We are now hitting the home stretch to the official Summer of 1982 celebration with the only remake in the batch. As I’ve often confessed, Horror isn’t a strong topic for me so I recruited some local expertise from Jarrett, a co-worker/great guy who is a huge Carpenter aficionado, namely with the bullet points and history below.
The Thing is a significant movie in its own right for these reasons:
- Despite The Thing being Carpenter’s eighth movie, it was his first for a major studio release (Universal).
- It’s the first chapter in Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy. The other two are Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness.
- Although Escape from New York was Kurt Russell’s most ridiculous attempt to ditch his Disney persona, The Thing is what made him a more bankable Action movie star. Used Cars did the same for raunchy Comedy. Oddly, he returned to the Mouse-fold with Miracle and Sky High.
- Many thought Carpenter just remade the silly 1951 movie The Thing from Another World with gore but he really followed the original 1938 novella Who Goes There? by John W Campbell.
Some additional facts regarding The Thing provided by Jarrett:
- Carpenter tends to create his own music for his films: ENY, Big Trouble in Little China, Halloween, etc. With the The Thing, legendary composer Ennio Morricone of Spaghetti Western and Gangster film fame provided the soundtrack.
- Other than Adrienne Barbeau’s voice as the chess computer, there are no women present in the base. (I think you couldn’t get any film made today with such a conscious choice.)
- It opened the same weekend as Blade Runner. (and Megaforce according to Alamo’s guest host.)
Alamo stuck with their bulk 1982 material. Some was the same from past showings but here are the things I had failed to mention: Spark’s video for “I Predict,” and this guy from PC Magazine giving pointers on to get the most from a Commodore 64. I snickered over his emphasis on keeping the manual handy.
Thanks to Fandango’s servers sucking, the only seats we could get for the sold-out showing were in the balcony. Their $20/each price tag irked me until we were escorted to them via Adam (an assistant manager, nice dude too). Getting there consisted of a special elevator ride followed by a quick walk through the projection booth (they still use platters!). We exited via the four flights of stairs the wait staff utilizes, then passed the kitchen…reverse Goodfellas! Adam showed us how the newly installed recliners worked and left to fill our drink orders. Oh yeah. We’re doing the balcony again should there be a movie playing that’s super close to our hearts.
MC Zack and his buddy (I will find out his name by TRON) greeted the crowd, then handed things over to Scott Weinberg from the co-sponsor Movies.com. Scott was in the minority of guests they’ve brought who had something worthwhile to say. Maybe diehard Carpenter fans would disagree, much like my statement about Star Trek II‘s speaker, yet I was touched by his funny statement about Austin. To paraphrase, he said in other cities he’s an expert on movies, in Austin he’s just a guy on stage talking. I do admit my adopted home has a higher proportion of film geeks than anywhere else I’ve lived. Many are also more polite than you’d expect. Scott brought up Jarrett’s points and a few more I hadn’t thought about. You can read his essay to see. My favorite is how the lack of any women in the base prevented the other characters from demonstrating any bravado so they bicker like panicked teenage boys. I would attend another screening with Weinberg as a host/guest. His enthusiasm and expertise was on par with Joe Bob Briggs.
Afterwards, Zack had to tell everyone the sad news. Alamo planned to have a surprise guest…co-star Wilford Brimley. He played the biologist Dr. Blair (I forgot!). Currently he’s in the hospital for an emergency situation yet Wilford told Zack on the phone he promised to visit us as soon as he’s well. I hope he recovers.
No news about Blade Runner. It seems everything will officially wrap up with TRON. I am seeing The Wall with my friend Jeff and I’m on the fence about Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I don’t have a strong affection toward the jokes because people like Spicoli weren’t amusing, they were dicks.
On to the mood-setting trailers: Swamp Thing and Escape from New York. Then TRON to remind everyone to return in two weeks.
How is The Thing 30 years later? Impressive. The dated technological elements don’t hinder how tense and scary the situation is. I think the men on the base would still be screwed in 2012 since Antarctica’s winter storms can defeat even today’s gadgets, thus preventing any reasonable chance of rescue. Carpenter’s use of humor was great; don’t want to give the audience a heart attack from being wound up all the time. The pre-CGI special effects have held up. They weren’t as vomit-inducing as I remembered. I might be more de-sensitized now; If I covered my eyes when the Nazis melted in Raiders circa 1981, I’m confident I would’ve at least turned my head a few times when the Thing made its moves against its victims. Other factors of note. The Thing doesn’t have a happy ending, it’s an ambiguous-to-tragic finale with the last two survivors probably freezing to death, each suspecting the other is infected. The majority of Horror movies I’ve seen tend to have at least one hero/heroine defeating the foe, living to tell the rescuers what went down: Alien, all the Friday the 13th splatterfests. The Thing lacks any hints as to which people were infected until there’s an attack; no musical cues, no foreshadowing (except Norris, this may be my memory at work) and no symptoms. All these traits vindicated Carpenter’s masterpiece within a matter of years. When it debuted, The Thing was poorly received by audiences outside the usual Horror crowd and critics were less than kind. The latter was unusual, many praised Halloween. Today, this movie is well-regarded, a gold-standard in the genre.
1982 (13-year-old me): B+. Outside of Escape from New York, I usually approached Carpenter with trepidation. He had a (perceived) reputation for splatter films. I tried to watch The Fog on HBO in 1981 and had to change the channel. I may have enjoyed violent movies when I was pre-teen, I just didn’t like gruesome murders or attacks by monsters. However The Thing proved me wrong. Sure it was gross yet it wasn’t gratuitous gore or violence. Seeing it through our puny 13″ color TV probably helped.
2012: A+. Again, Carpenter was vindicated thanks to VCRs and Cable giving The Thing a second wind. My perfect grade is more for the movie’s technical merits the adult version of me notices. It is a great story too. The only nitpicky matter is the Thing’s magical ability to disguise and/or shed all the mass it acquires from the accumulation of victims. If I had the opportunity to teach my nephews and nieces the essentials of film/suspense (I might, Wyatt is a budding auteur), I would make The Thing mandatory once the kid is old enough not to have nightmares from it.
The Thing‘s life lessons as per other 1982 features:
- Fire cures/defeats everything
- Compassion is a liability when fighting an insidious epidemic; it certainly seemed to be the attitude toward AIDS throughout the Eighties
- Not all Scandinavians can speak English fluently or reflexively during an earth-threatening crisis