- The Thing (1982 film)
Film poster by Drew Struzan
Directed by John Carpenter Produced by David Foster
Screenplay by Bill Lancaster Based on Who Goes There? by
John W. Campbell, Jr.
Starring Kurt Russell Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography Dean Cundey Editing by Todd C. Ramsay Studio Universal Pictures
David Foster Productions
Distributed by MCA / Universal Pictures Release date(s) June 25, 1982 Running time 109 minutes Country United States Language English
Budget $15,000,000 Box office $19,629,760 (North America)
The Thing (also known as John Carpenter's 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. The Thing infiltrates an Antarctic research station, taking the appearance of the researchers that it kills, and paranoia occurs within the group.
Ostensibly a remake of the classic 1951 Howard Hawks-Christian Nyby film The Thing from Another World, Carpenter's film is in fact an adaptation more faithful in its premise and characters to the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr. which inspired the 1951 film, and not a remake in the conventional sense. 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 features a potentially apocalyptic scenario; should "The Thing" ever reach civilization, it would be only a matter of time before it consumes humanity and takes over the Earth.
The theatrical box office 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 same 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. The movie was subsequently 'novelized' in 1982; adapted into a comic book miniseries in 1991 and published by Dark Horse Comics entitled, The Thing From Another World; a 2002 video game sequel titled The Thing; and a prequel film with the same title, released on October 14, 2011.
- 1 Plot
- 2 Cast
- 3 Production
- 4 Soundtrack
- 5 Reception
- 6 Release
- 7 Legacy
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
An American Antarctic research team stationed at the United States National Science Institute Station 4 (or Outpost 31) is alerted by gunfire and explosions. An Alaskan Malamute is trying to evade a Norwegian helicopter with an on-board rifleman frantically trying to kill the dog. The helicopter lands, and the pilot (named Matias in the prequel film) attempts to volley a thermite charge, but accidentally drops the grenade. He tries to pick it up but dies in the subsequent explosion, destroying the helicopter in the process. Unable to communicate with the team in English, the rifleman (named Lars in the prequel) who survived the explosion fires at the dog, grazing George Bennings (Peter Maloney), one of the researchers. Lars is shot and killed by Garry (Donald Moffat), the station commander.
Not knowing what to make of the incident, the station crew adopts the dog, placing it in the hands of Clark (Richard Masur), the sled-dog handler. Unable to contact the outside world via radio, helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) and Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart) risk a flight to the Norwegian camp for answers, but find the entire compound in charred ruins. MacReady and Copper enter the charred building to find an axe stuck in the door, the Norwegian personnel missing, and the body of a man who appears to have committed suicide in the radio room. While Cooper collects videotapes and documents for evidence, MacReady searches the rest of the camp and discovers a large block of excised ice with a hollowed cavity in a room with a large hole in the roof. Outside the camp, the two also discover the burned remains of a mangled humanoid corpse with two faces. They bring the twisted body back to the camp, but an autopsy by Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley) is inconclusive aside from the fact that the creature's body contains a set of normal internal organs.
At a request by Bennings, Clark kennels the stray with the rest of the station's sled dogs. Once alone, it transforms into a chaotic biomass that violently assaults the dogs with acidic fluids and whip-like tentacles. Alerted by the noise, MacReady and Clark summon the crew to the kennel with weapons, and Childs (Keith David) burns the creature with a flamethrower. A subsequent autopsy by Blair reveals that the stray dog was a mimetic extraterrestrial life form that assimilates and imitates other life forms on a cellular level. Realizing the implications of this, Blair quickly becomes withdrawn and suspicious of the others. Using the Norwegian research materials, MacReady, Norris (Charles Hallahan) and Palmer (David Clennon) (although his face is covered by goggles and a face mask hat, Palmer is identified by his jacket) inspect a field site to discover a massive crater formed by an alien spacecraft. Norris and MacReady inspect the craft, which Norris estimates to be at least 100,000 years old, due to the age of the surrounding ice. MacReady makes the incorrect assumption that the Norwegians blew up the spacecraft. Palmer, who remains at a distance, discovers the area from which the Norwegians had cut the large block of ice.
