Movie Review: The Thing (1982)

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A crew of men in the Arctic are infiltrated by an extraterrestrial life force that makes them turn on each other.

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John Carpenter, 1982
Twelve men stationed in Antarctica are shocked when a Norwegian helicopter shows up, chasing an innocent-looking dog; the plane goes down, and one of the Norwegians shoots at the dog before being shot himself. After two days, the dog is put in the kennel with the other dogs, who react violently to its presence, and suddenly it mutates horribly. The men shoot it and discover that it was actually changing form; it’s a lifeform that imitates other lifeforms. They begin to investigate, heading to the abandoned Norwegian base and discovering chilling signs: an empty block of ice and a two-headed corpse which they bring back with them. They begin to realise that any one of them could in fact be an imposter…but who can they trust?

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I was so utterly and completely impressed with this movie. I’m seriously taken with it. I watched it just because it’s that time of year and I hadn’t yet seen it, thinking it might be a bit slow and look old, neither of which is true. From the moment the dog appears, chased across a snowy landscape by a helicopter, I was hooked. How many movies open that way? Then there’s the discovery of the two-headed corpse, the gorgeous spaceship, and finally the reveal of the creature in this brutal way. They say you never kill the dog or the kid in movies; this one started with a gorgeous-looking dog (what could be more trustworthy?) and twisted it into an abomination, a sign of things to come. I love how matter-of-fact the arctic crew are about handling the matter; it makes their descent into paranoia more powerful in stark comparison. There were parts I actually had to rewind just to see something again or figure out what had happened (it took me a while to get all the names straight). Kurt Russell is great as MacReady, but there’s a supporting cast of character actors who get a lot to do as well. Wilford Brimley’s manic doc and Keith David’s hothead are stand-outs amongst the beardy sausage fest. There are, in point of fact, absolutely no women in this movie whatsoever, which accurately reflects the period at which it’s set – women were actively banned from working in Antarctica until the early 80s.

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“Antarctica station, day 58: Think they should change the laws banning women. Starting to think I’m seeing things…”

The film looks fantastic; the look of it reminded me of The Empire Strikes Back in terms of its colours, shot compositions and sheen. The practical effects are great fun, particularly one shocking moment during an attempted resuscitation that I won’t spoil, but that made me actually jump up in my chair and cry out “OH MY GOD!” The score, by legendary composer Ennio Morricone, is gorgeously eerie, giving you that crawling sense of things not being what they seem. That stuff is fun, but the real horror is internal: who can you trust when the enemy wears the face of your friends? It’s a question that’s been done before and since, but it’s done with such panache in this film, particularly since even the audience doesn’t know what we think we know. There are deft moments of tension and humour, but there’s also some satisfaction in seeing these guys approach the situation perfectly logically and still be totally outmatched by the alien. The remoteness of the location heightens the tension, and the pontential for amazing shots. It ends on a perfect note, fire burning against the icy landscape, and it left an indelible impression on me. John Carpenter once again proves himself an absolute master of genre filmmaking.

The Thing on IMDb

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