Updated: Dec 1, 2021
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
(1) Something is amiss with the sled dogs, as Dr. Cooper (Richard Dysart) and Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley) are shocked by the horrific scene. (2) The stray dog has transformed into a hideous creature and attacks the other dogs. (3) Childs (Keith David) arrives with a flamethrower and incinerates the creature.
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JOHN CARPENTER’S – “THE THING”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 1982; R for graphic violence, gore, frightening and intense scenes, and profanity; streaming via Amazon Prime Video, Apple (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: “The Thing: Terror Takes Shape”
SOMETIMES, a little paranoia is a good thing. Add extreme isolation, claustrophobia, a badass shapeshifting alien and director John Carpenter, and you’ve got one of the best horror/sci-fi classics ever made.
Taken from John Campbell’s 1939 short story, “Who Goes There,” John Carpenter’s “The Thing” isn’t a remake of the 1951 “The Thing from Another World,” though there are some shout-outs to that one – starting with the title sequence.
The story begins with two men in a helicopter chasing a sled dog through the Antarctic wasteland (a glacier in British Columbia substituting). For some reason, they’re shooting at him with a high-powered rifle as he bounds across the drifts. (A word about that dog: Jed was half-wolf and a consummate professional, hitting all his marks and acting suitably creepy whenever it was called for.) The pilot is killed when he explodes a case of hand-grenades; his companion is shot by the American scientific post's leader, Garry (Donald Moffat) as the rifleman wildly tries to kill the dog, and grazes one of the American crew in the process.
(1) An old fashion special effects shot using a large model and a matte painting of planet Earth by veteran animator Jim Danforth. Our titular interstellar visitor makes a crash landing during the opening credits. (2-4) A Norwegian helicopter pursues an Alaskan Malamute (Jed) as it heads toward the American Antarctic Research Station. The U.S. crew is confused as the Norwegians try to kill the dog. (5) The remains of the Norwegian helicopter and its unfortunate pilot.
Establishing that the would-be dog killers came from a nearby Norwegian post, Dr. Cooper (Richard Dysart) and veteran helicopter pilot MacReady (Kurt Russell) fly out there to see what's what. "What's what" is that the Norwegians have uncovered an eon’s old crashed spaceship and its occupant, who apparently wreaked havoc on the camp before everyone killed each other. They return with a dead, frozen and misshapen creature for examination by the team's biologist, Blair, played by a grim Wilford Brimley.
About this time, the true nature of Jed the Dog becomes manifest and the fecal material hits the air circulation device. It seems our ancient interstellar traveler has the ability to imitate any life form it comes in contact with and assimilate it. In the words of Blair, “It wants to be us.”
In the “Terror Takes Shape” documentary, Carpenter says he didn’t want to make a conventional horror movie: “In the end, all you have is a guy in a suit.” Sticking to the original Campbell story, he creates a paranoiac’s nightmare. Twelve men, none of them too tightly wrapped to begin with, each wondering which of them has been taken over by the alien life form.
Oh, and they're all heavily armed. As time has gone by, I’ve had occasion to wonder why all that firepower: A case of shotguns, several revolvers, the rifle and hand-grenades of the Norwegian expedition and TWO – not one, but TWO – flamethrowers.
You know what lives in Antarctica? Penguins.
I can only speculate “March of the Penguins” has been keeping a dark secret from all of us.
(1) MacReady (Kurt Russell) pilot for the American station, pours another drink while playing a game of chess on the computer. (2) MacReady and Dr. Cooper fly out to the Norwegian station. (3) Evidence shows that things went very badly for the Norwegians. (4) Another shout-out to the original as The Thing’s resting place is revealed. (5) MacReady and Dr. Cooper return with the remains of The Thing. (6) A storm approaches the station.
There’s nothing new; bonus features are carryovers from previous releases, but they are choice. The commentary with Carpenter and Russell is one of the best you’ll find anywhere. They share behind-scenes stories, and tech and filming data from the opening credits to the end. These guys made four films together and obviously get along splendidly, talking about the rigors of filming in Alaska, British Columbia, and the Universal backlot in the middle of a heatwave in arctic gear.
Released in 1998, “The Thing: Terror Takes Shape” is a fascinating 83-minute documentary featuring Carpenter, Russell, screenwriter Bill Lancaster, special effects artist Rob Bottin, and other members of the cast and crew. If you have any curiosity at all about how this iconic sci-fi/horror film was put together, this will answer all questions. My favorite part was Bottin’s reminiscence of an unintentional explosion involving Charles Hallahan's detached cranium. Sadly, Hallahan died of a heart attack a year before the extra was made. He was a natural storyteller and his scene is easily the most memorable in the film.
There’s also a section called “Outtakes” that really seems to be deleted scenes, and the original theatrical trailer.
“The Thing” has been released in every format possible, upgraded each time. Those who enjoy extras will want to hang onto their copy of Scream’s “Collector’s Edition,” loaded with these features and more.
(1) Discovering the crashed alien ship, which was created with live-action actors and a traditional matte painting by Albert Whitlock. (2&3) One of the assimilated crew is incinerated, as the men watch in horror. (4) Commander of the U.S. Post 31 M.T. Garry (Donald Moffat) pulls a gun.
Crisp, clear, and balanced on an outstanding DTS:X audio mix. Dialogue is delivered front and center, with bass-loaded effects, explosive action, and subtle effects surrounding rear and height speakers. It all blends with quiet dialogue and a moody score by Ennio Morricone, who also composed scores for “The Untouchables” and “The Hateful Eight.” You won’t need to keep your thumb on the volume control.
Dean Cundey, cinematographer for “Jurassic Park,” “Apollo 13” and “Big Trouble in Little China,” shot “The Thing” on 35mm film with anamorphic lenses. Universal scanned the original negative for its 4K transfer (2.35:1 aspect ratio). Sharp and clear, with excellent color and detail, the picture looks better than ever with HDR10 grading. Figures and objects are well-defined; contrast is excellent, with distinct definition and solid, organic black tones. Complexion tones are natural and wintery pale, looking as if they’ve been out on the glaciers for a long while. Film grain is subtle and consistent; it looks good and does not overwhelm.
Keep in mind that Bottin’s creatures and surrounding effects are physical, not CGI, and it makes a difference. There are no worries about CGI looking obviously animated in the sharper picture. Also, the actors see and interact with them, lending more realism to their reactions and actions. (Yes - I'm going to freeze for a second or two when a detached head sprouts spider legs and runs off before I blast it with my blowtorch.) As Richard Masur, who plays dog handler Clark, puts it – Bottin’s figures are macabre works of art, glistening with life and function.
The enclosed Blu-ray is the same release from 2008. It’s more softly defined, and faces seem a bit pink, but I attributed that to frostbite and windburn. The 4K lacks that tinge.
Critics were not kind to Carpenter’s film when it first opened, but as time has passed, “The Thing” has assumed its deserved status as a classic. He says it’s part of his Apocalypse Trilogy that also includes “Prince of Darkness” and “In the Mouth of Madness.”
This film is screened every February at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station to celebrate the beginning of winter.
— Mike Reynolds
(1) MacReady presents his remaining human co-workers with a choice. (2) The Thing makes another appearance as Vance Morris (Charles Hallahan). (3&4) MacReady torches another morphed crew member and the infected crew-member staggers out into the Antarctic waste. (5) A blood test is administered to the survivors. (6) The station is destroyed in a last ditch effort to stop The Thing.