John Carpenter’s The Thing

The Thing (1982)

A Review of John Carpenter’s Version

 

                I’m going to try to focus on the story itself since I think that is the point of these movie reviews. I can’t say much about the movie or special effects because I don’t know what the norm was for that time period. I will say there was plenty of “gross out” scenes but I expected that with John Carpenter.

I know this film was based on a novella by John Campbell, Jr (pen name Don Stewart) written in 1938 called Who Goes There? I confess I didn’t know this before watching the film. I had never seen the “original” version, which I now know is not considered the original as this is not considered a remake. So, I watched this movie with only minimal pre-conceived notions. I had seen bits and pieces of it before and I knew the basic premise but had never actually watched it start to finish.

Ultimately, I didn’t love the film but I didn’t hate it either. It was ok. In trying to separate the movie from the story, I think there was some flat acting, I think there were some unnecessary additions. For instance there was so much emphasis placed on McReady’s drinking, I thought maybe it would amount to something. Maybe the alcohol in his blood would denature the alien cells, but nope. He just drinks a lot. Maybe it was one of those things to distinguish him from the others. The roller skating chef, the dumb dolt who cares for the dogs, the pot smoking mechanic, the neurotic leader, and uh..the rest of them.

Here’s what the story did well, in my opinion: you could not have put together a better setting and situation to elicit the feeling of isolation and claustrophobia than an Antarctic research station filled with a team of twelve men. The cold and blustery environment forces them inside in cramped quarters where because of the recent bad weather, they seem to have lost radio contact with the outside world (but the TV reception was great, wasn’t it? I digress) So, now, they are just existing in the humdrum, boring routine at Station 31 when a helicopter shows up, shooting at a dog, crashes and leaves no survivors. An investigation reveals they were from a Norwegian station and everyone there was dead. Further investigation reveals a large space ship and an alien life form which appears dead as well and so it is brought back to camp. Why not, what else are they going to do with their time? Science?

Well, it just so happens that the dog is not a dog but an alien in perfect disguise as we discover these aliens are capable of doing. They can perfectly mimic their prey, and it only takes a single cell to take over the body. And thus begins the onset of distrust and paranoia throughout the camp. You’re already cold and alone with these guys, now you don’t know who you can trust. You got nowhere to run, and no one to call for help. Especially not after the good Dr. Blair figures it all out and smashes all their communication equipment to bits. Now it’s getting bad, really bad.

And I like it. I like the suspense, the drama, the trying to figure out who’s who. The blood test in the petri dishes was the best jump scare I’ve had in a long time and I love that the guys were all tied together. Can you even imagine? And I think the ending was brilliant and a testament to the human will to survive. What hope is there? The generators are all ruined, the place has been blown to smithereens, both men know they’re going to die and yet, there they sit, sharing a bottle of Beam (Which is when I say to myself, “well, if one of you is infected, now you both are, way to spread germs guys.”) just trying to make it through the night.

So where’d it go wrong? You are all going to hate me but….I just couldn’t quite understand the alien’s mechanism of action. And listen, before you roll your eyes and say “Jesus Dowdy, is there anything you like?” there is. I gave the movie the benefit of the doubt and pestered my husband who happens to watch this movie every time it shows up on cable (or my assignments). Here were my questions.

“So wait, if it attacks the guy and leaves blood and shredded clothing all over the place, isn’t it obvious who it’s mimicking?”

“I don’t know, Joe-la, just watch.”

“Oh, so it does this when it can get them alone and it just needs time to change over?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“So does it go back and clean up all the blood?”

“Must have.”

“But they said all the parts/cells/whatever can become separate organisms, why doesn’t that blood crawl away and infect the others that way? Wouldn’t that be better?”

“Probably.”

“So, wait, he put the hot wire into the blood, it goes nuts and they all look at the guy and he’s seizing and the alien just bursts out of him? That’s not very elusive? Is there a time limit that they can be in the body?”

“I think it knew it got caught, Joe-la, it was trying to get away.”

