(This is of course part of Radiator Heaven's Excellent John Carpenter Blogothon).
The Thing is one of those movies that’s so well made that its difficult to know just where to begin. Does one start by praising its expert command of tone and tension? The casual brilliance of its screenplay a master class in plot and character, aided by the likes of James Cromwell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley (insert Diabetes joke here) and of Course Kurt Russell, one of the best casts Carpenter has ever had to play with? The sheer brilliance of its mise en scene? The mind blowing designs courtesy of Rob Bottin? The palatableness of it’s dread before the monster reveals itself? The sheer relentlessness of the film afterwards?
Is it expectable to just write, “Everything about this movie is amazing.” And then just move on.
No. But it is mighty tempting.
Considering the film is beating every other Carpenter film at the poll right now two to one, I’m clearly not the only one who thinks this way. But just what is it about the film that gives it such an edge? I mean aside from all that stuff I just mentioned.
Personally, I admire it just for its economy. The script by Bill Lancaster (Of this and The Bad News Bears and that’s about it. Also Burt Lanchester's son. Kind of an achievement in and of itself) is a thing of beauty. Take the first scene we get with MacReady, drinking alone in his shed, playing chess against his computer badly, and in a fantastically daft moment of pique ends up dumping his whiskey bottle into the motherboard. Thus depriving himself of both his only sources of entertainment. Not only does this tell us everything we need to know about the character, while breaking out of the stereotypical “quite cool loner box” it both foreshadows and acts as a microcosm of the climax of the film. Not bad for what’s basically a throwaway gag.
But give Carpenter the credit for knowing how to mine that for all it’s worth. Take the opening scene, of the “dog” running from the Norwegian helicopter. Shot with such a desperation, such a complete sense of… well underdogness that I’ll bet money that no matter how many times you’ve seen this damn movie. No matter how completely you know what you know, you STILL end up rooting for that dog to get away. You just can’t help it.
No matter how justifiably praised Rob Bottin’s designs on the creature are I still don’t think you can quite over estimated just how unique they are. Probably the only creature design in the last thirty years not completely beholden to HR Giger’s work in Alien. There is such a malevolent logic to Bottin’s work, and such a life to its practical side, that when I say I consider it the apex of practical effects, I’m not exaggerating.
If I have one complaint about The Thing (and I suppose I must before I simply start hemorrhaging compliments) it’s that since watching it on the big screen it has never worked quite the same way on the small. Viewed on the proper screen with the proper audience the temperature in the theater just drops.
Still that’s hardly the film’s fault. I consider The Thing to be one of the best monster movies ever made. And I still think that underrates it.