John Carpenter’s The Thing released June 25, 1982
The Thing is a 1982 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. It infiltrates an Antarctic research team, taking the appearance of the researchers that it kills, and paranoia occurs within the group.
Ostensibly a remake of the 1951 Howard Hawks-Christian Nyby film The Thing from Another World, Carpenter’s film is a more faithful adaptation of the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr. which inspired the 1951 film. 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 unrelated, each feature a potentially apocalyptic scenario; should “The Thing” ever reach civilization, it would be only a matter of time before it takes over the Earth.
The theatrical performance of the film was poor. This has been attributed to many factors, including Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which was released at the time and features a more optimistic view of alien visitation. However, The Thing has gone on to gain a cult following with the release on home video. It was subsequently novelized in 1982, adapted into a comic book miniseries published by Dark Horse Comics, and was followed by a video game sequel in 2002, with a film prequel currently in the works.
The film was originally banned when released in Finland.
The original movie, The Thing from Another World (1951), took place at the North Pole. This version takes place at the South Pole.
Donald Pleasence was the original choice for the character of Blair. Pleasence was unable to perform the role due to a scheduling conflict.
At the beginning of the film the Norwegian with the rifle is the second unit director and associate producer as well as Kurt Russell’s (then) brother-in-law, Larry J. Franco. According to John Carpenter, on the commentary track, Franco is not speaking Norwegian but making up the dialog. “Schmergsdorf” as Carpenter puts it. The subtitles, however, give the impression he is speaking Norwegian. The words spoken are actually understandable for Norwegians. Albeit broken Norwegian, the line goes: “Se til helvete og kom dere vekk. Det er ikke en bikkje, det er en slags ting! Det imiterer en bikkje, det er ikke virkelig! KOM DERE VEKK IDIOTER!!” This translates to: “Get the hell outta there. That’s not a dog, it’s some sort of thing! It’s imitating a dog, it isn’t real! GET AWAY YOU IDIOTS!!”
The Norwegian dog in the film was named Jed. He was a half wolf/half husky breed. Jed was an excellent animal actor, never looking at the camera, the dolly or the crew members. Jed, however, is NOT the dog seen in the beginning chase scene, where the Norwegian is trying shoot him. Per Carpenter’s commentary, this was another dog painted to look like Jed.
To give the illusion of icy Antarctic conditions, interior sets on the Los Angeles sound stages were refrigerated down to 40 F while it was well over 100 F outside.
In the close up shot of the United States National Science Institute Station 4 sign, a ‘Smokey the Bear’ sign can be seen.
The opening title exactly duplicates the original Howard Hawks film. To create the effect of the title, an animation cell with “The Thing” written on it was placed behind a fish tank filled with smoke that was covered with a plastic garbage bag. The garbage bag was ignited, creating the effect of the title burning onto the screen.
Based on the classic short story “Who Goes There?” by pioneering science fiction editor John W. Campbell Jr., he is not credited in the DVD version until the end credits.
This film is considered a benchmark in the field of special makeup effects. These effects were created by Rob Bottin, who was only 22 when he started the project.
The flesh-flower that attacks Childs is actually an incredibly detailed effect. Its petals are 12 dog tongues complete with rows of canine teeth. Effects designer Rob Bottin dubbed it the “pissed-off cabbage”.
The female voice on MacReady’s computer was performed (uncredited) by the wife of director John Carpenter, actress Adrienne Barbeau.
While discussing the character of MacReady, director John Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell discussed having MacReady be a former Vietnam chopper pilot who had felt displaced by his service in Vietnam. This ultimately did not make it into the finished film.
In August 2003 a couple of hard-core fans, Todd Cameron and Steve Crawford, ventured to the remote filming location in Stewart, British Columbia and, after 21 years, found remains of Outpost #31 and the Norwegian helicopter. The rotor blade from the chopper now belongs to Todd and rests in his collection of memorabilia from the film.
John Carpenter and Kurt Russell both admit that after all of these years they still do not know who has been replaced by the creature and when.
John Carpenter comments that one of the bush pilots used on the film offered to crash one of the helicopters for money. The scene when MacReady and Dr. Copper go to visit the Norwegian camp via helicopter, the bush pilot actually turned the controls over to Kurt Russell once the chopper was off the ground. If you watch the shot you see the ‘copter actually wobble, that’s Russell taking the controls.
In the shot of MacReady holding the dish of Palmer’s blood right before he tests it, the hand that holds the dish is fake.
The sound effect of the Antarctic wind was actually recorded in the desert outside Palm Springs.
There are no female characters in the film. The only female presence in the movie is in the voice of MacReady’s chess computer and the contestants seen on the game show that Palmer watches. A scene containing a blow-up doll was filmed and then left on the cutting room floor. According to John Carpenter, only one crew member was female but she was pregnant and this forced her to leave the shoot; she was replaced by a male.
This is the first of John Carpenter’s films which he did not score himself. The film’s original choice of composer was Jerry Goldsmith, but he passed and Ennio Morricone composed a very low-key Carpenter-like score filled with brooding, menacing bass chords.
The tentacles that Clark sees in the dog cage are whips being maneuvered by Rob Bottin.
Much of the creature work in the scene inside the dog cage was done by Stan Winston and his crew as Rob Bottin was suffering from exhaustion at the time due to his immensely heavy workload.
There is a character name “Mac” and another named “Windows”; since the film was made in 1982, this is purely coincidental.
One of the few Universal films that does not begin with the Universal logo.
The Thing (1982) came out in the early days of home video with stereo sound. It also came during the time videophiles began to learn how to decode the matrixed surround track encoded on Dolby Stereo films by use of a left minus right decoder with delay applied. The Thing was one of the main films that were recommended to test out the setups due to the aggressively directional surround stereo mix, especially in the opening helicopter chase. The Thing was among the first movies to advertise that it had a “matrixed surround track” on its packaging for the stereo soundtrack versions.
Vintage “making of” special contains scenes that never made it to the theatrical or TV versions, such as the tentacles from the “Dog Thing” starting to attack the dog, seen later partially digested in the final cut.
Poster artist Drew Struzan created the poster for this film basically overnight and without having seen any publicity photos.
According to John Carpenter in an interview, that he takes all of his failure movies pretty hard. However, he said that out of all those movies, this movie he took the hardest. Not only because the movie was a failure upon release but because both critics and the audience (to Carpenter’s shock) panned the movie for its gory violence and bleak content.
Nick Nolte turned down the role of MacReady, as did Jeff Bridges.
John Carpenter has stated that of all his films, this is his personal favorite.
In the scene where Palmer offers to pilot the helicopter and turns to leave, the back of his biker jacket reads “BARBARIANS / CALIFORNIA” with crossed battle axes and shield logo.
Filed under: GoreMaster 100 Films
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