Thing, The (Collector’s Edition)
Released by: Shout! Factory
Released on: October 11th, 2016.
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Kurt Russell, Keith David, Richard Dysart, Wilford Brimley
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John Carpenter’s 1982 film The Thing, a remake of the 1951 film The Thing From Another World, is proof positive that not all horror movie remakes have to be awful, even if Roger Ebert wrote it off as a ‘barf bag movie.’ It all starts out with a quick opening scene in which something hurtles through space and hits the Earth. From here we head to an American research base in Antarctica. Things get intense right off the bat when a helicopter from a nearby Norwegian base zips by, seemingly chasing a dog. The dog makes it to the station but the Norwegians, while shooting at it, hit one of the Americans. When the pilot, who can’t speak English, comes into the camp looking for the dog he’s shot dead, while the dog is left to poke around. Unsure what exactly was the cause of all of this, R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) and a few other men decide to head over to the Norwegian camp to try and set things right. They arrive and find that the place has been burnt, there are no survivors. As the men explore what’s left of the camp they find a body of a man who appears to have cut his own throat, a giant block of ice that something was chiseled out of and the semi-burnt remains of… something.
They head back to the camp where the dog is put into the kennel area with the other dogs. No one seems entirely sure of what’s going on or why what happened actually happened, and as such, tensions quickly begin to run high. While the men talk amongst themselves, the dog that the Norwegians were hunting begins to mutate and turn into some sort of symbiotic beast. The men deal with it and Blair (Wilford Brimley) performs an autopsy on the thing and they learn that whatever it was that did this was trying to morph into something akin to the dog, to use that trusted animal to hide its true self. Once the men realize this, paranoia sets in as they realize that any one of them could be… the thing.
It’s that word – paranoia – that is key here. This is a movie as much about trust/distrust amongst these men as it is about a nasty monster from outer space shifting shapes and killing them off. Carpenter handles this beautifully, giving each member of the team just enough personality that we have no trouble identifying them and, with some help from DP Dean Cundey, making the research base location into an increasingly claustrophobic backdrop. As such, we have dangerous things happening to dangerous men in a dangerous environment. The story plays out, details emerge and the characters start to understand the rules by which the monster operates. They come up with ways they think they can outsmart it, to deduce through logical experimentation who may or may not be playing ‘host’ to this creature. These are men of science, after all, even if they’re hard drinking types, a little rough around the edges. Their survival instinct is strong, it would have to be if you were stationed in Antarctica in the first place.
While the tension gets remarkably thick and the requisite horror scenes show some amazing creature design. The monster is ever changing, ever evolving. Where we might be treated to scenes of the same otherworldly ‘thing’ terrorizing these guys throughout, each attack or confrontation has its own unique shock value and its own unique element of surprise. The effects are excellent, a product of the early eighties to be sure but they’ve aged well and stand as a testament to just how good practical effects work can be, rivaling even the best CGI work featured in modern films. It’s also impressive in just how flat out disgusting it gets in spots. The violence and gore featured in the film is strong stuff.
The cast do great work here too. Kurt Russell’s turn as MacReady has gone on to become pretty iconic, and rightly so. He’s surly but likeable, the right kind of tough guy who is smart, resourceful and quite capable, but still flawed enough to remain grounded, believable and human. Wilford Brimley might seem like an odd casting choice to play the elder scientist in the film but he does great work here too. Throw in David Clennon, Keith David, Richard Masur and Donald Moffat and, you’ve got a pretty killer cast of character actors all delivering fine work. If that weren’t enough, none other than Ennio Morricone scored the film, and in typical Morricone fashion, the music is the perfect accent piece to the onscreen action.
Shout! Factory brings The Thing to Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer taken from a “2K scan of the inter-positive supervised and approved by director of photography Dean Cundey” from at 2.35.1 widescreen. Compared to the previous Blu-ray release from Universal, this is a pretty substantial upgrade. Detail is vastly improved and color reproduction is considerably more impressive and quite a bit bolder without looking artificially boosted. Black levels are nice and deep and skin tones look good. There are no issues with crush nor are there any serious compression artifact issues to note. Texture and depth are very strong here as well, while skin tones look nice and lifelike. The image is very clean from start to finish, showing no serious print damage and only a few minor white specks now and again. Film grain is present but never distracting and the image appears free of any obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement issues. There might be some minor edge enhancement present in a few spots but otherwise, this looks really good.
Audio options, all in English, are available in a new DTS-HD 4.1 track that was ‘created from the original 70MM Six Track Dolby Stereo soundtrack’ as well as in DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo options with optional subtitles provided in English only. The 5.1 track spreads things out here and there a little bit more but the 4.1 mix has better, strong and more concise audio, it sounds excellent. The low end is nice and strong and plenty powerful, but it doesn’t bury the rest of the mix when your subwoofer kicks into high gear. Dialogue stays clean, clear and easily discernable while the levels are balanced well throughout the film. Hiss and distortion are non-issues and there’s excellent range evident here.
Extras are spread across the two discs in the set. The first disc includes a new audio commentary with director of photography Dean Cundey moderate by Rob Galluzo. This track leans towards the technical side of things but not to the point where it’ll be over your head. Cundey is an interesting guy and one of the best cinematographers in the business. He’s also worked with Carpenter a lot, and as such, he brings a unique perspective to this talk where he covers not only lighting and shot compositions, but his relationship with the film’s director, what it was like working with different cast and crew members, the locations and sets, the effects and loads more. A second new commentary is also found here, wherein co-producer Stuart Cohen and moderator Michael Felsher cover the film in quite a bit of detail. Cohen gives us his thoughts on working with Carpenter, the script, the effectiveness of the performances, the film’s strengths and a fair bit more. Carried over from previous releases is the original audio commentary by director John Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell. Those who haven’t heard it before are advised to give it a spin as it’s a very thorough track with a lot of great information on it. These guys go way back and have a great relationship that comes through here, as such the track as interesting but also occasionally amusing as well. As you’d guess, there is some overlap here, but there’s enough information specific to each track on the disc to make them all worthwhile in their own way. They’re also all quite well paced. The new tracks may have stumbled a bit if the moderators hadn’t been onboard but both Galluzo and Felsher, clearly fans of this film and very knowledgeable about its history, do a great job of keeping their respective commentators engaged and enthusiastic.
