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks), but the highlight of this trio is, by far, the 4.1 DTS-HD MA mix, created from the original 70mm six-track Dolby Stereo soundtrack. Entirely immersive from the first frame to the last, this lively new audio presentation sounds both authentic to its original sound design and then one step better, chillingly enveloping the viewer's home theater. The Ennio Morricone score effectively looms over the proceedings, while creeping sound effects, gusting winds, and crystal-clear dialogue bring directionality and depth to the aural design.

Blu-ray Features
  • NEW Audio Commentary with director of photography Dean Cundey
  • NEW Audio Commentary with co-producer Stuart Cohen
  • Audio Commentary with director John Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell
  • NEW "Requiem for a Shapeshifter" Featurette (28:39, HD) – an interview with director John Carpenter and Mick Garris
  • NEW "The Men of Outpost 31" Featurette (51:14, HD) - featuring interviews with actors Keith David, Wilford Brimley, David Clennon, Thomas Waites, Peter Maloney, Richard Masur and Joel Polis
  • NEW "Assembling and Assimilation" Featurette (11:09, HD) – an interview with editor Todd Ramsay
  • NEW "Behind the Chameleon: The Visual Effects of The Thing" Featurette (25:26, HD) – featuring interviews with visual effects artists Peter Kuran and Susan Turner, special make-up effects artists Rob Burman and Brian Wade, and stop motion animators Randall William Cook and Jim Aupperle
  • NEW "Sounds from the Cold" Featurette (14:53, HD) – featuring interviews with supervising sound editor David Lewis Yewdall and special sound effects designer Alan Howarth
  • NEW "Between the Lines" Featurette (15:58, HD) – an interview with novelization author Alan Dean Foster
  • NEW "The Art of Mike Ploog" Storyboards Gallery (12:21, HD)
  • NEW "Back into the Cold: A Return to the Shooting Locations of The Thing" Animated Photo Gallery (11:16, HD)
  • Network TV Broadcast Version of The Thing (1:33:45, SD)
  • "John Carpenter's The Thing: Terror Takes Shape" Documentary (1:24:03, HD) – a feature-length retrospective featuring interviews with director John Carpenter, actor Kurt Russell, director of photography Dean Cundey, special effects make-up designer Rob Bottin, legendary matte artist Albert Whitlock, plus additional members of the cast and crew
  • "The Making of a Chilling Tale" Featurette (5:14, SD)
  • "The Making of The Thing" Featurette (9:20, SD)
  • Outtakes (5:19, HD)
  • Vintage Featurettes (13:20, SD)
  • Vintage Product Reel (19:38, SD)
  • Vintage Behind the Scenes Footage (2:02, SD)
  • Annotated Production Archive (54:12, HD)
  • Theatrical Trailers (3:27, HD)
  • German Trailer (1:47, HD)
  • Teaser Trailer (1:22, HD)
  • TV Spots (1:35, HD)
  • Radio Spots (2:27, HD)
  • Behind the Scenes Still Gallery (4:47, HD)
  • Lobby Cards and Press Still Gallery (4:18, HD)
  • Programs Still Gallery (1:44, HD)
  • Posters Still Gallery (1:59, HD)
  • Storyboards Still Gallery (2:34, HD)
  • Production Artwork Still Gallery (1:24, HD)
Bottom Line
I am pretty confident in predicting Scream Factory's new 2-disc Collector's Edition Blu-ray of John Carpenter's "The Thing" is the most exhaustive home video release this film has seen, or will ever see. Featuring over 13 hours(!) of bonus content over 2 discs, this release has gone above, beyond, through, over and far past fans' wildest imaginings. A classic of the sci-fi/horror genre, to boot, the ongoing legacy of "The Thing"—a film that only did so-so at the box office but has come to be revered in the decades since its release—is additionally done right by Scream Factory with a top-notch new 2K scan. Seriously, this movie looks better than ever. "The Thing" receives my highest recommendation. A must-own.

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© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

[Blu-ray Review] Cursed Films (2020)

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