Last night I watched John Carpenter's version of "The Thing" for the first time. It was very good. Gore and scenes of suffering repel me, so I was reluctant to watch it. But I wanted to compare Carpenter's work to the 1951 movie, which I had seen earlier this year (and found much less satisfying).
The main themes of the 1982 movie were isolation, fear, distrust, hopelessness, and bafflement, and how these emotions affect otherwise stable human beings. People change from being "scientific" to being undisciplined from fear. A feeling of doom steadily grows. As for the gory scenes, they are much less frequent than some reviews would have you believe. However, they are horrific (I had to look away once, and I'm 57). The special effects were a tribute to the human imagination: what causes a person to conceive of a head's stretching from its torso, falling off of an examination table (to avoid being burned up by a flame-thrower), and sending out tentacles that lash onto objects and pull itself across the floor? Other effects were equally creative. Some aspects of the "Thing" reminded me of the creature in "Alien." The opening scene, involving the hunting of a dog by men in a helicopter, was troubling for me because I hate to see animals suffer. To me a dog that is being hunted is suffering (from fear). Once I overcame my bad feelings about the scene, I gave some thought to its details, and I became puzzled. It should have been fairly easy for the men in the helicopter to kill the dog, so why were they unable to do so? They had a machine that could fly much faster than any dog could run, and flew a zigzag path to repeatedly take aim at the fleeing animal. But no bullet from the rifle hit the dog. Later it became clear: shortly before the hunt, the men in the chopper had seen their comrades---at another scientific outpost---perish in a most gruesome manner. Those scenes of death, and the experiences that led up to them, undoubtedly made these men almost insane with fear and desperation. No wonder the pilot flew erratically and the gunner never hit the dog! I have two complaints: staffing and armaments. The staffing of the research station was implausible. Some characters seemed to be too casual or unprofessional to have been stationed at a scientific outpost, where---I assume---only the cream of the crop are sent in order to get the "biggest bang from the buck." Yeah, scientists are people too, and the outposts in Antarctica surely have social problems. I just think that people at remote science stations are more serious, more mature, and have more to do than some characters depicted here. And so few people at a station? Survival in the extreme winter conditions would seem to require a bigger outpost and many more people: cooks, medical team, maintenance people, etc.
The other weakness was the presence of the armaments and flame-throwers. Since the station's mission was never explained, I was forced to assume that these things were necessary. But I don't like that type of story-telling. If there are devices present that would seem out of place to the average person, the story-tellers have an obligation to explain the situation. Was an "explaining" scene deleted during the editing process, or was this a case of lazy writing? Some commenters have theorized that flame-throwers are used to melt snow, but that's unlikely. As I understand it, flame-throwers are not merely super hair dryers with flames, but squirt guns that propel a napalm-like substance onto things. That burning medium would be all over anything that had been sprayed---not a nice residue to leave in the snow. Aside from the staffing and armaments themes, I could believe the movie. Maybe I need to go back to school and take a remedial course in "Management of Small Scientific Stations in Ice-bound Environments." On the plus side, as others have mentioned, there were not any extraneous elements such as romance or earthquakes to keep viewers interested. (Aside from the fact that there were no women in the movie, romance would have been laughably out of place here---when people experience an increasing state of terror, they aren't likely to linger in the lab to kiss.) The development of suspense, based on the disintegration of trust among the characters, kept me spellbound. The soundtrack helped sustain a creepy, foreboding atmosphere; I don't care who created or manipulated it. Partially filmed in or near Stewart, British Columbia---get out the atlas! For a guy who hates scenes depicting horror or bad things happening to animals, I liked this movie. It was much, much better than the 1951 version, not because of the special effects, which were excellent, but because of the development of suspense and the style of acting. After reading so much praise for the DVD version of this movie, I just might rent it.
Forty-four pages of comments!---impressive.
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