★ ★ ★ ★
John Carpenter is a master at low budget horror and science fiction films. Before watching this, I had seen Dark Star, Assault on Precinct 13, Escape from New York, Escape from L.A. and, of course, Halloween. With most of these films, I have been surprised at the level of enjoyment I’ve experience watching them, being that I don’t necessarily consider myself a huge fan of the genres.
The Thing is a remake of Howard Hawk’s 1951 The Thing from Another World, which itself was based on a novella by John W. Campbell Jr. called Who Goes There? This version takes place at an American research station in Antartica, where the inhabitants are currently waiting out the harsh winter. They are alerted when a sled dog comes running to their station from across the snow-filled, empty plains; the dog is being chased by two gunmen in a Norwegian helicopter. They kill the Norwegians for firing at their base and take in this strange dog. The dog, in classic sci-fi nature, turns out to be an incarnation of a strange extraterrestrial life-form.
It’s a classic science-fiction tale, you have a group of guys who are fighting a strange alien life form in hopes of saving the world. However, this film is exceptionally well done for the genre. The tension between the characters, who don’t know which of them is still human and which has been afflicted, keeps the suspense high during the entire film. Furthermore, Rob Bottin’s special effects in this film are top notch. This was before the era of CGI, so all the amazing effects are done using makeup, prosthetics and camera tricks. Sure, there are a couple shots that look a little hokey, but all in all, the effects in this film really sell.
The all male cast is headed up by Carpenter favorite, Kurt Russell, who plays the usual rogue-like character that he seems to excel at. There’s also a lot of familiar faces in the supporting cast who, you may not know by name, but definitely would know the face. Supporting characters include Wilford Brimley, Donald Moffat, Keith David and Richard Dysart. All the cast do a fine job. These aren’t Oscar worthy performances by any means, but for the story, it’s a perfect group of actors for what was needed.
For those of you who like happy endings and upbeat stories, this is not a film for you. If, however, you like a thrilling science-fiction film that presents the bleak realities of a possible apocalyptic disaster, then they don’t get much better than this. This is the type of film Carpenter was born to make. Upon it’s release in 1982, this film didn’t do very well at the box office and that’s a real shame, because I think it’s a fine example for this genre.