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The Thing (1982)

Running Time: 109 mins.
Aspect Ratio:
2: 20: 1

Directed by: John Carpenter

Produced by:
David Foster, Lawrence Turman,
Larry J. Franco, Wilbur Stark, Stuart Cohen

Screenplay by:
Bill Lancaster
Based on: "Who Goes There?" by
John W. Campbell Jr
Director of Photography: Dean Cundey
Edited by: Todd C. Ramsay
Production Design: John J. Lloyd
Special Effects: Roy Arbogast
Special Makeup Effects / Designer: Rob Bottin
Additional Makeup Effects: Stan Winston (uncredited)

Music: Ennio Morricone
Additional Music: John Carpenter (uncredited)
with Alan Howarth (uncredited)


Kurt Russell: R.J. MacReady
Wilford Brimley: Dr. Blair
T.K. Carter: Nauls
David Clennon: Palmer
Keith David: Childs
Richard Dysart: Dr. Cooper
Charles Hallahan: Vance Norris
Peter Maloney: George Bennings
Richard Masur: Clark
Donald Moffat: Gary
Joel Polis: Fuchs
Thomas G. Waites: Windows
Norman Weisser: Norwegian
Larry J. Franco: Norwegian with Rifle
Adrienne Barbeau: Computer Voice
John Carpenter: Norwegian in Video


The dull routine of twelve men, who occupy an American Antarctic research station, is shattered upon the arrival of an Alaskan Malamute dog chased by a pair of Norwegian pilots frantically attempting to kill the animal.  When the pilots themselves are killed, the Americans travel to the Norwegian encampment, finding it burned to the ground, and the corpses of it's occupants charred beyond recognition.  After bringing documents and the mutated remains of one of the deceased back to their own camp, the Americans eventually realize they've unwittingly invited into their midst an extraterrestrial lifeform crash landed to earth centuries ago, frozen in the ice; then accidentally revived by the Norwegian crew.  An otherworldly organism existing on the molecular level, this "thing" survives by assimilating it's host (human or animal; even a dog) then imitating that host in chameleon-like fashion.  In horrific succession the alien parasite takes over one member of the American camp after another.  And the once close knit group becomes a deadly force more dangerous than the creature itself: each armed man violently turning upon the other.  Each in a desperate thread bare attempt to prevent themselves from becoming the next victim of the "Thing". 


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play THE THING - "Main Theme: Desolation" (E. Morricone)

* THE THING began life as the novella "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell Jr. (written as Don A. Stuart)  published in a 1938 edition of ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION.  In 1973 it was voted by members of the Science Fiction Writers of America as "One of The Finest Novellas Ever Written".

* Director John Carpenter's 1982 version is less a remake of the 1951 Howard Hawks / Christian Nyby film THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (with the alien a humanoid-like being), and closer to Campbell's original story of a molecular lifeform assimilating then imitating it's conquered hosts. 

* Controversy to this day continues over the actual director of THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD.  While the 1951 shocker is credited to Christian Nyby (Howard Hawks' editor on four films) debate centers on whether Hawks actually directed the film then gave Nyby credit (that he might be admitted to the Director's Guild), or whether Nyby made his directorial debut with THE THING while receiving considerable input from Hawks, who served as producer and (uncredited) co-screenwriter.

* For Carpenter THE THING was a dream project as Hawks was a favorite director, and his cinematic style was of great influence on Carpenter's own.  Carpenter's earlier independent hit ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 was a contemporary rift on Hawks' western RIO BRAVO.  And THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD was one of the young director's favorite childhood films.    

* While THE THING was Carpenter's eighth film (following DARK STAR, PRECINCT 13, SOMEONE'S WATCHING ME, HALLOWEEN, THE FOG, ELVIS, and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK), it was his first for a major studio - Universal Pictures. 

* Carpenter's THE THING was scripted by Bill Lancaster, the son of Hollywood legend Burt Lancaster.  At the time Bill Lancaster was best known as the writer of the 1976 sports comedy THE BAD NEWS BEARS and it's second sequel, 1978's THE BAD NEWS BEARS GO TO JAPAN.  Lancaster died in January 1997 at the age of 49 from cardiac arrest.  The feature length documentary THE THING: TERROR TAKES SHAPE (included in the 1998 Collector's Edition DVD) is dedicated to him. 

* Carpenter today thinks of THE THING as the first part of his "Apocalypse Trilogy", which also includes PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987) and IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1995).  While the films are unrelated, they all thematically deal with possible "end of the world scenarios". 

* THE THING features an all male cast ... that is, with the exception of Carpenter's (then) wife Adrienne Barbeau as the "Voice" of the research station's computer.  Barbeau previously co-starred in her husband's THE FOG and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. 

* Other returning members of Carpenter's "Repertory Company" included actor Kurt Russell (who had previously starred in ELVIS and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK), cinematographer Dean Cundey (HALLOWEEN, THE FOG, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK) and editor Todd Ramsay (ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK).  Russell would re team with the director on BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986) and ESCAPE FROM L.A. (1996).

