I don’t know if you guys remember an awesome move that came out way back in 1982 called The Thing, but it has a prequel coming out in theaters in the U.S. today (also called “The Thing“).
This post isn’t about the current movie, this one is about the 1982 movie starring Kurt Russell, Keith David and directed by John Carpenter.
In short, that movie freakin’ ROCKED.
THE FIRST MOVIE
NOTE: I’m going ahead with some spoilers here. I’ll try to keep them to a minimum, but this film is 30 years old now…
So for those of you who don’t know about this one, The Thing is a horror movie set in Antarctica. A United States research team finds that they are forced to deal with a predatory alien that assumes the form of whatever it kills.
Check the original trailer:
When I first saw that this new movie was coming out, I was a bit annoyed. I’m pretty tired of the creative bankruptcy of Hollywood and all the remakes. I just didn’t think they could do any better than John Carpenter’s movie.
Looking further, though, I discovered that this was actually the prequel to the 1982 film. That changed my whole outlook on the new movie, since I knew they weren’t planning on poorly rehashing the characters from the first time around.
At this point I decided it was time to watch the movie again, and so I popped it in. I hadn’t watched it in probably 10 years, so I was a bit worried it wouldn’t live up to my fond memories.
Except when I watched it I thought it was even more awesome.
I’ll go a little bit more in-depth on the situation the characters are faced with.
Essentially we have the research team in Antarctica. They’re already isolated as it is, and now they have a huge blizzard bearing down on them where communication will be cut off for days, and no expected re-supply for longer than that.
As events unfold, the team is forced to accept the unlikely and extremely unpleasant fact that they are now being hunted by an alien creature that was previously asleep in the ice.
The creature not only kills people and animals, but it becomes them as it kills them.
So we have these 12 men, trapped in the storm together. By the time they figure out what’s happening they realize it’s pretty likely that not all of them are still human. The fear and paranoia set in quickly among the crew.
The ultimate problem here is a such: The creature kills people and then becomes them. It proceeds to kill more people and then becomes them. It keeps splitting and multiplying. It’s goal is to keep procreating.
While it’s trapped in the storm with the research team, there’s still a chance it can be stopped, but if it were to ever make it to civilization…
They run the numbers on that scenario, and it doesn’t look good. This is an extinction level threat forming and the only people there to deal with it are a hodgepodge of outsiders who are already several steps behind the game as the movie opens.
WHAT IS THE THING?
I remember watching the movie as a child and not quite understanding what the creature was.
Also I remember my Dad laughing as the people got killed. This is irrelevant to the discussion but he would also laugh whenever my character would die playing the video game “Pitfall” on my Atari 2600. Some people, man…
Anyway, what was cool about the creature was that it really didn’t have its own form, at least not one that we ever saw.
What it did was it imitated the life form of whatever it killed. It was NOT a perfect copy, it was still a thing, and could be found out under the right conditions.
What was difficult for me to understand at first was how the creature could divide itself.
It happens like this: Let’s say the creature is hiding as a cat. If the cat then goes and attacks a person, it becomes that person, but it’s also still a cat, so now there’s TWO things.
At first I thought that the creature was hiding inside someone. It even says that in the trailer. That’s not quite accurate though.
What it does is become you from the inside out, killing you in the process. As soon as thing cells encounter living cells different than itself, it copies and destroys those cells, assuming their place in the organism. This continues until you aren’t you anymore.
HOW CAN IT EXIST?
Only recently did I start thinking on this question. Yeah it was only a movie but it made me start thinking hard about it.
I’m no scientist, but what kind of evolutionary process produces a creature like this? Wouldn’t it inevitably overrun any ecosystem it became a part of?
Maybe wherever it came from there was something even worse keeping it in check?
Let’s say it did assimilate every animal organism on Earth (I don’t know if it ever becomes plant-life)…what then?
Does it keep on pretending to be people? Are their personalities on auto-pilot, and everyone keeps on going to work, going to school, etc?
Do they all just fall down and die then? They don’t seem to want to EAT people or animals, they just want to become them.
Obviously from the trailer we can see that a ship has crash-landed with that thing in it. I guess we’re supposed to assume that the crew of that starship was attacked by the thing or had some thing-related trouble and were forced to crash on Earth 100,000 years ago.
Maybe they picked it up unwittingly on another world? Or maybe they knew exactly what it was but the containment failed or something similar?
Whoever those damn aliens were, they screwed up big time!
I also saw it postulated somewhere that the creature could be a biological weapon created by inorganic beings. They would be immune to assimilation and the eventual ruination of whatever ecosystem it was dropped into would be the actual desired outcome.
BACK TO THE MOVIE
One reason this movie was so great was the characters.
They did a great job of defining the disparate personalities of these people who are now Earth’s last line of defense against this creature.
Kurt Russell plays R.J. MacReady. I’ve always been a Kurt Russell fan (Big Trouble in Little China anyone?) and to me this is one of his greatest roles (Jack Burton is the best, though).
MacReady isn’t the leader of the group by title, but he’s one of those people who leads through the force of his personality. You can tell he doesn’t want to be a leader, but yet people look to him and he just naturally takes charge of the situation.
You know how they say the stature of a man is measured by his enemies? Well we can see in the movie that the thing has a healthy respect for MacReady.
The creature is crafty and extremely intelligent. Some events happen in the movie that make you realize the creature is actually trying to specifically get rid of MacReady.
It seems to instinctively know who is the greatest threat to its survival, and it takes steps to remove that threat. Pretty clever steps actually.
Keith David is a somewhat “angry negro” in this one. He’s another strong-willed character that is a match for MacReady when it comes to force of personality, but his temperament doesn’t put him in a position to lead.
He had some great one-liners though, and Keith David has an awesome voice, too, so he can really deliver those lines with style.
