Film poster by Drew Struzan
|Directed by||John Carpenter|
|Produced by||David Foster
Lawrence Turman (Producers)
Stuart Cohen (Co-Producer)
John W. Campbell, Jr.
Thomas G. Waites
T. K. Carter
|Music by||Ennio Morricone
|Editing by||Todd C. Ramsay|
|Distributed by||MCA / Universal Pictures|
|Release date(s)||June 25, 1982|
|Running time||109 minutes|
The Thing is a classic 1982 science fiction horror film directed by John Carpenter, written by Bill Lancaster, and starring Kurt Russell. The film's title refers to its primary antagonist: a parasitic extraterrestrial lifeform that assimilates other organisms and in turn imitates them. It infiltrates an Antarctic research team, taking the appearance of the researchers that it kills, and paranoia occurs within the group.
Ostensibly a remake of the 1951 Howard Hawks-Christian Nyby film The Thing from Another World, Carpenter's film is a more faithful adaptation of the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr. which inspired the 1951 film. Carpenter considers The Thing to be the first part of his Apocalypse Trilogy, followed by Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness. Although the films are unrelated, each feature a potentially apocalyptic scenario; should "The Thing" ever reach civilization, it would be only a matter of time before it takes over the Earth.
The theatrical performance of the film was poor. The poor opening has been attributed to many factors, including Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which was released at the time and features a more optimistic view of alien visitation. However, The Thing has gone on to gain a cult following with the release on home video. It was subsequently novelized in 1982, adapted into a comic book miniseries published by Dark Horse Comics, and was followed by a video game sequel in 2002, with a movie prequel currently in the works.
In winter 1982, an American Antarctic research station is alerted by gunfire and explosions. Pursued by a Norwegian helicopter, an Alaskan Malamute makes its way into the camp as the science station's crew looks on in confusion. Through reckless use of a thermal charge, the helicopter is destroyed and its pilot killed shortly after landing. The surviving passenger fires at the dog with a rifle, grazing Bennings (Peter Maloney), one of the researchers. The passenger is shot and killed by Garry (Donald Moffat), the station commander. Not knowing what to make of the incident, the station crew adopts the dog.
Unable to contact the outside world via radio, helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) and Copper (Richard Dysart) risk a flight to the Norwegian camp to find it destroyed, its personnel missing or dead. Finding evidence that the Norwegians had dug something out of the ice, the pair return to the station with the partially-burned remains of a hideous creature which bears some human features. An autopsy of the cadaver by Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley) is inconclusive, save to find that the creature had what appeared to be a normal set of internal organs.
At Bennings' request, the station's dog-handler, Clark (Richard Masur), kennels the stray with the rest of the station's sled dogs. Noises from the kennel cause Clark to return, finding almost the entire sled team in the process of being assimilated by the stray dog, which has transformed into a monster. MacReady summons the crew to the kennel and orders Childs (Keith David) to incinerate the creature with a flamethrower. A subsequent autopsy by Blair reveals that the stray dog was an alien capable of absorbing and perfectly imitating other life-forms. Realizing the implications of this, Blair quickly becomes withdrawn and suspicious of the others. A second helicopter expedition discovers an alien spacecraft unearthed by the Norwegian research team, revealing that the creature had awakened after being buried within the ice for thousands of years.
Bennings and Windows (Thomas G. Waites) quarantine the remains of the dog-creature and the Norwegian cadaver in the storage room, but moments after leaving, Windows returns to discover Bennings being assimilated. The crew burns the Bennings replica before its transformation is complete. Determining that all life on Earth would be assimilated in just over three years if the creature were to reach another continent, Blair goes berserk, destroying the helicopter and radio, and killing the remaining sled dogs, containing further contamination. The team overpowers him and confines him in the tool shed. With all contact to the outside world cut off, the crew wonders how to determine who is still human. Paranoia quickly sets in as the first attempt to develop a test using uncontaminated blood samples is sabotaged by an unknown party.