The burned corpse from the Norwegian camp is revealed to be still alive when Windows (Thomas G. Waites) finds the carcass assimilating Bennings and alerts MacReady. The team corners the Bennings-Thing in mid-transformation and burn it with fuel, along with the corpse from the Norwegian camp. Blair, meanwhile, has calculated that the creature will assimilate the entire planet within three years should it ever reach civilization, and suffers a psychotic episode, destroying the helicopter and radio with an axe and killing the remaining sled dogs. The team manages to corner and overpower him, and locks him outside in the tool shed.
To determine which members of the team are infected, Copper recommends a blood serum test, but finds that the medical blood supply has been destroyed by sabotage. Suspicious, MacReady puts Garry, Copper, and Clark into isolation, and orders Fuchs (Joel Polis) to continue Blair's work. An approaching snowstorm forces them inside tight quarters and MacReady makes a tape recording of the events in case he or the crew do not survive.
Fuchs goes missing shortly after a power failure and his burned remains are found outside as the blizzard approaches. Station chef Nauls (T. K. Carter) returns to the others after finding MacReady's torn clothing in his shack's oil furnace. During a heated debate about MacReady's fate, MacReady breaks in and commandeers dynamite, forcing the others into a standoff that causes Norris to suffer a heart attack.
When Copper attempts to revive Norris by defibrillation, Norris is revealed to be the Thing when his torso transforms into a giant mouth and bites off Copper's arms, who quickly bleeds to death. MacReady quickly torches Norris's body, but the creature's head detaches itself from its torso, grows spider-like legs, and tries to crawl away. Fortunately, MacReady kills the creature and orders everyone to be tied up for a new improvised blood test. Clark tries to stab MacReady, but is shot and killed.
By observing the Norris-Thing, MacReady explains his theory that every individual piece of the alien is a distinct unit with its own survival instinct and a sample of the alien's blood will react defensively and try to move away when touched with a heated metal wire. Drawing samples from each member, the test reveals that MacReady, Nauls, Childs, Garry, Windows, and the deceased Copper and Clark are human. But Palmer is revealed to be the Thing and transforms and kills Windows before MacReady burns it; MacReady then burns Windows' body as it also begins to transform.
Leaving Childs behind for security, the others head to the tool shed in order to force Blair to take the blood test, only to find that he has escaped by tunneling underground. They find that Blair has been infected and has been scavenging parts of the helicopter and radio equipment to build a small spacecraft in a cavern beneath the tool shed. Childs is then seen inexplicably leaving his post just before the entire camp loses power.
MacReady concludes that the alien intends to freeze itself in the storm and await the arrival of the rescue team in the spring. Resigned to the probability that they will not escape alive, the team begins to dynamite the entire complex, hoping to force the Thing out in the open.
While rigging the generator room to explode, Garry is killed by the Blair-Thing. Nauls then disappears after he hears a noise and goes to check it out. As MacReady finishes setting the explosives, Blair transforms into a larger monster, demolishing the generator room and taking the detonator. Before being attacked, MacReady blows up both the Blair-Monster and the base with a stick of dynamite.
MacReady wanders the burning ruins to face his fate with a bottle of scotch and encounters Childs, who claims to have been lost in the storm after pursuing Blair, but MacReady is unconvinced. With the harsh weather closing in around them and without the energy to test which of them is really human, they acknowledge the futility of their situation. They sit sharing the bottle between them, as the camp burns. MacReady says in the movies' final line: "Why don't we just sit here awhile... see what happens...".
- Kurt Russell as R.J. MacReady
- Wilford Brimley as Dr. Blair
- Keith David as Childs
- Donald Moffat as Garry
- Richard Masur as Clark
- David Clennon as Palmer
- Charles Hallahan as Vance Norris
- Joel Polis as Fuchs
- T.K. Carter as Nauls
- Richard Dysart as Doc Copper
- Thomas G. Waites as Windows
- Peter Maloney as George Bennings
- Norbert Weisser as the Norwegian pilot (Matias)
- Larry J. Franco as the Norwegian Passenger With Rifle (Lars)
The screenplay was written in 1981 by Bill Lancaster, son of Burt Lancaster. The film was shot near the small town of Stewart in northern British Columbia. The research station in the film was built by the film crew during summer, and the film shot in sub-freezing winter conditions. The only female presence in the film is the voice of a chess computer, voiced by Carpenter regular (and then-wife) Adrienne Barbeau, as well as the female contestants viewed on a videotaped episode of Let's Make a Deal.
