The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Thing (1982)

In the case of good original and good remake, 1951's The Thing from Another World and 1982's The Thing have the same basic storyline but differ from there on in. And that's not a bad thing. They're similar enough to be compared, but the remake is a stand-alone film in a lot of senses. It is the rare remake that improves on the original's premise, even spawning a recent prequel.

At a remote weather station in Antarctica, gunfire erupts as a Norwegian helicopter swoops in, a man firing away at a fleeing dog. The crew is killed, leaving the American outfit at the station to figure out what happened at the Norwegian camp, an hour's trip away. They find that the Norwegians stumbled across something in the ice, something other-worldly that's been hidden away in the ice. Among the Americans is MacReady (Kurt Russell), the helicopter pilot, Garry (Donald Moffat), the station commander, and Blair (Wilford Brimley), the station doctor. MacReady and Blair begin to piece it together. The dog that was running from the helicopter is the Thing, an alien species able to imitate life, killing its source in the process. Could any of the crew have been taken over? Is it too late to stop this being before it is too late and escapes?

The 1951 original is a smart, well-written horror/sci-fi story that capitalized on the fear in the U.S. of the Russians, Communism and the Cold War. It begged viewers to watch the skies because one never knew when an attack could come! Cue dramatic music! With the 1982 version, horror master John Carpenter directs a story that is darker, scarier and more ominous. This isolated station is hundreds of miles from civilization and any sort of help, the British Columbia location providing a great backdrop for that isolated feeling. Composer Ennio Morricone's score is what a good horror/thriller score should be. Unsettling without being obvious, it foreshadows the coming doom but never blares in your face. Listen to his main theme HERE.

What works so smoothly in Carpenter's version is how intelligent and well-written it is. Yes, it's creepy as hell watching the Thing attack anything and everything in sight, ripping them apart rather graphically and then "becoming" the victim. But that's just a visual scare. What about the paranoia and fear of not knowing who you can trust? Could the person you're talking to be the Thing? Maybe he's already been attacked. The Thing is able to perfectly replicate its source victim, forcing MacReady, Blair and the others to come up with a test to reveal someone/something's true identity. That's what makes 'Thing' special. Everyone begins to turn on each other, sure they're truly themselves, but who's sure? Even better, Carpenter keeps us in the dark as to several characters. As a viewer, we're not always sure who's real and who's the Thing, much less the characters. Gory, bloody scares are one thing, but smart, paranoia thrills are even better.

As a director, Carpenter has been a great interview on several other DVDs' special features, talking about his love of 1950s war/westerns that featured a group of specialists working together (another reason Carpenter is awesome). 'Thing' allows him to assemble an all-male ensemble cast, Russell being the biggest name here in the director/star's third movie together. Russell as MacReady is the unquestioned star, the cynical, boozing helicopter pilot. It's his appearance that made him iconic though; the beard, the long hair, heavy jacket and boots, the sombrero he wears while flying. Great presence for a great character. Brimley is a scene-stealer as Blair, the doc who figures the Thing out, and along with Moffat as Garry there's also T.K. Carter as Nauls (the cook), David Clennon as Palmer, Keith David as Childs, Richard Dysart as Copper (the 2nd doctor), Charles Hallahan as Norris, Peter Maloney as Bennings, Richard Masur as Clark (the dog handler), Joel Polis as Fuchs, and Thomas G. Waites as Windows (radioman). Basically, these guys are fodder for the Thing, but they're a uniformly solid bunch.

In terms of originality, it's hard to beat the opening for 1982's The Thing. With no explanation, we're dropped into a chase; a helicopter racing over the Antarctic terrain and pursuing something. A man-on board is hanging off the chopper on a runner, blasting away at a dog running away below. We don't know what or why (for awhile at least) he's doing so, making it all that much more mysterious and sinister. The explanation comes along and it all fits together, but in terms of scene and tone-setting, that opening is one of the all-time greats, especially with Morricone's score driving the action. Watch it HERE. As quite the bookend, the finale is great too, open-ended enough for the audience to make up their mind about what they've seen. One of the great final lines in a movie too.

Also worth mentioning? The 2011 prequel was good in its own right and more than did justice to the 1982 version. Some homework was clearly done setting up the mysterious Norwegian camp, making it a spot-on version of what we saw in the 1982 version, and that movie's ending is just as good, ending where this one begins in a great little connection. All told, all three 'Thing' movies are above average, but this sci-fi/horror/thriller from John Carpenter is hands down the best. You can watch the whole movie at Youtube -- watch HERE -- in 10 parts.

The Thing <---trailer (1982): *** 1/2 /****

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