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Category:    Home > Reviews > Horror > Thriller > Mystery > Literature > John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982/HD-DVD)

John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982/HD-DVD)


Picture: B     Sound: B     Extras: B     Film: B



It is not easy to follow-up a hit like Halloween, but John Carpenter kept doing so and the best of the rest of his Horror Thrillers is his remarkable remake of the Howard Hawks-produced Christian Nyby-directed The Thing From Another World (1951) as the 1982 release simply entitled The Thing was very controversial for its time and is one of the most enduring graphic alien attack films ever made.


Based more on John W. Campbell Jr.’s Who Goes There? than the 1951 classic, Carpenter has more screen time to develop suspense and bring the new generation of alien creepiness of that time first suggested by Philip Kaufmann’s incredible 1978 Invasion Of The Body Snatchers remake and Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic Alien to a disturbing new level of terror.  At the time, between the superior way Carpenter handled the directing and how graphic and visible the various aspects of human anatomy (interiors in particular) were shown, this was a highly controversial film for its time and is lucky its R-rating was not higher.


Kurt Russell does some of the best work of his career here as the head of a dozen-scientist expedition investigating what has gone wrong at a desolate arctic laboratory.  At first, there is no normal explanation, then the group slowly discovers that the reasons are anything but normal.  Then in the Agatha Christie And Then There Were None…/Ten Little Indians tradition, they are knocked off one by one.  The mystery angle of this film is often neglected too, but Carpenter and the Bill Lancaster screenplay have a rare synergy that delivers.


At the time, the film did not do well because it was not released ahead of feel-good alien movie E.T., that some were still not willing to take child actor Russell seriously as an adult actor who could handle the action mantle and even those who thought it looked to much like Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and classic Alien for its own good without even having seen it.  Well, time has been good to the film and it has had revisionist thinking and a growing reputation as one of the best (and honestly few effective) dark mature thrillers of the 1980s.  Like Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner the same year, fans kept supporting it and more and more people have finally caught up with the film over the years, but not as many have caught on to or up with it for cinema’s own good, which is why it is one of the great early back titles to arrive on HD-DVD and a brilliant move on Universal’s part so more get to see how smart this film really is.


Helping the film too is its supporting cast, including veterans like Donald Moffat, Richard Dysart, Richard Masur, David Clennon, Peter Maloney and Wilford Brimley, meshing well with newer actors T.K. Carter, Keith David, Thomas G. Waites and Joel Polis.  The cast works well and this is one of those films where everything comes together.  Carpenter actually took a break from the genres represented here with his underrated Escape From New York (reviewed elsewhere on this site) the year before, which might have helped him here.  If you have been as especially disappointed with the current cycle of bad Horror films, see Carpenter’s The Thing just to see what happens when one of these films are done right.


The 1080p 2.35 X 1 (miscredited on the case and disc as 1.85 X 1) digital High Definition image is from the same print (and maybe transfer) Universal used on the DVD, but this looks much better than that detail-challenged version.  Though not perfect in presenting Dean Cundey’s work, you get more impact out of this playback than all previous editions.  Cundey and carpenter shot this to be a big screen film, from playing in large 35mm venues (it was shot in real anamorphic Panavision) to the 70mm blow-up prints meant to look great.  The larger the screen you see this on, the better and when you see how good a film like this looks without digital effects, you’ll be even more impressed.


The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 is also the same mix from the regular DVD, which has limited surrounds, but is closer to the 70mm Dolby 4.1 magnetic mix which was the film’s best theatrical release sound.  That explains why split surrounds are limited.  The great Ennio Morricone delivered a music score that more than enhanced the visuals and narrative, but stands out on its own as an underrated work on his part.  The combination holds up very well approaching its 25th Anniversary.


Extras include a terrific feature length audio commentary by Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell, "John Carpenter's The Thing: Terror Takes Shape" 80-minute documentary, Stop motion animation cut from the film, Production Background Archives, Cast Production Photographs, Production Art and Storyboards, Location Design, Production Archives, The Saucer, The Blairmonster, Outtakes, Post Production, Production Notes, Cast and Filmmakers and a solid original theatrical trailer.  Those are the same extras as the Collector’s Edition from a few years ago.  Finally, you can really experience how good the film is, though we hope a further image upgrade and sound remix is in the cards in a few years.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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