Directed by John Carpenter
Written by Bill Lancaster
Based on the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr.
Starring Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, T.K. Carter, David Clennon, Keith David, Richard Dysart, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, Richard Masur, Donald Moffat, Joel Polis, & Thomas G. Waites
Release Date: June 25, 1982
Running Time: 1hr 49min
[Possible spoilers. But this movie is almost 40 years old at the time of this review.]
At the start of winter in Antarctica, an American research team is surprised by the sounds of a random helicopter and gunfire. They soon see two Norwegian pilots firing at a random sled dog, that runs towards the American base. One of the Norwegians accidentally blows himself and the helicopter up, while the other is shot and killed in self defense by station manager, Garry (Moffat).
Pilot R.J. “Mac” MacReady (Russell) and Dr. Copper (Dysart) travel to the nearby Norwegian base to investigate. They find the place completely destroyed, a block of ice that seemed to have something inside it, the frozen corpse of a man who killed himself, and out in the snow the burnt remains of a malformed humanoid that that they take back to their base for further research. Their Biologist, Blair (Brimley), performs autopsies on the remains and finds a seemingly normal set of human organs.
Later that evening, the rescued sled dog turns into some horrific creature, attacking the other dogs in the kennel, forcing the others do burn it up with a flamethrower. Examining the remains, Blair comes to the conclusion that the creature was attempting to absorb and turn itself into the rest of the dogs. He surmises that if this creature reaches a more populous city, it wouldn’t take very long to take over. This leads to Blair destroying the station radio and any form of transportation so that nobody can leave or come to their rescue.
Tensions rise among the group, as they’re not sure who they can trust, or if they themselves have already been taken over by this parasitic organism. Through it all we get some great performances, plus crazy ass transformations and gore scenes that are just AMAZING! Yeah, I’ll just say it right now, see this movie! I’ll still say some more, but there’s no way I can hide my enthusiasm for this movie till the end of my review.
Upon initial release, the film was met with very negative reviews. It was described as “instant junk”, “a wretched excess”, and proposed as the most-hated film of all time by film magazine Cinefantastique. Reviews both praised the special effects achievements and criticized their visual repulsiveness, while others found the characterization poorly realised. The film earned $19.6 million during its theatrical run. Many reasons have been cited for its failure to impress audiences: competition from films such as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which offered an optimistic take on alien visitation; a summer that had been filled with successful science fiction and fantasy films; and an audience living through a recession, diametrically opposed to The Thing’s nihilistic tone.
The film found an audience when released on home video and television. In the subsequent years it has been reappraised as one of the best science fiction and horror films ever made, and has gained a cult following. Filmmakers have noted its influence on their work, and it has been referred to in other media such as television and video games. The Thing has spawned a variety of merchandise—including a 1982 novelization, haunted house attractions, board games, toys—and sequels in comic books, a video game of the same name, and a 2011 prequel film of the same name (which is considered by most to be vastly inferior, and rightfully so). A remake was announced in 2020 (I highly doubt there’s anything they can improve upon here!).
I’m honestly shocked to hear this movie didn’t do well when it first came out (I was born in 1987, so by the time I was in my adolescence, I knew of this movie as a classic). Then again, I’ve never understood why critics will praise one movie with a lot of violence and gore, but then bash another with a lot of violence and gore. Also, The Golden Raspberry Awards (for those unfamiliar, they “award” the alleged worst of a year) had the fucking audacity to nominate the score of legendary composer Ennio Morricone! Blasphemy! Total bullshit! Sure, I knew the Razzies were a joke, but this makes absolutely no sense to me. The music is part of what makes this movie great!
And sure, Rob Botten’s special effects are definitely incredible, some of the best around, but they aren’t only reason this movie holds up so well. Credit also goes to the slick directing by Carpenter, the bleak but beautiful cinematography by Dean Cundey, the good script by Bill Lancaster (it’s really a shame that he didn’t have more writing opportunities), and the solid performances from the entire cast. Russell is definitely the anchor of cast (not just because his character is the reluctant leader), but the other actors give very solid performances and are given proper time to have them all established before many meet very gruesome ends. Some might be turned away from seeing this because of the bleak tone (which I can see to some degree), but I feel like you’re really denying yourself a great viewing experience.
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