5 Reasons why John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) remains iconic

John Carpenter The Thing

Forgive me for expressing my undying love for one of the best sci-fi horror flicks of all time. I (re)watched ‘The Thing’ for the umpteenth time today and my admiration towards the film and for all those behind it, has only augmented. Here are five reasons why the film will remain a cult-classic for the decades to come:

The man himself. John Carpenter.

Fresh off ‘Halloween’, ‘The Fog’ and ‘Escape from New York’ which were all commercial successes, Carpenter took over the reigns to direct his first studio picture – ‘The Thing’, which would be set in Antarctica and deal with a bunch of researchers who come in contact with an extra-terrestrial being. Unlike the one-massive-monstrous antagonist in Christian Nyby’s ‘The Thing from Another World’, Carpenter wanted to present a more devout adaptation of the science fiction novella by John W Campbell Jr, and introduce a shape-shifting, human(or rather all living being)-assimilating alien. While this meant a lot of additional work, Carpenter seemed up for it. He shot the film in artificially frozen sets, and extensively applied practical FX to recreate the claustrophobic terror. However, the movie was a box-office failure, owing partly to the success of Spielberg’s E.T and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

Practical FX by Rob Bottin

(A then 22 year old) Bottin worked on the sets of ‘The Thing’ for a year, a project he worked his butt off for, so much that he had to be treated for stress-relief afterwards. Bottin worked with concept artist Mike Ploog to design the various gruesome creatures, their transformations and assimilation phases that would take centrestage in the film. The creatures looked absolutely scary yet the suspension of disbelief while witnessing the set-pieces was kept minimal. The spider-creatures, the two-body assimilation, the defibrillator chest chomp, the dog-things, everything looked on-point and downright grotesque.

What is indeed sad to notice is the fact that while the 2011 prequel starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead had also employed practical FX by Amalgamated Dynamics (ADI), they were almost completely replaced digitally with the application of subpar CGI. The irony here is, critics and audiences alike wrote off the 2011 film citing horrible CGI in place of practical FX. Even the 1982 film’s FX were shunned by the critics at the time of its release. Some even went on to call it a moronic, B-grade slaughterhouse film that used stuff like rubber, foam latex, gelatin, creamed corn, mayonnaise, strawberry jam and KY jelly for its effects. However, when the movie eventually achieved its cult status, the effects work was slowly getting the appreciation it had always deserved (some uncredited work from Stan Winston too!).

The minimal soundtrack by Ennio Morricone

The minimal beat-and-eerie-tune compositions (especially the Main theme) make my hair stand up every time they start playing. ‘The Thing’ is also one of the rare instances where Carpenter himself hasn’t composed the music. It was indeed satisfying to see Morricone win the Golden Globe and the Academy Award 33 years later for ‘The Hateful Eight’ which held so much similarity to his compositions in ‘The Thing’. I’d rate the OST for ‘The Thing’ as one of my personal faves when it comes to music in film. An ironical fact is that Morricone was nominated for a Worst Musical Score Razzie. I wonder what those guys were even thinking (or smoking!).

Kurt Russell (& to an extent, Keith David)

Kurt Russell as helicopter pilot R J MacReady left the audiences with a character that was certainly going to be remembered for ages. He was a bold, quick decision-maker who did just about anything to survive. It is impossible to fathom another actor who could have pulled off MacReady so well. Fun-fact is that Kurt almost blew himself up while throwing a stick of dynamite in a scene towards the end of the movie. That climactic scene where MacReady and Childs (Keith David’s character) finally sit down to share a scotch while they decide to wait out, is truly unforgettable. It is also notable that the cast comprised purely of men.

Legacy – The prequel, the video-game, the comics, the theme-park attractions, the yearly screenings

Long Awaited Sequel: A Mixed Reception

After nearly 29 years, a sequel emerged, serving as a prequel to Carpenter’s film, delving into the Norwegian camp events. While it partially captured the ambiance, it fell short in memorable characterization, hampered by CGI replacing practical effects.

Interactive Continuation: The Video Game Success

A sequel in the form of a video game garnered positive reviews, hailed for its survival horror excellence. The ‘trust’ system earned acclaim, creating a gripping gaming experience with a compelling storyline, immersive voice-overs, and challenging boss levels.

Expanded Universe: Comics and Additional Material

Alan Dean Foster, Dark Horse Comics, and Clarkesworld Magazine contributed comics, serving as off-screen prologues and providing additional material to preserve the film’s heritage.

Haunted Attractions: Theme Park Impact

The film’s influence reached U.S.A. theme parks, featuring ‘The Thing’-inspired haunted attractions for a heightened audience experience.

Global Tradition: Annual Polar Station Viewing

‘The Thing’ has become a global tradition, annually viewed by winter crews at the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station and scientific personnel at Summit Camp on the Greenland Ice Sheet during the first winter evening.

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About the Author

Arun George
Thinker. Foodie. Travel-Enthusiast. Movie buff. Writer by Profession, Wanderer by Passion.

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