John Carpenter is one of the most celebrated and prolific directors in cinema, and picking his best project is accordingly difficult. There’s “Halloween,” “Big Trouble In Little China,” “Escape from New York,” “The Fog,” and the list goes on. Renowned for provocative cinematography and special effects, 1982’s “The Thing” displays some of Carpenter’s finest work. The special effects are spectacular, the cast is amazing, and the storytelling is out of this world.
“The Thing” begins in the Antarctic, with a Norwegian research team following a dog across the barren terrain. The helicopter is destroyed, and a survivor (Larry J. Franco) of the accident continues trying to shoot the dog. An American researcher, Garry (Donald Moffat), kills the Norwegian, saving the dog. A party consisting of MacReady (Kurt Russell) and Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart) visit the Norwegian base, which they find to be burned.
The Americans’ newly acquired dog transforms hideously and fights the other canines in the kennel. MacReady alerts the station, and Childs (Keith David) destroys the beast. The biologist, Blair (Wilford Brimley) performs an autopsy, leading him to suggest that the “thing” has the ability to as masquerade as any other living entity. The American party uncovers a UFO after analyzing the Norwegians’ research, which they realize to be the source of the shapeshifting alien. Soon after, the American team begins to suffer extreme paranoia as they begin to recognize that various members have been infected.
The roster for “The Thing” is pretty varied, and includes a slew of John Carpenter’s frequent collaborators. Kurt Russell would later headline in “Big Trouble in Little China” and “Escape from New York,” and Keith David in “They Live.” Russell perfects the macho, natural leader MacReady. Bearded, shaggy-haired, and constantly swigging scotch, the role is absolutely tailored for Russell. David is similarly awesome as the tough and level-headed Childs. He has a great line, “I just can’t believe this voodoo bullshit.” Ironically, Keith David would later portray the voodoo Shadow Man in Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog.” Wilford Brimley is surprisingly animated as biologist Blair, a shock for viewers only familiar with his infamous Liberty Medical commercials.
Special effects are top notch, and the first transformation scene is truly unforgettable. Even amidst the current technology capable of producing masterpieces like “Gravity,” “The Thing” manages to remain relevant. Subsequent transformations are often unexpected, and each one differs in appearance from the last. They’re cringe-inducing because of their life-like vividness.
Although John Carpenter’s film is based on John W. Campbell’s novella Who Goes There?, the first adaptation of the text actually came in 1951 as “The Thing from Another World.” Interestingly, Carpenter’s 1978 “Halloween” features a scene where “The Thing from Another World” plays on TV. It’s a neat Easter egg, especially after the 1982 iteration. “The X-Files” episode, “Ice,” adapted John Carpenter’s “The Thing” and it’s a really faithful and well-made homage. “The Thing’s” legacy continued with a 2011 prequel, also titled “The Thing.” Considering how fantastic the movie is, it’s no surprise why “The Thing” has left behind such a legacy. It’s disgustingly gorgeous, the acting portrays convincing paranoia, and the film adopts a delightful whodunit quality, making for a wholly memorable sci-fi thriller.