WolfmanOz at the Movies #53


Man is the warmest place to hide

1982 was a seminal year for science fiction movies, of which there were three outstanding films of the genre released, all of which were quite different in style and audience engagement.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial was on its way to becoming the highest grossing film of all-time; Blade Runner was perplexing audiences with its unique future vision of androids in Los Angeles, but my personal favourite was the third great science fiction film released that year.

I am referring to John Carpenter’s superb version of The Thing, which failed to find a popular audience on release but subsequently found it when released on home video and has now been reappraised as one of the best science fiction and horror films ever made.

The Thing was based on the novella Who Goes There ? by John W. Campbell and had been filmed before as The Thing From Another World in 1951 (which has not aged well IMO). Its story follows a group of people trapped in a scientific research outpost in Antarctica with a shapeshifting alien monster who can absorb and imitate any living being.

The film ominously starts where we see a Norwegian helicopter pursuing a sled dog to an American research station.

This scene is brilliantly shot and has maestro Ennio Morricone’s haunting and foreboding score in the background. The film was principally filmed in Juneau, Alaska, and back in 2019, during a family holiday to Canada and Alaska, we actually visited the same glacier via helicopter. It was simply an awe-inspiring and breath-taking experience.

Three of the Americans decide to investigate the Norwegian base where they find charred ruins and frozen corpses including a malformed humanoid which they transfer to their station.

The sled dog is kennelled with the other dogs and it soon metamorphoses and absorbs several of the station dogs. This disturbance alerts the team and a flamethrower is used to incinerate the creature.

An autopsy is performed on the Dog-Thing and it is surmised that it can perfectly imitate other organisms. Data recovered from the Norwegian base leads the Americans to a large excavation site containing a partially buried alien spacecraft, which is estimated to have been buried for over a hundred thousand years, and a smaller, human-sized dig site.

Paranoia now becomes rampart amongst the group, not knowing if anyone else has been assimilated by the alien.

MacReady, the helicopter pilot (played by Kurt Russell) hypothesises that every part of the Thing is an individual life form with its own survival instinct. He has everyone tied up and sequentially tests blood samples with a heated piece of wire. The result is more than what he bargained for.

The ending is deliberately ambiguous as the two survivors, MacReady and Childs, exhausted and slowly freezing to death, acknowledge the futility of their distrust and share a bottle of whisky, but are they both still human ?

It’s one of cinema’s great understated endings, especially given the mayhem that preceded it.

The film’s special effects are still lauded today for being technically brilliant and serve as a stark contrast to the CGI effects that were used in the much inferior 2011 prequel The Thing which proves modern CGI is no match for old-school practical effects.

Unlike E.T., which offered an optimistic take on alien visitation; The Thing presented a nihilistic view with a dark atmosphere of dread and was the total opposite in tone to Spielberg’s film. Director John Carpenter has always asserted that audiences rejected The Thing for its bleak and depressing viewpoint compared to E.T., and, in addition, when it opened, it was competing against the critically and commercially successful E.T..

The central theme of The Thing then concerned paranoia and mistrust. Fundamentally, the film is about the erosion of trust in a small community, instigated by different forms of paranoia caused by the possibility of someone not being who they say they are.

In the years following its release, critics and fans have reevaluated The Thing as a milestone of the horror genre. I have the film placed alongside Alien and Aliens in the unholy trinity of the three great science fiction horror movies.

The film is screened annually in February to mark the beginning of winter at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station . . . anyone fancy going there to watch it ?

Enjoy.

and the tease for next weeks post . . . A real tough guy.

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20 responses to “WolfmanOz at the Movies #53”

  1. lotocoti Avatar
    lotocoti

    A great film and a reminder the advances in computers
    haven’t made the thirty foot rule for CGI obsolete.
    Coincidently dusted off an under-rated Kurt Russell sci-fi flic from the nineties, Soldier, on the weekend.

