The Thing begins with a chase scene. A helicopter fires at a Siberian Husky from above, landing only to pursue it through an American base. One of the men dies in a grenade explosion along with the helicopter. The base captain, Garry (Donald Moffat), kills the other. From there, American pilot R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) is joined by Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart) to investigate what is going on in the Norwegian outpost. It is a grim start that sets the overall mood for the film, the Thing is a movie that is more than just the monster, but the people trying to survive in the world it is in.
The Mystery Grows
What they discover gave them more questions than answers. The outpost is abandoned and in ruins. There, they find the remains of burned men and one that is frozen solid with his throat cut. The last, and most curious thing they find, is a large block of ice which looks to have contained something prior to being found. In the meantime, the escaped dog transforms into the Thing -- a frightening creature that has the ability to change whatever, whoever, it kills.
As we've mentioned, this version of The Thing boasts a myriad of special effects. Lead by veteran artists Stan Winston and Rob Bottin, there are over forty members of the crew all in all. As impressive as this is though, it is a good indicator of what the film prioritizes above all else.
It is a true blue barf-inducing extravaganza but it misses out on a few crucial things such as any sort of character development. The stereotypes are easily spotted, with little effort to elevate the leads beyond being prey for the Thing. The characters act very oddly, with implausible responses to situations. Sure, we're used to seeing horror movie characters have a blatant disregard for safety. However in this case, the execution is much too awkward. Knowing that the Thing can take any form it wishes, the leads decide to always stay in pairs yet they never really get it right. They always end up wandering around on their own and then coming back with telltale signs that they're not who they're supposed to be. The concept gets reused so much during the movie that by the latter half of it, you'd have lost track of what's what and are probably bored out of your wits.
Rough Film Pacing
With barely any time spared to make the cast relatable, the scares become somewhat unsatisfying. We don't feel the loss of the cardboard characters. We can't see ourselves in them, nor did we find any of them particularly likeable. Thankfully, the acting is decent and, of course, Kurt Russell has his natural charm. Carpenter has intended to dazzle us with cutting-edge effects, but it falls flat simply because of one truth: good storytelling stands the test of time, technology does not.
That being said, it was quite a marvel during its time of release. We have no doubt that the effects alone were enough to bait a myriad of moviegoers to go and experience The Thing for themselves. Seeing the creature mutate from crab-legged oddity to furry dog surely made it time well spent. For this generation of horror movie fans, however, there are better classics to go for. For instance, the first two Alien movies excel not only when it comes to the technical, but also in making the characters likeable and without compromising the story.
Although The Thing has had enough interest to spawn several remakes, we did not see the appeal in Carpenter's version of it. While we do applaud the special effects team for their effort, they are not enough to give the film a lasting appeal. The behavior of the characters leave much to be desired. They act puppets, being lead from one scary situation to the next. The story is riddled with loopholes, seemingly intended to leave the audience confused. For its time, however, it was a wonderful risk-taker. With its focus on the technical, it helped to open doors for the genre. It is an experiment and one that has resulted in the visually stunning, sci-fi horror flicks that we know and love today.