The Thing (1982)
A few weeks ago I watched the Howard Hawks original and much forgotten The Thing from Another World (1951) that is naturally overshadowed by the John Carpenter remake The Thing (1982). I was spurred onto finally catch it, which I attempted before a few years ago, giving up as I thought it was rubbish. My opinion has indeed changed since then and Starman (1984) which I noted relied on far less special effects, more on the emotion of the acting and the audiences imagination. If anything the earlier film which does very much need the special effects it’s a Sci-Fi horror.
Coming into this film from having seen the cheaply made original which is a more condensed action film even making room for a romance which seems shoe-horned in to a fast-paced find-em and kill-em job. It’s a B-movie before they really were any B-movie, fast-paced with a decent cast too. The remake expands the action and then explodes it onto the screen to bigger effect. However with Kurt Russell in the lead we have more star-power for a darker film where fear is the name of the game. A man of action who really isn’t afraid of getting the job, minus the principles which make him suited to a world of disillusioned men.
The action still takes place in a remote scientific research station in Antarctica, maned by Americans, however the action doesn’t start so safely as in 1951. A helicopter is chasing a husky dog, hunting it from the sky. We don’t know why an unknown man’s determined to kill the animal, that if you think about it doesn’t even bark which catches my attention. A dark that doesn’t sound like a dog is out of the ordinary. We find the Norwegian (not Swede) has gone out his mind, not really knowing where he’s firing. Ultimately leading the American’s down the same unfortunate path. R.J. MacReady (Russell) and Palmer (David Clennon) get a glimpse at their more than certain future. The visit to the Norwegian base allows us to see into the future and the origins of the films past. If only lessons were going to be learned here as they discover the flying saucer that has already been excavated. There is no need to follow it on radar, all that work has been done by the Scandinavians, leaving us with the rest if Carpenters film.
With the improvement in special effects we can see far more of thing that’s going to be giving this research team far more trouble than before. Before the alien was more like a tall actor whose seen stumbling around like Frankenstein’s monster almost, wandering around for its next meal or victim. The focus of the Thing of the 1980’s is not so much its plant-like biology, needing blood to survive. If one of the men got in the way they would become the next source of sustenance, much more like a vampire from outer space rather than the host engulfing alien who duplicates and kills. There is more un-explainable science to make Carpenters thing more complex, more fearful to be around. You could put in the same league as the Xenomorph from the Alien franchise that takes on its host form. However the transformation is more overt with Carpenter. I can’t even start to understand how the thing was even created for the screen. You can’t hide from the excruciating pain that the victim goes through as they are lost to this personal invasion, no longer human, pulled apart in different ways to reveal an alien that’s constantly changing. It’s not the same more methodical Xeonomorph.
Instead of the simple explanation and by the teams scientist who eventually finds a solution to the problem of the alien intruder we have Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley) as educated as he is in his findings, they scare him, the knowledge is too much for him. This is a form of madness that engulfs him. The research crew are starting to turn on each other. knowledge usually being power is more of a burden that create a sense. Usually its the captain that goes mad, leading to a mutiny restoring order. Here the whole construct of the team begins to fall apart. No one can trust each other as the Thing works its way through the crew.
After the failed first watch I was not really wanting to revisit this film. It took the original, lead by the director to inform my seeking out this now classic of a film that overshadows the far safer film, which reflects the meager budget, a shorter running time. I’m still not sure why there’s a woman in that film? Carpenter has taken a film and blown it up, reshaped it in his own language which is more engaging. The fear is increased so even we can’t trust what we are seeing. The alien is like nothing we have seen before and that’s the beauty of it. Like then-present day fears, it evolved with the rhetoric that was supposed to control the nation. Here we have an alien of that can take any form, even one we trust. Carpenter doesn’t stray far from the original imagery but moves far enough to make it his own.