If you haven’t seen John Carpenter’s The Thing, then why the hell not? This film is not a just a masterpiece in suspense, fear and paranoia, it’s an example of how you can really explore character. Read on to see what makes it tick. (SPOILERS AHEAD)
1. Location, Location, Location.
It’s Antarctica. It’s winter. It’s 1982 and the internet is just a twinkling in your Commodore 64’s eye…The isolation is as much a part of the terror as the shape-shifting alien. “You’re a thousand miles from nowhere, man…and it’s gonna get a helluva lot worse before it gets any better.” Apparently, new intakes to the US Antarctic Research station initiate themselves by watching The Thing on their first night on camp. Much in the same way meteorologists watch Sharknado, I guess.
Man, what a beard. That by itself would be enough to merit inclusion on the list. And who else would pair a sombrero with a snow-jacket? Kurt fucking Russell that’s who–and it’d be a brave man or thing to tell him otherwise. From that first scene we know US Airforce pilot R. J. McReady’s not one for taking any crap. He fried his computer because it beat him at chess. He laid the smackdown on the bat-shit crazy scientist and didn’t think twice. And he knows one or more of the amazing ensemble cast are not who they seem in a brilliant show of character study by Carpenter. What’s more, Russell handles a flamethrower and axe like he was born with them. Cigars and whiskey completeth the man—the demigod. The Thing’s not alone in wanting to imitate him.
Oh my God! I just typed “shape-shifting alien” into Google…straight after searching for images of Donald Trump’s hairpiece. Shit! Was that the same black sedan that drove past earlier? They’re on to me. They think I’m about to uncover the truth of extra-terrestrial existence. I’m not Mr FBI man…I’m totally not!!! I saw how this went on X-Files. Please don’t disappear me. I’m talking about The Thing…OMG…You’re The Thing…you’re all these Things…and I ate pasta salad from the buffet bar earlier, so now I’m The Thing….Aaaaaggghhhhh!!! (You get the drift!)
Okay, the graphics might’ve sat somewhere between Pong and Jet Set Willy, but in Blair’s computer simulation the message was clear. This Thing get’s off Antarctica it will infect and imitate everything on the entire planet in 72,000 hours…that’s everything…in less time than it takes to claim a tax rebate online (trust me, I know)…all life on Earth, even the Kardashians, and those annoying cling-on worms that hang around a rabbit’s arse.
5. The Ending
Rob Bottin’s brilliantly grisly animatronics, and the pessimistic tone of The Thing meant it didn’t fare as well as Spielberg’s cuter extra-terrestrial offering E.T. There’s no cuddly “phone home” denouement here. Momma and Papa Thing aren’t popping back in their interstellar people carrier to pick up their cheeky rapscallion offspring in an array of sparkly lights. No. Against a backdrop of certain death, John Carpenter provides perhaps his finest moment on screen. The tension and ambiguity at the end are ratcheted so high, if this was a wedgie your bollocks would be further north than your ear lobes. It’s just Kurt Russell, David Childs, and Kurt Russell’s Beard…and anyone of them could be The Thing. Personally, I hope it’s the beard.
If you loved the Thing, you’ll love The Things by Peter Watts. A sort of Thing’s eye view of what happened in the film. It was first published (and remains) on the Clarkesworld magazine for your delectation. Enjoy.