  2. GreyRanga Avatar
    GreyRanga

    BladeRunner is my favourite SF movie. The only movie H Ford is any good in. I liked at the end when Sean Young, mmmmmm, doesn’t know she is an android. 2049 is a good sequel.

  3. calli Avatar
    calli

    I love Blade Runner. The Thing, and all the horror genre, not so much. Except for Alien.

    I used to love having the tripe scared out of me, but taking an interest in politics and world affairs has cured me. 😀

    The last truly horrid horror film I watched was The Ring. With the kids who all squealed at the right moments. One had seen it before and had great fun saying “wait for it…wait for it…now!”. Teenagers can be so appalling.

  4. thefrollickingmole Avatar
    thefrollickingmole

    It is a great little flick.

    I also loved the criminally underrated Prince of Darkness.
    Never understood why it isnt considered a classic.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkBSEWy8WfY

  5. Boxcar Avatar
    Boxcar

    It’s been 40 years since I saw The Thing, but, but, but, if I recall correctly, wasn’t the dog the key figure in the final scene? I’m not going to say why, because that might be a spoiler, so might this.
    Who can confirm?

  6. WolfmanOz Avatar
    WolfmanOz

    There was no dog in the final scene (they had all been killed by the alien Thing or shot by MacCready in the kennel).

    At the end there is only two survivors, MacReady and Childs, and you’re not sure if they are both human or not.

  7. Rabz Avatar
    Rabz

    Kurt Russell is always great value.

  8. Boxcar Avatar
    Boxcar

    Oops. don’t know what happened there.

  9. Boxcar Avatar
    Boxcar

    I’m having trouble getting the link up

  10. WolfmanOz Avatar
    WolfmanOz

    Actually Boxcar you’re right.

    The US TV cut had numerous alterations and cuts including the ending you described (according to IMDB).

    I never knew that.

  11. Boxcar Avatar
    Boxcar

    Which begs the question. Why the change?

  12. Maniac Avatar
    Maniac

    The best special effects in a horror movie, point blank.

  13. duncanm Avatar
    duncanm

    Boxcarsays:
    January 12, 2023 at 8:07 pm
    Which begs the question. Why the change?

    same reason Bladerunner had two endings. .. too many chefs.

  14. Boxcar Avatar
    Boxcar

    Funny you should mention Bladerunner.
    Somehow my wires got crossed way back, until I realised about a year ago that the movie, Blade, is not Bladerunner. So I don’t think I have seen Bladerunner.
    The only memory I have of either is Snipes slashing lots of Vampires in an underground rail station, I think.
    Must go find a Bladerunner to watch.
    And i swear there are hundreds of variations of Groundhog Day.

  15. eb Avatar
    eb

    Hi Wolfie, I’d be interested to know why you think “The Thing From Another World” has not aged well.
    I liked it, and thought it one of the better fifties sci-fi fillums.
    Cheers.

  16. WolfmanOz Avatar
    WolfmanOz

    eb says:
    January 13, 2023 at 11:14 am
    Hi Wolfie, I’d be interested to know why you think “The Thing From Another World” has not aged well.

    I find most sci-fi films from the 50s have not aged well, one of the few exceptions is Invasion Of The Body Snatchers which I reviewed a few weeks ago.

    Special effects are often very ordinary and the generally the dialogue is pretty ordinary.

    Despite its reputation I always found The Thing From Another World rather bland and The Thing itself not very threatening.

  17. vlad redux Avatar
    vlad redux

    TRON was another one of the big movies of that year. It was a visual feast at the time, but doesn’t stand up now.

  18. Savannan Avatar
    Savannan

    Shooting a lone dog, in the snow, with a semi-auto rifle, from a chopper which can slow to exactly the same speed as the target – is about the easiest shot there is. How can I believe the rest of the film when the incompetence of the flying, firing and shooting of the first scene is so astounding?

  19. Louis Litt Avatar

    The concept is highly intellectual – crossing biology chemistry and physics.
    I have not seen the movie but blade runner is brill. Loved dune as well – always remember out biology teaching talking about the worm from the book.

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