*  The film shot for three months on six artificially frozen L.A. sound stages, refrigerated to 40 F while the temperature loutside topped 100 F.  The final weeks of location filming took place in northern British Columbia, Canada near the Alaskan border.  Filmed last, the decimated Norwegian research camp was in actuality the remains of the set of the American encampment after it was exploded for the film's hair raising finale. 

* While having previously applied makeup expertise on KING KONG (1976 - uncredited), STAR WARS (1977 - uncredited), PIRANHA (1978), and THE FOG (1980), it would be the back to back successes of his work on THE HOWLING (1981) and THE THING ('82) which would place Rob Bottin at the top of the early 1980's cinematic renaissance of makeup design and application.  Following THE THING he would spearhead spectacular makeup prosthetics on (among others) Ridley Scott's LEGEND, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, INNERSPACE, EXPLORERS, ROBOCOP, TOTAL RECALL, BUGSY,  BASIC INSTINCT, SE7VEN,  and FIGHT CLUB. 

* Bottin was only 22 when he headed the makeup team on THE THING.  Literally living in the studio during filming, he fell ill (later diagnosed as extreme exhaustion), and the "Dog-Thing" creature which "splits into multiple petal-pieces" in the kennel was designed and executed by Stan Winston.  In time Winston would go on to create iconic creatures such asThe Terminator, the Predator, and the life sized dinosaurs of JURASSIC PARK.  He chose not to receive an official screen credit on THE THING so as to not shift the spotlight from the young Bottin.  A "Special Thank You" is given to Winston in THE THING's closing credits.

* Early conversations between Carpenter and Russell determined Russell's character, MacReady, was a former Vietnam pilot who's war experiences left him with a feeling of displacement from society.  This backstory never made it into the finished film.

* Nick Nolte (CANNERY ROW, 48HRS.) had earlier turned down the role of MacReady, as had Jeff Bridges.  Bridges would garner a Best Actor Oscar nomination two years later working for director Carpenter on STARMAN (1984).

* Bernie Casey, Ernie Hudson, Carl Weathers, Geoffrey Holder and Issac Hayes were all considered for the role of the resilient Childs, the only remaining survivor at film's end along with MacReady.  Hayes had previously worked with Carpenter on ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, but the coveted role of Childs eventually went to Keith David.  David would also co-star in Carpenter's sci fi thriller/socio-political satire THEY LIVE (1988).

* David wears gloves throughout most of the film; this because he'd recently broken his hand in an automobile accident and needed to cover his cast. 

* The autopsy scene, involving the mutated "Thing"-like remains of a Norwegian camp member, was filmed using real (and fresh) animal organs.  The only actor not grossed out during the filming was Wilford Brimley who, as Dr. Blair, performs the procedure.  Brimley had been a real life cowboy, and gutting and butchering animals had been a common practice. 

* Because of it's degree of explicitly authentic looking biological "mutations", THE THING was banned in Finland as too violent upon it's initial release.

* THE THING's opening title sequence is an exact replica of that of the 1951 Hawks-Nyby film ... only in color.  The "burning font" effect was achieved by placing an animation cell (with the words "The Thing" cut into it) in front of a fish tank filled with smoke, covered with a plastic garbage bag, and with a bright light behind it.  When the garbage bag was ignited, the light "burned through" the smoke as well as the cut-out letters, thus forming the film's "melting" title card. 

  Carpenter (center) on set with Keith David (left) and Kurt Russell (right)

* An accomplished musician (and the son of a music professor), THE THING was the first of Carpenter's theatrical films for which he himself did not serve as chief composer.  When first choice Jerry Goldsmith (PLANET OF THE APES, CHINATOWN, THE OMEN) passed on the film, the baton was taken up by the legendary Ennio Morricone (THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY, THE MISSION, CINEMA PARADISO) of whom Carpenter was a life long fan, and in some respects on who's "minimalist" approach he had patterned his own scores.  Morricone's first take featured sparse suspense-laden orchestration; then his second (after hearing Carpenter's own ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and THE FOG scores) more oriented in the pulsing, phobic, electonic bass mode.  Carpenter (and frequent music collaborator Alan Howarth) would add a few additional "fill in" tracks for the final film edit. 

* The film's iconic "one sheet" poster was created by popular illustrator Drew Stuzan (BACK TO THE FUTURE, the INDIANA JONES and STAR WARS films, HELLBOY) without having seen any still images or early footage of the film. 

* THE THING opened the same day as Ridley Scott's BLADE RUNNER - June 25th, 1982.  And like Scott's film, was mostly ignored by audiences (even genre fans) and lambasted by critics as "style over substance".  In time both would gain in popularity till reaching present status as seminal sci fi classics still influencing the genre today. 

* At the time of THE THING's initial release, Carpenter took it's box office failure to heart.  He'd later say, "I take every failure hard. The one I took the hardest was THE THING. My career would have been different if that had been a big hit...The movie was hated. Even by science-fiction fans. They thought that I had betrayed some kind of trust, and the piling on was insane. Even the original movie’s director, Christian Nyby, was dissing me". 

