"Hey, Sweden!"

If you appreciate great filmmaking, even slightly appreciate it, then you owe it to yourself to see this film. Note to the squeamish: Just be mindful of the special effects. With one mild exception, they work quite well.

John Carpenter's The Thing (1982)
directed by John Carpenter
written by Bill Lancaster
starring Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, Donald Moffat, T.K. Carter, Charles Hallahan, Richard Dysart, Richard Masur, David Clennon, Peter Maloney, Joel Polis, 
Thomas G. Waites

How Is It?
Not only is this film one of the greatest science fiction and horror films of the 1980s. It is one of the best science fiction and horror films ever made. On top of that, it is inarguable that it is one of the best overall films of the latter half of the twentieth century. Watch it, and you'll see clearly: This is how you make a movie.

The Players
Before I get into any descriptions or praise of the actors involved, it must be noted that this is an ensemble picture. Instead of a hierarchy, it's a tapestry, and all of the actors turn in excellent performances. So I'm not going to single out any of the them. It'll just have to suffice to say that each of them brings a uniqueness and a completeness to their character, a level of relative eccentricity, nuance not often seen in genre films – or even in many straight dramas, alas. In short, we really rather like all the guys at Outpost 31 and root for them, even though we know going in that Very Bad Things are going to happen to them, and the actors really do make it look effortless.

Behind the Camera
The writing is superb. Bill Lancaster's script is smartly written, tightly structured, and well-paced, not a moment wasted. It's a prime example of “a good story, well told”. In the hands of good actors and a good director and crew, there's nowhere to go but up.

From a technical point of view, the film is a sight to behold. Yes, there are a few minor technical niggles one can make, but when you look at the overall movie experience of “The Thing” they disappear. Carpenter's direction, Dean Cundey's cinematography, and Rob Bottin's special effects are simply spot-on. (Bottin's effects were practically groundbreaking.) It is a real compliment to and says much about them that it isn't really until after you're done watching the movie that you start thinking about what you were watching. The technical side of the production so complements the actors and action in front of the camera that your attention is on what's going on, not on the style. I value that highly.

The Verdict
I believe the verdict has been apparent from the outset of this review. “John Carpenter's 'The Thing'” rates as one of the twenty best films I've ever seen. Horror and science fiction are my favorites, surely, and I admit that bias. That said, the quality of the film goes well beyond whatever confines there are to genre. It's a marvelously written, excellently made, gripping and atmospheric and the same time fun, highly entertaining movie. (And it has a really cool wolf-dog in it as well.)

Unless you're really squeamish, this movie is for you.


  1. Woot! Good review.

    Now the flamebait - how does it compare with Doctor Who's take on the "Who Goes There?" story ("The Seeds of Doom", which was apparently a rehash of The Avengers 1965 episode "Man-Eater of Surrey Green")?

  2. "The Man-Eater of Surrey Green" (1965), "The Seeds of Doom" (1976), "The Thing from Another World" (1951), and "John Carpenter's The Thing" (1982) -- and "The Quatermass Experiment" (1953) -- were all in their own ways rehashes of Campbell's novella, "Who Goes There?" (1931).

    The Avengers put it into its show's own eccentric context, as did Doctor Who. However, Doctor Who didn't just keep things Anarctic but went international with it. Howard Hawks' film kept the setting but dumbed it down a bit (i.e. the alien/monster and the threat), I think, though it's still an effective, good movie. Nigel Kneale's "The Quatermass Experiment" is in the mix, too, though of all these listed it has the least in common with Campbell's novella. Carpenter's film kept more faithful to Campbell's story than Hawks' and the rest and is therefore superior, I believe. Of course, I'm not saying any of the others are necessarily shabby, just that Carpenter's film is closer to the source (and better executed, technically).

    Oh, and we left off Jack Finney's 1955 novel, "The Body Snatchers" and the films it sprung in 1956, 1978, 1993, and 2007. Some were of those were more faithful to their source novel than others, but it was still really inspired by Campbell's "Who Goes There?"