“A cell gets out and it will imitate everything on the face of the Earth! Nothing can stop it!”
When a United States research facility in Antarctica comes under threat of an alien micro-organism that can imitate other life forms, members of the close-knit team stranded there begin to wonder who, if anyone, can be trusted.
Starring Kurt Russell as MacReady, Wilford Brimley as Blair, Keith David as Childs, Donald Moffat as Garry, Richard Masur as Clark, David Clennon as Palmer, Charles Hallahan as Norris, Joel Polis as Fuchs, and T.K. Carter as Nauls, The Thing is directed by horror film master, John Carpenter based on a screenplay by Bill Lancaster.
The Thing, and by extension the story upon which it is based (“Who Goes There?” a novella by John W. Campbell, Jr.), exists in many different forms. An idea well-suited for the story’s subject matter: a micro-organism that assimilates other lifeforms, and – if left unchecked, would spread at a catastrophic rate, leaving no one unaffected.
While John Carpenter’s The Thing may not be your favorite version of the subject matter, and many fans of Carpenter will shake their fist and tell you how much they hate the film, it is arguably the most faithful to the original material.
Personally, The Thing remains not only on my list of favorite Carpenter films but also on my otherwise constantly rotating list of all-time favorites. The reasons for which are both nostalgic and technical; The Thing reminds me of my childhood because my brother and I would spend hours talking about the scenes and playing them out, and because the special effects in the film are simultaneously amazing and disgusting.
I’m a huge fan of The Thing. I’ll admit the bias.
And while most people take issue with the film’s nihilistic ending, I love the last five minutes of screen time, during which Mac and Childs sit alone, cold, in the snow, and share a drink from a bottle of booze. I love the scene. Love it. The station is in flames behind them, night has fallen, and one – or both of them – could already be infected. All of their friends have perished. It’s the beginning of Winter. No one will be coming until Spring. The helicopter is shot. There’s no shelter. These moments are someone’s last. What transpires next spells life or death for one, or the both, of them.
Then, there’s the iconic score, like a heartbeat, and the film fades to black. (Relive the moment by listening to the brilliant theme composed by Ennio Morricone below.)
It may seem so lazily open-ended and sinister, and typically, it’s just the type of malarkey I hate, the kind that leaves me screaming “shenanigans!” But coming from Carpenter (and owing to that slight smile on Kurt Russell’s face just at the end) you know the crap is about to hit the fan. It’s your own fault, not Carpenter’s, if you haven’t the imagination – or memory – necessary to fill in the blanks as the film fades to black. After all, Carpenter has already spent the 100 or so minutes leading up to this scene preparing you for it.
The Thing was also my first introduction to its particular method of storytelling; one in which everyone, and no one, is a suspect or potential foe. Carpenter leads through misdirection, leaving breadcrumbs everywhere for those with fertile imaginations and keen observation skills. I found it excruciatingly intense at the time, and even upon subsequent viewings, it’s fun following the clues.
The one issue I will ever take with The Thing is that, had I been a character in the story, knowing that the micro-organism could be little more than a particle, I sure as hell wouldn’t be sharing bottles or touching corpses of unknown origin. Barring that, it’s fun to scream “don’t drink that!” every time a character shares a drink with someone else.
In fact, there should be a drinking game based on The Thing— oh wait, there is: drink if…
I love the interplay between the characters, all of whom are male, and how their relationship with one another quickly degrades given the stress of the alien presence. The environment of the outpost, the remoteness of it, adds much in the way of creating an atmosphere of fear and paranoia in which the characters become increasingly isolated. That even those who are infected do not know they are only makes the film all the more terrifying.
Ranked at #1 on the Top 50 Scariest Films of All Time, John Carpenter’s The Thing is a classic that deserves the recognition it was not exactly afforded upon its release in 1982. After all, it opened the same weekend as Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, Blade Runner, and just a few weeks in the wake of Steven Spielberg’s friendlier tale of alien invasion, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
For me, The Thing remains a perennial in the world of great sci-fi horror films; no easy task in a field where advancements in technology are making the unimaginable a reality.
What about you? What do you love or hate about John Carpenter’s version of The Thing? And can someone please explain Kurt Russell’s gigantic hat?
An Introduction: by John Carpenter
Listen to Ennio Morricone’s brilliant theme from The Thing:
Wiki facts: The Thing
Is The Thing rotten or fresh?
How did The Thing do at the box office?
Watch or buy The Thing on Amazon
Related: That Film Guy reviews The Thing
 ”The Thing (1982 film)” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 25 Feb. 2013. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thing_(1982_film)>