Fuchs (Joel Polis), attempting to continue Blair's research, goes missing shortly afterwards during a power failure. While searching for Fuchs' body, MacReady comes under suspicion and is locked outside in a severe blizzard. Somehow finding his way back to camp without a guide line, MacReady breaks into a storage room and threatens the rest of the crew with dynamite. In the course of the standoff, Norris (Charles Hallahan) suffers a heart attack. When Copper attempts to revive him by defibrillation, Norris' body transforms and kills Copper. Norris' head detaches from his body and attempts to escape as the others burn the body, leading MacReady to theorize that every piece of the alien is an individual animal with its own survival instinct. In an altercation that precedes a test proposed by MacReady, Clark tries to stab MacReady with a scalpel, who shoots and kills him. The rest of the crew complies with the test; blood samples are drawn from each member of the team and jabbed with a hot wire to see whose blood will react defensively. Palmer (David Clennon), the backup pilot, is unmasked as an imitation, and manages to kill Windows before being destroyed by MacReady, who also torches Windows' body with a flamethrower as it begins to transform.
Confirming that MacReady, Childs, Garry, and Nauls (T.K. Carter) are still human, the surviving crew set out to administer the test to Blair, only to find that he has escaped. After they discover that Blair had been constructing a small flying craft of alien design underneath the tool shed and witness Childs inexplicably abandoning his post at the main gate, the facility loses power. Realizing that the creature now wants to freeze again so a future rescue team will find it, the remaining crew acknowledge that they will not survive and set about destroying the facility in hopes of killing the creature. While setting explosives in the underground generator room, Garry is killed by the infected Blair. Nauls follows the sounds of the creature and is never seen again. Alone, MacReady prepares to detonate the charges when the creature, larger then ever, emerges from beneath the floor. MacReady kills it with a stick of dynamite, which sets off the rest of the charges and destroys the entire facility.
After some time, MacReady is shown wandering alone in the flaming rubble. He encounters Childs, who claims to have seen Blair and gotten lost while chasing him in the snow. With the polar climate closing in around them, they acknowledge the futility of their distrust, sharing a drink as the camp burns.
The screenplay was written in 1981 by Bill Lancaster, son of Burt Lancaster. The film’s musical score was composed by Ennio Morricone, a rare instance of Carpenter not scoring one of his own films. The film was shot near the small town of Stewart in northern British Columbia. The research station in the film was built by the film crew during summer, and the film shot in sub-freezing winter conditions. The only female presence in the film is the voice of a chess computer, voiced by Carpenter regular (and then-wife) Adrienne Barbeau, as well as the female contestants viewed on a videotaped episode of Let's Make a Deal.
The film took three months to shoot on six sound stages, with many of the crew and actors working in cold conditions. The final weeks of shooting took place in British Columbia, where snow was guaranteed to fall. John Carpenter filmed the Norwegian camp scenes at the end of production. The Norwegian camp was simply the remains of the American outpost after it was destroyed by explosion.
The Thing is notable in Carpenter’s career for two reasons—it was his first foray into studio film-making and it was Carpenter’s first film to be made without Debra Hill as co-producer. The Thing was the fourth film shot by cinematographer Dean Cundey (following Carpenter's Halloween, The Fog and Escape from New York) and the third to feature Kurt Russell as the lead actor. Russell would appear in three additional Carpenter films following The Thing: Big Trouble in Little China, Escape from New York and Escape from L.A.. Most of the horrifying special effects were designed and created by Rob Bottin and his crew, with the exception of the dog creature, which was created by Stan Winston.
In the documentary Terror Takes Shape on the DVD, film editor Todd C. Ramsay states that he made the suggestion to Carpenter to film a "happy" ending for the movie, purely for protective reasons, while they had Russell available. Carpenter agreed and shot a scene in which MacReady has been rescued and administered a blood test, proving that he is still human. Ramsay follows this by saying that The Thing had two test screenings, but Carpenter didn't use the sequence in either of them, as the director felt that the film worked better with its eventual nihilistic conclusion. The alternate ending with MacReady saved has yet to be released.
According to the 1998 DVD release, the "Blair Monster" was to have had a much larger role in the final battle. However, due to the limitations of stop-motion animation, the monster appears for only a few seconds in the film.
The Thing fared poorly at the box office. It was released in the United States on June 25, 1982 in 840 theaters and was issued an "R" rating by the Motion Picture Association of America (limiting attendees to 17 and older without a guardian). The film cost $15,000,000 to produce, and debuted at #8 at the box office, with an opening weekend gross of $3.1 million. It went on to make $13,782,838 domestically. Carpenter and other writers have speculated that the film's poor performance was due to the release of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial two weeks earlier, with its more optimistic scenario of alien visitation (which received a "PG" rating from the MPAA). The Thing also opened on the same day as Ridley Scott's science fiction film Blade Runner, which debuted at #2.
