Thursday, September 16, 2010

DVD Spotlight: The Thing (Collector's Edition).

The Thing (Collector's Edition) (1982)
DVD Release Year: 1998.
Released by: Universal Pictures.
Region: 1.
Starring: Kurt Russell; Wilford Brimley; T.K. Carter; David Clennon; Keith David; Richard Dysart; Charles Hallahan; Peter Maloney; Richard Masur; Donald Moffat; Joel Polis; Thomas G. Waites; Norbert Weisser.
Directed by: John Carpenter.
Colour/109 Minutes/R

A remake of the 1951 Howard Hawks-directed classic The Thing from Another World, which in turn is based on the short story Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr., is one of director John Carpenter's masterworks.

The story involves a twelve-man team, working in a remote Antarctic research station, encountering the last remaining member of a Norwegian research team trying to kill a dog that he has chased into their camp. Having no choice, they are forced to kill the man and save the dog. However, after investigating the Norwegian camp, they soon discover that the rest of the Norwegian team was killed by something they had taken from the ice, something from a crashed alien spacecraft that had been buried there for over 100,000 years. As it turns out, that very something took the form of the dog they saved and now it's slowly taking over the members of their team as well, by copying them! The Thing can be anyone, and that fact causes tension and mistrust among the team. They are at each other throats as the Thing picks them off by playing them against each other. It seems they will soon meet the same fate as the Norwegians did if they don't find a way to pull together and trust each other.

The Thing is a tense and claustrophobic film full of solid acting and innovative special effects for the very gory nature of the Thing itself. You really get a sense that the creature is old and has been to many worlds in its day. As it transforms we see various features from the different animals it has copied. It makes for a very creepy Lovecraftian tone: something Lovecraft fan Carpenter was well aware of and has used in several of his films. Kurt Russell, as MacReady, is a loner and an alcoholic. He wants to escape everything, but it is he who is forced to take charge as the shit hits the fan. Here he gives another good performance -- something that always happened when he worked with Carpenter. But this is not a one-man show, as this all-male ensemble piece features good performances from everyone involved. Wilford Brimley is especially effective as Blair, who quickly realizes the full gravity of the situation the group find themselves in and slips quickly into paranoia and madness. All of this tension is punctuated by Ennio Morricone's score, which is cold, alien and actually quite similar to what Carpenter was doing with his own scores at the time.

Released in direct competition to E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, the American movie-going public was not ready for something as horrific as the alien from The Thing, nor the bleak and depressing tone of the film. Although not a total bomb, it didn't do very well critically or financially when it was first released. However, thanks to home video, it has since gone on to be more than just a cult classic, but embraced as a true overlooked gem, worthy of respect. The movie sets out to scare and it does. Taking elements from Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians, the film actually stays more faithful to the original story than the first film adaptation did, and the Thing is one of the most interesting and outright scary monsters to ever appear on screen. Who has been taken over? Would you even know if you had been? The film is a shining example of how to blend horror and sci-fi together and make it work.

DVD Information:

Video: 2.35:1.
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, French 2.0.
Subtitles: English; Spanish.
--Chapter selection.
--Feature commentary with director John Carpenter and Kurt Russell.
--Original theatrical trailer.
--Outtakes from the film.
--Behind the scenes photographs.
--Storyboards and conceptual art
--Annoted production archive.
--Featurette: John Carpenter's The Thing: Terror Takes Shape, original 80-minute documentary featuring interviews from John Carpenter, Kurt Russell, special effects make-up designer Rob Bottin, matte artist Albert Whitlock, plus other members of the cast, crew and special effects team.
--Never-before-seen stop motion animation footage cut from the film.
--Exclusive work-in-progress visual effects footage.
--Behind-the-scenes location footage.
--Bios for John Carpenter and Kurt Russell.

There very well could be some stuff that I missed because some of the features listed above cover a ton of different things. This DVD is just PACKED. It's by far one of the most impressive I've seen. The audio and picture get no complaints from me. The DVD just has all the goodies a serious fan of the film could hope for, including yet another trademark AWESOME commentary track from John Carpenter and Kurt Russell, who obviously have a lot of fun watching the films they made together and talking about them. The commentary is funny, interesting and quite insightful. In case you didn't quite "get" what everything was about and what was going on in the movie, you'll soon be educated after looking through the extras here. Terror Takes Shape covers the production, release and reception of the film in good detail. There's also fold-out liner notes instead of just the usual card that shows the movie poster and the chapter selections on back, that goes into some more detail about the film. Coming from a music fan who buys albums for liner notes and the like, it's always a nice addition to have that little extra something with the rest of the package.


Scare Sarah said...

Solid review. The Thing (in The Thing) is really quite creepy. Great atmosphere.

Lee said...

Yeah, the idea of the Thing itself and what it does is pretty scary. It's why the 1978 remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" scares me too: the replacement of the individual by something inhuman.

Carl Manes said...

Truly is one of my favorite DVD releases before studios realized they could release films with no features and not even refinish them. Fuckers. But in the mean time, what an excellent treatment of one of the greatest Sci Fi Horror films ever, eh Lee?

Lee said...

Yeah Carl, the DVD has been the best thing to happen to film in my opinion. Not only do we get classy, respectful treatments like this, but the DVD has just made it possible for more people to see films they otherwise wouldn't have, even in the VHS era.