According to the sign post outside the camp, the Antarctic research team is stationed at the United States National Science Institute Station 4. However, in early drafts of the script, the base was called, "U.S. Outpost 31". When making a recording of events, Kurt Russell's character, MacReady, signs off as, "R.J. Macready, helicopter pilot, U.S. Outpost #31".
The film took three months to shoot on six sound stages in Los Angeles, with many of the crew and actors working in cold conditions. The final weeks of shooting took place in northern British Columbia, near the border with Alaska, where snow was guaranteed to fall. John Carpenter filmed the Norwegian camp scenes at the end of production. The Norwegian camp was simply the remains of the American outpost after it was destroyed by an explosion.
The Thing is notable in Carpenter’s career; it was his first foray into major studio film-making.
The Thing was the fourth film shot by cinematographer Dean Cundey (following Carpenter's Halloween, The Fog and Escape from New York) and the third to feature Kurt Russell as the lead actor. Russell would appear in two additional Carpenter films following The Thing: Big Trouble in Little China and Escape from L.A.. Most of the special effects were designed and created by Rob Bottin and his crew, with the exception of the dog creature, which was created by Stan Winston.
In the documentary Terror Takes Shape on the DVD, film editor Todd C. Ramsay states that he made the suggestion to Carpenter to film a "happy" ending for the movie, purely for protective reasons, while they had Russell available. Carpenter agreed and shot a scene in which MacReady has been rescued and administered a blood test, proving that he is still human. Ramsay follows this by saying that The Thing had two test screenings, but Carpenter did not use the sequence in either of them, as the director felt that the film worked better with its eventual nihilistic conclusion. The alternate ending with MacReady definitively proven to be human has yet to be released.
According to the 1998 DVD release, the "Blair Monster" was to have had a much larger role in the final battle. However, due to the limitations of stop-motion animation, the monster appears for only a few seconds in the film.
One of the film's associate producers, Larry J. Franco, has a credited cameo as the Norwegian rifleman from the beginning of the film. Director John Carpenter and his then-wife Adrienne Barbeau have uncredited cameos as a man in the Norwegian video footage and the voice of the chess computer, respectively.
Two names were changed from Bill Lancaster's second draft of the script. The character Windows was originally named Sanchez, who was described as "hating it here" and "lousy at his job". The second character changed is the Norwegian rifleman, whose was identifed as "Jans Bolan" from his dogtags, and named Lars according to the prequel.
- Humanity (Part I)
- Humanity (Part II)
The Thing performed adequately at the box office. It was released in the United States on June 25, 1982 in 840 theaters and was issued an "R" rating by the Motion Picture Association of America (limiting attendees to 17 and older without a guardian). The film cost $15,000,000 to produce, and debuted at #8 at the box office, with an opening weekend gross of $3.1 million. It went on to make $19,629,760 domestically. Carpenter and other writers have speculated that the film's poor performance was due to the release of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial two weeks earlier, with its more optimistic scenario of alien visitation (which received a "PG" rating from the MPAA). The Thing also opened on the same day as Ridley Scott's science fiction film Blade Runner, which debuted at #2.
The film's ground-breaking make up special effects were simultaneously lauded and lambasted for being technically brilliant but visually repulsive. Film critic Roger Ebert praised the film's scariness and special effects, calling them "among the most elaborate, nauseating, and horrifying sights yet achieved by Hollywood’s new generation of visual magicians", and called the film itself "a great barf-bag movie". However he criticized what he felt were poor characterizations and illogical plot elements, ultimately giving the film 2½ stars out of 4. In his review for The New York Times, Vincent Canby called it "a foolish, depressing, overproduced movie that mixes horror with science fiction to make something that is fun as neither one thing or the other. Sometimes it looks as if it aspired to be the quintessential moron movie of the 80s". Time magazine's Richard Schickel wrote, "Designer Rob Bottin's work is novel and unforgettable, but since it exists in a near vacuum emotionally, it becomes too domineering dramatically and something of an exercise in abstract art".
In his review for the Washington Post, Gary Arnold called the film "a wretched excess". Jay Scott, in his review for the Globe and Mail, called the film "a hell of an antidote to E.T.". In his review for Newsweek, David Ansen wrote, "Astonishingly, Carpenter blows it. There's a big difference between shock effects and suspense, and in sacrificing everything at the altar of gore, Carpenter sabotages the drama. The Thing is so single-mindedly determined to keep you awake that it almost puts you to sleep".