The movie does a good job of showing us the character traits of all the team members, and then letting those traits dictate their actions through the course of the movie.
I feel for those mofos…
Sometimes I have issues with horror movies. Most of the time they just make me laugh and they’re not very scary at all.
One thing I discovered early on in my movie viewing life: My level of sympathy and/or fear for characters in a movie is directly proportional to the likelihood that I might find myself in that situation.
If I don’t ever see myself in the same predicament, sometimes I just can’t get into it.
I mean, look at some of these movies like Friday the 13th. Man, I ain’t going camping out by some serial killer’s old stomping grounds.
Friend: “JG, we’re all gonna be counselors this summer at Camp Crystal Lake, you want in?”
Me: “Ain’t that where the serial killer lives?”
Friend: “Yeah he’s probably still up there somewhere, but he won’t bother us, I’m sure.”
Me: “Right. Hey can I have your computer when you’re gone? I mean, er…have a good time!”
However, Nightmare on Elm Street started out with a scary premise. I just can’t control if my parents burned down some pedophile’s house and then he came back to torment me in my dreams.
This shit could really happen!!!
Of course, the series got so ridiculous it was impossible to be scared anymore, but the situation was out of your control.
Even a movie like Alien:
Corporation: “We need you to stop on LV-426 and check out this signal.”
Me: “Yeah, aiight.”
Light years later…
Me: “Headquarters? Yeah, it’s me. I’m at the planet. It’s kind of dark out there, and there’s some wind blowing and frankly it looks kinda scary. You didn’t tell me it was gonna be this scary out here.”
Me: “I can’t say for sure, but from here it looks like there might be some kind of alien face-huggers or something out there. I don’t think I wanna get involved in all that.”
Corporation: “Did you check it out?”
Me: “That’s what I’m getting to. I ain’t going out there, man. You need to send someone else out here to check out this shit, I don’t need the money that bad. Just fire me when I get back. Peace.”
So what I’m getting at here is that it takes a lot for me to feel empathy for the characters in a horror movie (guess my dad rubbed off on me, huh?), but I felt really bad for the characters in The Thing.
Even though there is no way in HELL I would ever end up in Antarctica, it was just luck (or lack of it) that had that alien ship crash-land there.
It could have landed in Russia or Africa, or here in the U.S. in Wisconsin, and since it would have been there for 100,000 years before I was born, there wouldn’t be a damn thing I could do about it.
If one of the aliens on the crashed ship would have turned to the left a little bit they could have altered the whole course of evolution on the planet. Gadzooks!
AN INTERESTING FIND
Since I had gotten curious about the film again. I decided to do some searching on the movie and see what people were saying about it.
Boy did I hit the jackpot! From reading the Wikipedia page, I came across an ebook written by a guy named Robert Meakin called All About The Thing (PDF – Dropbox link).
This ebook is 135 pages of detail and instrospection about the movie. I tell you, I started reading it and then I couldn’t stop. I cued up the movie again and went through the scenes with the ebook open. Pretty riveting stuff!
Meakin really made me reconsider some aspects of the film that I felt I just “knew” for solid truth.
- Who was the first crew member assimilated?
- Who really survived at the end?
- Why did the creature do what it did at specific points in the movie?
I’ll tell you another thing, he made me think of the creature differently. Not that I was on the thing’s side all of a sudden, but I thought of it more as a natural (though alien to this world) creature just trying to survive.
I highly recommend that anyone interested in this movie, check it out first, then read this ebook and see what you might have missed as you watched.
You can get the 1982 The Thing film extremely cheap over at Amazon:
The Thing (Collector’s Edition) (1982) (Not an affiliate link)
If you want even more than that, the site that hosts the pdf is about all things thing:
I couldn’t let this post go by without taking a crack at drawing the thing.
Here’s my take on it (click to view larger in a new window):
I was actually going to color it more but as I was about to, I discovered an critical imbalance to the Earth’s gravitational field that could have disastrous consequences if left unchecked and…
…aw, Hell who am I kidding…I was just too lazy to color it any more.
So to that end, I’m making the layered Photoshop file available to all you Photoshop/PaintShop Pro jockeys out there who want to give it a shot:
Feel free to turn off the “Hypertransitory” layer but leave my signature in there would ya?
If any of you do take a stab at it shoot me a link and I’ll update this post with your artwork.
Oh yeah, those of you who just want a bigger image of this disgusting thing you can download a hi-res thing jpeg right here (right-click or control-click for Mac…you know the deal):
So that’s all she wrote for this piece. I’ll leave you with two vids about the movie -the trailer for the 2011 The Thing movie opening today, and also a parody movie combining The Thing with Pokemon that I found amusing:
I gotta get to the theater and see this soon. Make sure to let me know if you see it. Until next time!
UPDATE: Alright, people. I just got back from seeing the new movie in the theaters.
I’m gonna give it a solid “OK”.
They couldn’t recreate the same level of suspense that was found in the 1982 movie. The characterization was a bit cookie-cutter, and it played out pretty much like a standard Hollywood horror film. Went a bit nuts with special effects and some of them ended up looking kind of cheap…sometimes worse than the Kurt Russell version.
There were some cheap scares in there, some leaps of logic that were necessary to move the film along, as well as changing a bit about how the creature operates -presumably also to keep the film moving.
Finally, I don’t think a good job was done connecting the two movies. It seemed like they got done and said “oh crap, we’d better throw in that nod to the first movie.” Some issues that would surely have been problematic were hastily covered.
It pales in comparison to the 1982 flick, but on it’s own I would say it’s about what you would expect for a horror movie these days.
Here’s a link to a review that I agree with about 99.99%:
Review: Irritating prequel to ‘The Thing’ gets the big choices wrong