“But why didn’t it send out tendrils when everyone was fixated on the wire and blood?”

“I don’t know.”

“So you know that alien body they found and it was like two faces and a dog all melded together? Where was it hiding to do that? Shouldn’t it have been in three different things? I don’t get it?”

“Oh My God, Joe-la, just watch the damn movie, don’t you have to write a report on it?”

 

And that’s how that went. I was confused. Nothing it was doing seemed very stealthy. So why not just lock everyone together in a room and watch each other until the damned thing gives up?

Well, you’ll all be happy to know that I did a little research on Mr. Campbell’s story and guess what? He explains it perfectly in the book. It makes so much more sense. Look it up for yourself, it sounds like a good read. Now, tell me why not just put a tiny bit more effort into the movie and make it better? Because John Carpenter likes the blood and guts and the mutant slime-covered creatures and so do many horror movie junkies. That, my friends is my one and only beef with the movie. Otherwise it was a good little creeper with some fun 80’s style special effects.

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6 thoughts on “John Carpenter’s The Thing

  1. Joe-la, I have to agree with just about everything you said. The only exception is that you seemed to enjoy it more than I did. Really, though: it wasn’t very clandestine, was it? Hopefully it explains that in the book, and it might have to be something I pick up because the premise is really good. Carpenter’s execution was on par with everything else coming out in the 80s, so I can’t really say he’s guilty of anything other than trying to make a movie that would make money in that environment.

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  2. vanessaessler says:

    Joe-la, I have read the Cambell story long ago, so I think I was able to just put aside all the inconsistencies with the monster(s) as the premise made clearer sense in the story. Maybe that previous knowledge let me suspend my disbelief more. I loved this movie; it looks like I’m the odd one out this round.

    I think Carpenter did a great job of making a scary entertaining movie. The fact that he chose Kurt Russel to lead just made me think of Snake Plisskan though. I kept wondering where his eye patch went to and why he went to Antarctica after escaping New York.

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  3. Aaron Dalzell says:

    Jesus Joe-La, just watch the damn movie. Sorry, I’m with your husband on this one : )

    And the helicopter didn’t crash, it blew up after the grenade slid out of the gunner’s hand. Sorry, but I’ve seen this movie waaaayyyy too many times,I know it like the back of my hand. Every character name, what they do at the base, every music cue, the background to Rob Bottin’s special effects, the sequel video game from years ago, the original film, everything about Carpenter’s style, just about everything except the book its based on and the exact reason why they are there other than research in some capacity.

    I can see your points and see what you mean, but I’m just so immersed in this film I just can’t bring myself to say anything negative about it. I took Mac’s drinking as a way to ease the tension of the situation for him, same as Palmer’s pot smoking.

    It’s my second favorite movie, so I just can’t do it.

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  4. lisettegallows says:

    I straight up hated Mac. I thought the characters were the worst thing about this movie and really brought the monster down.

    One of the most engaging things for me was the alien trying to survive, trying to escape, or trying to make all these human people go away and stop hurting it. I was able to understand how it own body betrayed it. It had no control over it’s blood in the petri-dish and wanted to wait it out and see if the experiment failed to detect it, or if someone said something that would get him out of his fix. When that failed the particular set of cells that was curly headed white guy part 2 said, ‘welp, I’m dead and attacked.”

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  5. Joe-La, I feel your pain here. And it’s pretty clear that in your case, Carpenter failed to engage your suspension of disbelief. But, like others have implied — why make sense when you can make money instead?
    I haven’t read the original story in years, but if it helps in any way to clear up that mess, then i’m going to have to track it down again.
    Good post!

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  6. kmmoreno1 says:

    OMG I love your dialogue scene with your husband. That is so me and my daughter. You do have some good points with your questions. I like the idea of only having so much time in the host. Perhaps after it consumes the host from within, it NEEDS to move on to a new one for survival. That would give a sense of time to both the survival of the last man standing, and also the alien itself.

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