Despite mixed contemporary reviews, the film has been reappraised substantially in the years following its release, and now maintains an 78% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the site's consensus stating "Grimmer and more terrifying than the 1950s take, John Carpenter's The Thing is a tense sci-fi thriller rife with compelling tension and some remarkable make-up effects." It's been listed as one of the best of 1982 by Filmsite.org and Film.com. The film ranked #97 on Rotten Tomatoes’ Journey Through Sci-Fi (100 Best-Reviewed Sci-Fi Movies), and a scene from The Thing was listed as #48 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Similarly, the Chicago Film Critics Association named it the 17th scariest film ever made. The Thing was named "the scariest movie ... ever!" by the staff of the Boston Globe. In 2008, the film was selected by Empire magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.
In 2011, The New York Times asked prominent horror filmmakers what film they had found the scariest. Two, John Sayles and Edgar Wright, cited The Thing. "The theater was full, and I had to sit in the front row", Sayles recalled.
The Thing received nominations from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films for Best Horror Film and Best Special Effects, but lost to Poltergeist and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, respectively.
After its cinema run, the film was released on VHS and laserdisc, and a re-edited version was created for television by TBS and Universal Studios. The edited version was heavily cut to reduce gore, violence and profanity; additionally it featured a narrator during the opening sequence (in the same manner as the original 1951 film), a voiceover during Blair's computer-assisted study, and an alternate ending. In the alternate ending, a "Thing" which has mimicked one of the sled dogs looks back at the burning camp at dawn before continuing on into the Antarctic wilderness.
The Thing has subsequently been released twice on DVD by Universal in 1998 and 2005. The 1998 edition was a Universal Collector’s Edition, featuring The Thing: Terror Takes Shape, an extensive 83-minute documentary. It details all aspects of the film and features interviews from many of the people involved. There are detailed stories from the cast and crew concerning the adapted screenplay, the special effects, the post-production, the critical reception, and more. Other features include deleted scenes, the alternative ending shown in the television version, a theatrical trailer and production notes. Additionally, John Carpenter and Kurt Russell provide commentary throughout the film. An anamorphic widescreen transfer was not included, but this omission was remedied with the second DVD/HD DVD release in October 2004, which featured identical supplements to the 1998 release, with the exception of the isolated score track from the documentary. The film was released on Blu-ray Disc in Europe on October 6, 2008.
Unlike the American version of The Thing released on Blu-ray, the European version features most of the extras from the 1998 and 2005 DVD releases. These extras include the documentary The Thing: Terror Takes Shape although several extras, most notably the alternate ending, were not included. The Blu-ray version also includes various Blu-ray only features, such as a HD version of the film (although the extras are still presented in 480i/p, depending on the extra) as well as a picture-in-picture mode that pops up at various points of the movie. Although the feature is new, the footage included in the picture-in-picture mode are all taken from "The Thing: Terror Takes Shape" documentary. The Blu-ray versions of The Thing are Region Free, making any version playable in any BD player.
The original soundtrack, composed by Ennio Morricone, was released by Varese Sarabande in 1991 on compact disc. It was also available as an isolated score track on the 1998 DVD release, but is not present on the 2005 edition. The soundtrack is currently out of production.
Sequels and prequel
The Sci Fi Channel planned to do a four-hour mini-series sequel to the film in 2003. Carpenter stated that he believed the project should proceed, but the Sci Fi Channel later removed all mention of the project from their homepage. In February 2009, a positive review of the abandoned screenplay for the Sci-Fi miniseries was published on Corona's Coming Attractions.
In 2004, John Carpenter said in an Empire magazine interview that he has a story idea for The Thing II, which centers around the two surviving characters, MacReady and Childs. However, Carpenter felt that due to the higher price associated with his fee, Universal Studios will not pursue his storyline. Carpenter indicated that he would be able to secure both Kurt Russell and Keith David for the sequel. In his story, Carpenter would explain the age difference of the actors between the two installments by having frostbite on their face due to the elements until rescued. The assumption of the sequel would rely on a radio signal being successfully transmitted by Windows before Blair destroyed the communications room. Thus, after the explosion of the base camp, the rescue team would arrive and find MacReady and Childs still alive. Carpenter has not disclosed any other details.