The film's special effects were simultaneously lauded and lambasted for being technically brilliant but visually repulsive. Film critic Roger Ebert called the special effects "among the most elaborate, nauseating, and horrifying sights yet achieved by Hollywood’s new generation of visual magicians", and called the film itself "a great barf-bag movie". In his review for The New York Times, Vincent Canby called it "a foolish, depressing, overproduced movie that mixes horror with science fiction to make something that is fun as neither one thing or the other. Sometimes it looks as if it aspired to be the quintessential moron movie of the 80's". Time magazine's Richard Schickel wrote, "Designer Rob Bottin's work is novel and unforgettable, but since it exists in a near vacuum emotionally, it becomes too domineering dramatically and something of an exercise in abstract art".
In his review for the Washington Post, Gary Arnold called the film "a wretched excess". Jay Scott, in his review for the Globe and Mail, called the film "a hell of an antidote to E.T.". In his review for Newsweek, David Ansen wrote, "Astonishingly, Carpenter blows it. There's a big difference between shock effects and suspense, and in sacrificing everything at the altar of gore, Carpenter sabotages the drama. The Thing is so single-mindedly determined to keep you awake that it almost puts you to sleep".
In the book Prince of Darkness, Carpenter, when questioned about the box office failure of The Thing, noted that the audience for horror films had shrunk. In spite of its lackluster box office performance, the film’s reputation improved in the late nineties as a result of home video releases.
Despite initial mixed reviews, the film maintains an 80% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes and is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1982. The film ranked #97 on Rotten Tomatoes’ Journey Through Sci-Fi (100 Best-Reviewed Sci-Fi Movies), and a scene from The Thing was listed as #48 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. The Thing was named "the scariest movie ... ever!" by the staff of the Boston Globe. In 2008, the film was selected by Empire Magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.
In 1997 the British Film Institute published a 96-page monograph on The Thing by Anne Billson in its BFI Modern Classics series. Billson was one of the first film critics to offer a rebuttal to the poor critical reception the film received on its initial release, suggesting it had been underrated by mainly elderly reviewers who did not care for films in the science fiction or horror genres, especially those with special effects. She also noted the film had attracted a strong cult following in the interim.
The Thing received nominations from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films for Best Horror Film and Best Special Effects.
After its cinema run, the film was released on video and laserdisc, and a re-edited version was created for television by TBS and Universal Studios. The edited version was heavily cut to reduce gore, violence and profanity; additionally it featured a narrator during the opening sequence (in the same manner as the original 1951 film), a voiceover during Blair's computer-assisted study, and an alternate ending. In the alternate ending, a "Thing" which has mimicked one of the sled dogs looks back at the burning camp at dawn before continuing on into the Antarctic wilderness.
The Thing has subsequently been released twice on DVD by Universal in 1998 and 2004. The 1998 edition was a Universal Collector’s Edition, featuring The Thing: Terror Takes Shape, an extensive 83-minute documentary. It details all aspects of the film and features interviews from many of the people involved. There are detailed stories from the cast and crew concerning the adapted screenplay, the special effects, the post-production, the critical reception, and more. Other features include deleted scenes, the alternative ending shown in the television version, a theatrical trailer and production notes. Additionally, John Carpenter and Kurt Russell provide commentary throughout the film. An anamorphic widescreen transfer was not included, but this omission was remedied with the second DVD/HD DVD release in October 2004, which featured identical supplements to the 1998 release, with the exception of the isolated score track from the documentary. The film was released on Blu-Ray in Europe on October 6, 2008.
Unlike the American version of The Thing released on Blu-Ray, the European version features most of the extras from the 1998 and 2004 DVD releases. These extras include the documentary The Thing: Terror Takes Shape although several extras, most notably the alternate ending, were not included. The Blu-Ray version also includes various Blu-Ray only features, such as a HD version of the film (although the extras are still presented in 480i/p, depending on the extra) as well as a picture-in-picture mode that pops up at various points of the movie. Although the feature is new, the footage included in the picture-in-picture mode are all taken from the "The Thing: Terror Takes Shape" documentary. The Blu-Ray versions of The Thing are Region Free, making any version playable in any BD player.
The original soundtrack, composed by Ennio Morricone, was released by Varese Sarabande in 1991 on compact disc. It was also available as an isolated score track on the 1998 DVD release, but is not present on the 2004 edition. The soundtrack is currently out of print.
