A Norwegian helicopter is seen chasing a dog through the Antarctic until it reaches a US Research Station. A man emerges and tries killing the dog but is himself shot by one of the researchers. Eager to understand what drove the man to such lengths, helicopter pilot MacReady (Kurt Russell) and Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart) head off to find out what is going on in the Norwegian station. When they arrive they find death and destruction but discover that the Norwegians had discovered a craft and frozen body deep inside the ice. The
team take the body back to their base for an autopsy but soon discover it isn’t
a dead body but a thawed out creature that is capable of killing and metamorphosing into anyone with which it
has contact. Not knowing who amongst them is still human the team enters into a
climate of fear and mistrust and battle to stop The Thing from reaching civilization.
This film was recommended to me by a friend a few months ago at the same time as I watched The Fly. I liked that film but The Thing is on a whole different level. I enjoyed it from start to finish and although never scared, thought it was a brilliant thriller with wonderful creature design.
The film’s opening few minutes set out just how isolated the team is in their Antarctic station and this really comes into play later on. The only part of the plot which I was able to second guess was the very beginning in the scenes with the Norwegians chasing the dog. From then on I was completely transfixed and had no better idea as to someone’s human status than the characters themselves. I really liked the fact that you could never tell who was really human. It would have made such a difference to the quality of the whole production if the audience could second guess any of the potential outcomes. This carries on right to the very end in an ending which is both nihilistic but open to interpretation.
The highlight of the film as far as I’m concerned is the creature design and special effects. I was reminded of Alien early on and there are obvious comparisons with the likes of The Fly and to an extent Total Recall but this film puts all of them to shame with some of the most wacky, original and horrifying creatures I’ve ever set eyes on. The effects were created by Rob Bottin, the man behind the effects in Legend, Total Recall, RoboCop, Se7en and countless others but I believe this to be his best work. The creatures have a certain realism to them while still being out of this world and as I’ve previously mentioned are incredibly elaborate and messed up. They are gruesome but a joy to behold.
The acting and direction are pretty much spot on throughout and I can’t think of a single actor who let the side down. This was probably helped by the writing which is simply brilliant. For such a large cast (eleven men in the station) no one feels forgotten and the audience really gets to know most of them well. They all feel like real people rather than characters simply written in to be killed off. Even those who don’t last long are fully fleshed out. Juggling such a large central cast in extreme conditions could have been difficult for director John Carpenter but there are no signs that it was on screen. Another thing worth mentioning is Ennio Morricone’s score which creates buckets full of tension and suspense.
Overall I have little to fault The Thing. It’s a wonderful metaphor for cabin fever and features some of the best special effects I’ve ever seen. The story is tense and gripping and I didn’t want to look away for a second. It isn’t as scary as I thought it might have been but this in no way detracted from the film.