In September 2006, it was announced in Fangoria magazine that Strike Entertainment, the production company behind Slither and the Dawn of the Dead remake, was looking for a writer or writers to write a theatrical prequel to The Thing. After accepting a script from Eric Heisserer, Strike Entertainment began production to the prequel, also titled The Thing and was filmed in 2010. The prequel focuses on the Norwegian crew that first discovered the alien three days prior to the dog arriving at Outpost 31. The film directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. was shot in Toronto and released on October 14, 2011. The prequel ends with the Norwegians chasing the dog in a helicopter and an American survivor, Kate Lloyd, who is stranded in a fueled snowcat with the knowledge of a Russian camp nearby.
In 2007, the Halloween Horror Nights event at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, the film property was designed as a haunted attraction called The Thing - Assimilation. Guests walked through Outpost 3113, a military facility where the remains of Outpost 31 were brought for scientific research. Scenes and props from the film were recreated for the attraction, including the bodies of MacReady and Childs. In 2009, the event's icon house, Silver Screams, contained a room based on the film.
Universal Studios now features a house based on "The Thing"'s 2011 prequel at both the Florida and Hollywood editions of Halloween Horror Nights.
Books and comics
A novelization of the film based on the second draft of the screenplay was published in 1982 by Alan Dean Foster. Although the novel is generally true to the film, there are minor differences: the Windows character is named Sanders, and an episode in which MacReady, Bennings and Childs chase after several infected dogs which escape into the Antarctic tundra was added (this sequence was featured in Lancaster's second draft of the screenplay). The disappearance of Nauls is also explained in the novel; pursued by Blair-Thing into a dead end, he kills himself rather than allow it to assimilate him.
Dark Horse Comics published four comic miniseries sequels to the film (The Thing From Another World, The Thing From Another World: Climate of Fear, The Thing From Another World: Eternal Vows, The Thing From Another World: Questionable Research), featuring the character of MacReady as the lone human survivor of Outpost #31 and depicting Childs as infected (The Thing From Another World: Climate of Fear Issue 3 of 4). Questionable Research explores a parallel reality where MacReady is not around to stop the Thing and a suspicious scientist must prevent its spread, after it has wreaked destruction on Outpost 31. The comic series was titled The Thing from Another World after the original 1951 Howard Hawks film in order to avoid confusion and possible legal conflict with Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four member, the Thing.
In January 2010 Clarkesworld Magazine published "The Things", a short story by Peter Watts which retells the film events from the alien's point of view and paints it in a much more sympathetic light by describing the thing as an alien with an innocent impulse to share with the human race its power of communion and its frightened, not to mention severely saddened reaction when they attack him. The story received a nomination to the Hugo Award in 2011.
In 2002, The Thing was released as a survival horror third-person shooter for PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox, acting as a sequel to the film. The video game differs from the comics in that Childs is dead of exposure, and the audiotapes are present (they were removed from Outpost 31 at the start of The Thing from Another World: Questionable Research). At the completion of the game, R.J. MacReady is found alive and helping the main character complete the last mission. The game used elements of paranoia and mistrust intrinsic to the film. Some retailers, such as GameStop, offered a free copy of the 1998 DVD release as an incentive for reserving the game.
In Spore Galactic Adventures, there is a Maxis-made Adventure called "It Came from the Sky". It was based on the movie.
In September 2000, as part of the third series of its "Movie Maniacs" line of toys, McFarlane Toys released two figures based on the film. One was the Blair Monster seen near the ending of the movie, and the other is the Norris Monster seen during the defibrillator scene. The latter included a smaller figurine of the disembodied head with spider legs also seen in the film.
Annual viewing at Antarctic station
The Thing is regularly viewed by members of the winter crew at the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station after the last flight out, usually in a double-feature with The Shining. It is also viewed by scientific personnel at the Summit Camp on the apex of the Greenland Ice Sheet.
- The Last Winter - similar horror-themed film, but with ghosts over aliens
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- eBook All About ‘The Thing’; analyzes the film in depth
- Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, the novella on which The Thing is based
- The Thing by Anne Billson; a monograph about the film in the BFI Modern Classics series
- The Thing at the Internet Movie Database
- The Thing at AllRovi
- The Thing at Box Office Mojo
- The Thing at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Thing at Top250.info
- The Thing at theofficialjohncarpenter.com
- Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum's Set Visit
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