In 2004, John Carpenter said in an Empire Magazine interview that he has a story idea for The Thing II, which centers around the two surviving characters, MacReady and Childs. However, Carpenter felt that due to the higher price associated with his fee, Universal Studios will not pursue his storyline. Carpenter indicated that he would be able to secure both Kurt Russell and Keith David for the sequel. In his story, Carpenter would explain the age difference between the two actors by having frostbite on their face due to the elements until rescued. The assumption of the sequel would rely on a radio signal being successfully transmitted by Windows before Blair destroyed the communications room. Thus, after the explosion of the base camp, the rescue team would arrive and find MacReady and Childs still alive. Carpenter has not disclosed any other details.
In September 2006, it was announced in Fangoria magazine that Strike Entertainment, the production company behind Slither and the Dawn of the Dead remake, is looking for a writer or writers to write a theatrical prequel to The Thing. Production is said to be continuing.
As of early 2007, there have been two announced projects to expand the franchise. The Sci-Fi Channel planned to do a four-hour mini-series sequel to the film in 2003. Carpenter stated that he believed the project should proceed, but the Sci-Fi Channel later removed all mention of the project from their homepage. In February 2009, a positive review of the abandoned screenplay for the Sci-Fi miniseries was published on Corona's Coming Attractions.
In early 2009, a screenplay by David Fryar emerged online. The screenplay met with favorable reviews, but was taken offline for unspecified reasons soon after its initial post.
In early 2009, Variety and Bloody-Disgusting reported the launch of a project to film a prequel—possibly following MacReady's brother during the events leading up to the opening moments of the 1982 film— with Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. as director and Ronald D. Moore as writer. In March 2009, Moore described his script as a "companion piece" to Carpenter's film and "not a remake." "We're telling the story of the Norwegian camp that found the Thing before the Kurt Russell group did," he said. The prequel is due to be filmed in Toronto, Canada on March 22, 2010 until June 28, 2010. Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr. created the FX effects for the film, in the studios of Dynamics.
In 2007, the Halloween Horror Nights event at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, the film property was designed as a haunted attraction called The Thing-Assimilation. Guests walked through Outpost 3113, a military facility where the remains of Outpost 31 were brought for scientific research. Scenes and props from the film were recreated for the attraction, including the bodies of MacReady and Childs. In 2009, the event's icon house, Silver Screams, contained a room based on the film.
A novelization of the film based on the second draft of the screenplay was published in 1982 by Alan Dean Foster. Although the novel is generally true to the film, there are minor differences: the Windows character is named Sanders, and an episode in which MacReady, Bennings and Childs chase after several infected dogs which escape into the Antarctic tundra was added (this sequence was featured in Lancaster's second draft of the screenplay). The disappearance of Nauls is also explained in the novel; pursued by Blair-Thing into a dead end, he kills himself rather than allow it to assimilate him.
Dark Horse Comics published four comic miniseries sequels to the film (The Thing From Another World, The Thing From Another World: Climate of Fear, The Thing From Another World: Eternal Vows, The Thing From Another World: Questionable Research), featuring the character of MacReady as the lone human survivor of Outpost #31 and depicting Childs as infected (The Thing From Another World: Climate of Fear Issue 3 of 4). Questionable Research explores a parallel reality where MacReady is not around to stop the Thing and a suspicious scientist must prevent its spread, after it has wreaked destruction on Outpost 31. The comic series was titled The Thing from Another World after the original 1951 Howard Hawks film in order to avoid confusion and possible legal conflict with Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four member, the Thing.
In 2002, The Thing was released as a survival horror third-person shooter for PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox, acting as a sequel to the film. The video game differs from the comics in that Childs is dead of exposure in the video game, and the audiotapes are present (they were removed from Outpost 31 at the start of The Thing from Another World: Questionable Research). At the completion of the game, R.J. MacReady is found alive and helping the main character complete the last mission. The game used elements of paranoia and mistrust intrinsic to the film. Some retailers, such as GameStop, offered a free copy of the 1998 DVD release as an incentive for reserving the game.
In Spore Galactic Adventures, there is a Maxis-made Adventure called "It Came from the Sky." It was based on the movie.
Danish "indie-death" band Mimas claim the lyrics to their song "Mac, Get Your Gear" are based on the film. It features the lines "We found a monster and we brought it back. It imitates us and no one trusts anyone".
The song "Who goes There?" by Zombie Death Stench is loosely based on the movie, named after the 1938 book by John W. Campbell, Jr. The Chorus states "I don't know who I am, I don't know who they are, their eyes follow me, watching, waiting. Am I this thing that stalks us? I don't know anymore. But in my mind I know, tonight I die alone."