John Carpenter’s The Thing : a film retrospective by Mark R. Leeper and Evelyn C. Leeper.

June 25th 2022 is the fortieth anniversary of the release of ‘John Carpenter’s The Thing’ (not to be confused with The Thing From Another World’ (1951) or ‘The Thing’ (2011)).

Given that it is forty years old and based on a story that is about seventy-five years old, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS! Briefly, this is a logic puzzle mixed with an alien invasion story.

I started by saying, ‘My reaction to the opening of this film was different from other people’s. This film is based on “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr., opens with a helicopter chasing a dog across a large snowy field. Now I generally like dogs and with this one my usual reaction would have been rooting for the dog but being very familiar with the story, my reaction was, ‘Get that sucker!’

For that matter, the Norwegian spoken by the pilot at the beginning of the film gives away the plot, shouting that the dog isn’t really a dog, it’s some sort of thing imitating a dog.

While this was not exactly John Carpenter’s breakthrough film as it came after after ‘Dark Star’, ‘Assault On Precinct 13, ‘Halloween’ and ‘Escape From New York’, but it may well be his best film. However, it was a commercial and critical flop at the time and only over the years has its gained the stature that it has. It scores 8.2 out of 10 on the IMDB, and 83% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The original story and the first movie, were set in the Arctic, but this movie is moved to Antarctica. When the story was written and the first movie made, permanent bases were fairly common in the Arctic, but not in Antarctica. Moving it to Antarctica gives it some hints of H.P. Lovecraft and the Elder Gods.

It might help one’s understanding of the film if one can remember what characters had what names, but personally I have never found anyone who could keep the characters straight. Is that perhaps to
emphasize how they are all part of a Protean entity with no permanent individuality?

Jed the dog deserves an acting award. I’m serious about that. This dog is better than Boris Karloff at appearing menacing and also mysterious and he never looked at the camera, the dolly or the crew, which is a common acting animal problem.

Here you have a base made up mostly of scientists and the only one really thinking is the helicopter pilot? In the original movie, it’s the airplane pilot and the secretary. There seems to be some implication that she has some scientific position, but we see her typing, making coffee and doing other non-scientific stuff.

Childs (Keith David)’s voice may be familiar, since he has narrated many PBS documentaries. Other than Ken Russell and Wilford Brimley, though, there are not a lot of familiar faces, which may be why it’s hard to keep the characters straight.

Rating: +3 (-4 to +4), or 9/10.


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