John Carpenter can be hit or miss on some of the things he’s done in his career. Vampires may be a good case in point. In his version of The Thing, remade from Howard Hawks’ 1950’s classic, he doesn’t focus on the creature as much as the relationship between the men in the camp, and how the paranoia starts to creep in the group, as they try to figure out who may or may not be infected by the creature. I might have jumped ahead of some people who haven’t seen it, but just to briefly recap for those few w…o have missed this:
An American crew working in the Arctic circle encounter a Norwegian crew who are frantically shooting at a dog that is running to the camp. The Americans defends themselves as soon as one of the men is hit, and the Norwegians are killed. The Americans take the dog in, but they also go out to the Norwegian camp to find out just what exactly spooked them so much. They find a camp littered with bodies, along with something that was thawed out by the group before they were brutally killed. From that point, various members of the group get infected and plucked off one at a time. But what made this one maybe a bit scarier than most was Carpenter’s ability to create enough of a dynamic between the men, and that most of them were fleshed out enough to the point where you understand how they work together. And the cast is very able, from older members Blair and Copper (Wilford Brimley and Richard Dysart, respectively), to younger members Childs (Keith David, Armageddon) and Palmer (David Clennon, From the Earth to the Moon), all held together by the film’s star (and frequent Carpenter leading man) Kurt Russell (Dark Blue), who plays MacReady.
More than just your typical horror film, it’s a very effective look at how a traumatic incident can wreak havoc on a small isolated group, and the almost claustrophobic feel of being in the small camp makes you feel a bit more frightened of the Thing once it appears (designed and created with the usual outstanding work by Stan Winston). One of Carpenter’s best films, and remains one of the better horror films since its release 20 years ago.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack sounds good also, seeing as how it’s a 6 or 7 year old disc, with some environmental effects sounding somewhat effective.
When I popped in the film and watched the anamorphic widescreen transfer I was surprised. Everything is reproduced well, and the black levels are very good for this release.
Carpenter and Russell have always gotten along; they’ve worked on several films together, and their commentary tracks are always entertaining. Big Trouble in Little China is a good case in point, and if they re-unite for any new commentary tracks, they should be worth the price of admission. Here they do justice to their reputation, as while Carpenter does provide some technical information and some scene specific comments, the two spend a lot of time remembering old stories, and making fun of some people as they appear on screen, Wilford Brimley being the main victim. Russell remembers after seeing a huge sign for the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and the film being released a week after the release of E.T., they had a good feeling of what they were up against in their own studio. While they were skeptical of the effects at first, they were pleased with how they turned out. Both enjoy a lot of laughs during the commentary, with Carpenter’s laugh sounding a lot like Sesame Street’s Count von Count. The two wrap up talking about how much they enjoyed the process, and look forward to doing more commentaries in the future. Amen guys.
John Carpenter’s The Thing: Terror Takes Shape is an extensive look at the production, featuring new interviews with some members of the cast including Russell, and of the crew, including Carpenter, Special Effects coordinator Rob Bottin and Stan Winston, to name a few. It covers just about every aspect of the film, location scouting, concept drawings, unused stop motion photography, you name it. There are humorous stories about effects shots going wrong and some exotic appearances by the cast to the studio commissary when filming on the Universal lots. On location footage is included here too, and recalling problems on location are here too, along with an interesting story about taking the first bus ride to the hotels at the British Columbia spot also. Everyone shares their thoughts about the film now, how it turned out and what they perceive it to be, and with all of this, the result is a very extensive look at the film and should be included on any Special Editions Universal decides to regurgitate in the future.
What follows are extras that are text based, so you’ll be using a lot of the remote control on this one. The production background archive is 29 pages about how it came together, and includes pictures of the cast and script itself. A series of cast production photographs follow, along with a 3 page introduction. A 4 page introduction, following by 51 pages of production art and storyboards is next, along with 69 pages and pictures of location design, and 58 pages of drawings, behind the scenes and production photos make up the production archives. The saucer is the first of 3 segments broken down into frame by frame and full motion sections. The saucer included production photographs of, well, the saucer, while the full motion shows the repeated film at different aspects of it for the film. The Blairmonster includes drawings, pictures of the miniature and other production photos, as well as the unused footage. The outtakes are descriptions and pictures of some deleted scenes, while the full motion includes scenes different from those, 5 in total, with 4 of them featuring audio. Post production has 28 pictures, including ads and the movie’s premiere, and there are 11 pages of production notes and biographies of Russell and Carpenter. The trailer and Universal weblinks complete the set.Closing Thoughts
There’s a reason why this is still so cheap after almost 5 years on the market; there are a bunch of substantial extras, an outstanding commentary, and pretty good 5.1 sound, even from 1998. While the only thing holding this back is an anamorphic transfer, fans of the film and of horror movies should be wearing this disc out.
Special Features List
- Commentary with John Carpenter & Kurt Russell
- “The Thing Takes Shape” Making of Documentary
- Visual Effects Footage
- Behind the Scenes Footage
- Still Gallery