Twitter Plot Summary: An alien life form is uncovered and starts wiping out the all male crew of an American base in Antarctica.
Five Point Summary:
1. Those crazy Norwegians and Kurt’s lovely beard.
3. That head’s trying to escape!
4. The blood testing scene. Very tense.
5. Amazing ending.
The Thing remains one of my all time favourite science fiction/horror films. I felt it necessary to state this from the very beginning just so you’re aware of where this review is going and so you are in no doubts as to the score I am going to award it. We are at an American base in the Antarctic and surrounded by a bevy of heavily bearded men, with Kurt Russell’s impressive facial growth worthy of note. Their tranquil operation is soon shattered by the arrival of a dog being chased by some seemingly crazy Norwegians in a helicopter. It soon becomes apparent that all is not well and people start dying. Using the classic body snatcher template, the creature that has invaded the base has the ability to perfectly impersonate other living creatures, and it becomes a race against time to flush the creature out and prevent it from reaching the wider world. As a parable for the Cold War, The Thing hits its mark at every turn – paranoia and fear are the keywords of the day, leading to irrational decision making and uncertainty over who to trust.
One aspect I’m particularly a fan of is that it was never felt necessary to shoehorn in any female characters for the sake of it, nor was it deemed appropriate to distract from the very simple premise of an alien life form wanting to wipe out all life on the base and then subsequently the planet. I know this seems at odds with my other reviews that complain about the Bechdel Test and the lack of strong female characters in films, but hear me out on this one. Invariably scriptwriters tend to shoehorn in a female presence and/or romance angle either because they’re trying to pander to the female audience or because they want to instil some gender-based conflict to proceedings. None of that is essential here – there’s enough tension and testosterone flying around to generate a ridiculous amount of tension, and having a female character for the sake of gender equality is counterproductive in a story like this.
The special effects are, frankly, astounding. There’s a certain something you lose with CGI that is all the more visually striking and visceral when presented as practical effects. Rob Bottin is a genius in this field and still stand up some 30 years later. There’s also the soundtrack from Ennio Morricone which is tense and laced with foreboding. Its simple construction is what sells it, not too showy and does just enough to convey the otherworldliness of the creature and the distrust between the men trapped together.
The scares are consistent without resorting to making things go bang for the sake of it. There’s already a certain sense of unease without resorting to such tactics, and the novel methods used to enhance this are a credit to the script and the production team for keeping the audience on its toes. It would be remiss not to also mention the ensemble cast. At its head is Kurt Russell,, of course, but everyone involved from Keith David to Wilford Brimley and the likes of Richard Masur fully inhabit their roles despite most of them only having a surface level of detail to work with.
And then there’s that ending, beautifully ambiguous and brings the story to a close on exactly the right note, continuing with that sense of uncertainty and paranoia that runs throughout the running time. I don’t think Carpenter has come anywhere close to besting The Thing in any of his other films, with the possible exception of Escape From New York, but in this case all the constituent elements combined to make a genre classic that still holds up to scrutiny today.