Rounding out the extras on disc one is a teaser trailer, a German theatrical trailer, two U.S. theatrical trailers, a trio of TV spots, two and a half minutes of radio spots and a fairly massive still gallery.
Disc two has quite a few new supplements on it, starting with a selection of interviews, the first of which is called The Men Of Outpost 31 which runs over fifty minutes and is made up of interviews with Keith David, Thomas Waites, Peter Maloney and a few others – basically all of the surviving cast save for Russell. There’s a lot of talk here about what it was like on set, the effects work that some of them had to deal with, the effect that this particular film had on their respective careers, their characters and more. This is well put together and quite interesting as these guys are able to cover things not really dealt with in any of the three commentary tracks. Editor Todd Ramsay gets the spotlight for eleven minutes in Assembling And Assimilation. Here he discusses trying to cut the film in such a way as to really reflect what Carpenter had envisioned for the film and how the two of them worked collaboratively on this side of the film’s post-production process in a lot of ways. Requiem For A Shapeshifter is a sit down talk with Carpenter himself who is joined by Mick Garris for a half hour long discussion about the trials and tribulations involved in bringing this film to fruition. They also talk about the film’s ending (without really ruining it), some of the different challenges that they encountered along the way and more. Behind The Chameleon is a featurette made up of interviews with visual effects artists Peter Kuran and Susan Turner, special make-up effects artist Rob Burman, and Brian Wade. They cover the practical effects work featured in the film, how the film’s now iconic opening credits were created, how some of the models used in the feature were constructed and other similar topics. There’s a lot of great footage contained in here, it’s very cool to see. Sounds From The Cold runs for fifteen minutes and is comprised of interviews with supervising sound editor David Lewis Yewdall and special sound effects designer Alan Howarth, who would work together on Halloween II around the same time they collaborated on this picture. They share some interesting stories about the sound effects used in the film, what went into creating them and what they were going for when coming up with some of this stuff. Last but not least, Between The Lines interviews novelization author Alan Dean Foster for sixteen minutes about his work turning the screenplay into a novel and what you have to take into account when working on a job like that.
In addition to the interviews, we also get some interesting new featurettes beginning with The Art Of Mike Ploog in which we spend twelve minutes going over the storyboards that were created by the super talented comic book artist (check out his Werewolf By Night and Monster Of Frankenstein comics for Marvel). He also handled some of the creature designs – it’s all seriously great stuff. Todd Cameron (who runs the Outpost 31 website) narrates the eleven minute Back Into The Cold piece that plays out under his words as a slide show of sorts. Here we get a look at a lot of the locations that were used in the feature. The Vintage Featurettes section contains thirteen minutes of archival/EPK style interviews with Carpenter and Russell made in the eighties to promote the movie, while the Vintage Product Reel piece is interesting in that it’s a very quick version of the movie put together to generate interest in the project. There’s footage here that wasn’t used in the final cut of the film. Two minutes of Vintage Behind The Scenes footage is found in this section as well that’s worth checking out. If that weren’t enough, there’s a fifty-two minute piece called the Annotated Production Archive which is a collection of stills, photographs, promotional work, storyboards, location scouting work and more all put together for your perusal with some notes accompanying various pieces explaining their significance.
The rest of the supplements from the old Universal disc are here too. John Carpenter’s The Thing: Terror Takes Shape (which was on the old DVD but not the old Blu-ray) thankfully returns. The feature length documentary on the making of The Thing is made up of interviews with John Carpenter, Kurt Russell, special effects make-up designer Rob Bottin, matte artist Albert Whitlock and a bunch of other people involved with the picture is here. Along with this we also get the five minute The Making Of A Chilling Tale and the nine minute The Making Of The Thing featurettes, both of which pale in comparison to some of the more extensive supplements put together for this release, but hey, better they be included here than not.
Shout! Factory has also included a standard definition presentation of the Network TV Broadcast version of The Thing. This runs about ninety-three minutes and is interesting not because it’s a softer, friendlier version of the movie in terms of its more graphic content but because it includes some alternate footage not seen in the theatrical cut of the movie. Some of this material does pop up in the deleted scenes but it’s cool that you have the option to watch this version and see it presented in its proper context. While this version isn’t an improvement over the theatrical cut, it’s an interesting variation and while it’s only in SD, including here for posterity’s sake was a great idea.
Animated menus and chapter selection are also included. The Blu-ray case features reversible cover art with the film’s original poster art on one side and a newly created painting on the other side – all of this comes packaged inside a cardboard slipcover that features that same painted artwork on the front panel.
The Final Word:
Shout! Factory’s Collector’s Edition two-disc Blu-ray reissue of John Carpenter’s The Thing is excellent. The presentation offers a really big upgrade over the previous Blu-ray from Universal and not only carries over all of the supplements from that disc but adds quite a few new ones to the package too. The film itself remains one of the best horror/sci-fi films of the eighties, a remarkably tense and exciting film that keeps you on the edge of your seat. All in all, this is an excellent package – this is pretty definitive stuff, highly recommended!
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