* Carpenter and others have since surmised THE THING's initial snubbing by audiences may have been partially attributable to the surprise success of Steven Spielberg's E.T. - THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL, which had opened just two weeks prior on June 11th, 1982, and immediately set off a decades long cinema trend of benign alien visitors.  The worldwide critical and financial success of Carpenter's own STARMAN (1984) seems to bear this theory out.   

* June 1982 was a crowded and competitive month for big budget studio genre films.  In addition to E.T. and BLADE RUNNER, the month also saw the releases of POLTERGEIST and STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (both on June 6th), and Clint Eastwood's FIREFOX (June 18th).    

* THE THING ends with a question mark as the only two remaining survivors, MacReady (Russell) and Childs (David), meet up and don't know whether the other is an infected alien imitation.  The audience also doesn't know.  Amidst the increasing cold, both men decide to share a bottle of whiskey - a symbol of trust which hasn't existed since the film's beginning.  The audience is therefore left to surmise, "If neither is a 'Thing', both men will most likely die in the cold, and the horror will be over.  But if one of them is a 'Thing', he'll go back into hibernation then reawaken when a rescue party arrives, ... and the horror will begin again, possibly leading to the end of all life on earth". 

* Editor Todd Ramsay convinced Carpenter to shoot a "happy ending" alternative for "protective reasons".  In it MacReady is rescued, given a blood test and proven to be human.  Carpenter chose to not use this alternative, but to rather go with the more vague and open to interpretation ending.  The alternate ending has to date has never been seen.  

* The first season THE X-FILES episode "ICE" (11/5/93) is an homage to John Carpenter's THE THING. 

* Upon THE THING's first commercial network TV airing, (then) Universal president Sid Sheinberg spearheaded a vastly altered version of the film which director Carpenter disowned.  In this TV version the film's "R" rated gore and profanity are (understandably) excised.  But additional scenes, containing more information on each character, are sandwiched into the film's early sequences.  Opening and closing narration is added, as well as voice over narration during the scene where Blair (Brimley) studies the "Thing's" life cycle on his computer.  The TV version also includes a climactic image (echoing the film's beginning) of "another" dog scurrying away from the now decimated American camp just as one ran away from the earlier Norwegian research base.  This unanimously panned alternate film edition no longer exists. 

* During the same early 1980s era, Sheinberg would also spearhead radical re-edits of Ridley Scott's LEGEND and Terry Gilliam's BRAZIL (both 1985).  Later DVD/Blu-ray versions of both films have restored them to their original director intended versions. 

*  At the time of THE THING's 1982 release, a well regarded novelization was published by genre stalwart Allen Dean Foster.  The author of numerous original sci fi & fantasy novels such as the SPELLSINGER,  ICERIGGER and PIP AND FLINX series, other critically lauded Foster film novelizations include ALIEN, ALIENS, OUTLAND, ALIEN NATION, PALE RIDER, THE BLACK HOLE, CLASH OF THE TITANS, KRULL and THE LAST STARFIGHTER.  He is also the author of the novelization to 1977's STAR WARS (the publishing credit of which was given to George Lucas), as well as writer of the subsequent STAR WARS novels SPLINTER OF THE MIND'S EYE and THE APPROACHING STORM.  He conceived the original screen story for 1979's STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, and penned ten novels based on episodes of the STAR TREK animated TV series.  

* The legacy of John Carpenter's THE THING would continue.  Years later Dark Horse Comics published four THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD graphic novel mini-series sequels: The Thing from Another World, The Thing from Another World: Climate of Fear, The Thing from Another World: Eternal Vows, and The Thing from Another World: Questionable Research. 

* In 2000, McFarlane Toys, as part of it's popular "Movie Maniacs" collectibles, released two figurines based on the film: the "Blair Monster" seen at the climax of the movie, and the "Norris Monster" from the terrifying defibrillator sequence. The "Norris" collectible also included a smaller figurine of the disembodied head with protruding spider legs. 

* In 2003 SciFi Channel (a division of Universal studios) originally planned a four-hour mini-series sequel to Carpenter's film.  When it failed to materialize, Carpenter himself, in 2004, floated an idea to the studio about a sequel involving the survivors of the first film, MacReady and Childs.  He even had committals from both Kurt Russell and Keith David to reprise their roles.  Universal passed on it. 


* A not-well-regarded prequel film, also entitled THE THING, was released in 2011.  Detailing the events at the Norwegian research camp before the "Thing-Dog" encounters the Americans in the 1982 film, it failed to ignite the imaginations of critics or audiences, taking in only $27.4 million worldwide on a budget of $38 million.  It presently holds an unimpressive 36% aggregate critics rating on Rotten 

* In 2002 THE THING was adapted as a "third person shooter" game for PC, PlayStation 2 and Xbox.  Then in 2007 turned into a guest walk-through Halloween Horror Nights event at Universal Studios, Orlando. 

* To this day viewings of THE THING (1982) are an annual tradition at many arctic research facilities.  It's regularly viewed by members of the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station (usually on a double-bill with THE SHINING) during the crew's final night of duty.   And also watched during "final duty night" by personnel at the Summit Camp on the apex of the Greenland Ice Sheet.


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