Based on the John Campbell novella, “Who Goes There,” “The Thing” has a doozy of an alien monster, a gigantic, ancient UFO that crash-landed on Earth thousands of years ago, an isolated scientific research facility in Antarctica …and Kurt Russell in a sombrero.
There was so much that was great about this movie. Well, let me rephrase that — the monster in this movie was great. The Thing was an extraterrestrial lifeform that could assimilate other lifeforms and then imitate them so perfectly these imitations fooled the real people who’d known them for months. Once everyone realizes just how talented this creature is, paranoia sets in big-time. It could be any of us, says one of them. And they’re right.
The good things about this move (for real, this time) – the monster — special effects by Rob Bottin, with an extra-special appearance by Stan Winston on the dog-alien – superb. Since it could literally be anyone, or anything, Carpenter obviously had a lot of fun with it. My favorite monster-form is a toss-up between the head that sprouts spider legs and scurries off to hide, and the one that bites off the doctor’s arms in the middle of an autopsy of one of the victims.
I also loved the setting. I have some kind of “thing” about isolated Antarctic research stations – they just seem really creepy and very isolated to me. I can’t think of a worse place in the world to run into an alien monster, because if the monster doesn’t get you, the cold and snow will. (You know, the Overlook Hotel in The Shining reminded me a LOT of an Antarctic research station, especially once the snow started falling.)
What I didn’t love about the film – mostly Kurt Russell’s character, MacReady. This guy is supposed to be a helicopter pilot, and yet, as soon as things get a little crazy, his character takes charge and starts pushing everyone around. Also, in an attempt by the director to let us know MacReady is an alpha male, Carpenter dresses him in a leather bomber jacket and a sombrero. In Antarctica, where the average low temperature is – 59 degrees Fahrenheit. And MacReady wears that outfit pretty much through the whole movie. Sigh.
In a situation like that — because what if MacReady had tripped and broken his neck in the first scene, or something — I expect there to be a leader of the scientific team, if not a couple of them, depending on what’s going on at the station. Nope. There is a sorta-military guy, the station commander, Garry. However, even though he has the only gun, he spends most of the movie looking lost and uncomfortable.
Which brings me to my next bitch. The cast of this movie was all guys (this was 1982, after all, before the invention of women scientists), and, except for Kurt Russell, they were all solid character actors. However, because of their backgrounds (character actors don’t get as much screen time as the lead actors do); these guys were weirdly stiff and constipated-looking. It was as if they weren’t used to having the camera trained on them for the entire movie. (Russell had been playing the “leading man” ever since his Disney days, so he was relatively “natural”.) Honestly, even for scientists, they were annoyingly grim and tongue-tied. If “socially-awkward nerd” was what these actors were going for, they kind of overshot the mark, in my opinion.
To sum up – the monster was terrific. The setting was good. The acting was sluggish. And the sombrero was stupid.
But go watch it anyway.
P.S. For all my near-sighted friends who said, “Gee, I didn’t even notice the hat…”