At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Thing “82”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Sci-Fi Horror/ Stars: Kurt Russell, Kurt Russell’s beard (seriously that thing is a character in and out of itself in this movie), Wilford Brimley, T.K. Carter, David Clennon, Keith David, Richard Dysart, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, Richard Masur, Donald Moffat, Joel Polis, Thomas Waites, Norbert Weissner, Larry J. Franco/ Runtime: 109 minutes

In 1982, two films were released within weeks of each other that were both about aliens as well as how a potential first encounter between our 2 species could go down. Sadly between the two of them, it would be Steven Spielberg’s ET rather than John Carpenter’s The Thing that would be the one to not only win the hearts, but also the box office dollars, of people all over the world. In all fairness, it’s not hard to see why; I mean if you had to choose between an optimistic tale designed to warm the cockles of the still-beating heart about a boy becoming friends with an alien lifeform addicted to Reese’s Pieces that has found itself inadvertently stranded on our planet, and a harsh, uncompromising film about a group of 12 men at a cold, desolate base in the Antarctic coming into conflict with an alien organism that is absolutely completely, and totally determined to destroy us all I don’t think it’s hard to see why audiences felt ET was a much…..cuter prospect than The Thing’s tentacles and slime coated saliva.

To be fair though I think The Thing is a fantastic movie in its own right, and while it has taken some time The Thing has, since its release, gone on to win over a substantial cult audience that it can call its own, and I completely and totally feel that it is 100% earned. This is because having seen it multiple times I can honestly say that The Thing is that rare example of a superior remake that takes all the best qualities of the classic film it is drawing from, and then manages to reinvent them in startling and imaginative ways for audiences the world over to “cherish” and “enjoy” (quoted words totally dependent on your level of enjoyment for this kind of material.)

The plot is as follows: Set in Antarctica in 1982, how apt, the movie focuses specifically on a group of 12 American scientists who, despite knowing nothing about why in the heck they are even there in the first place, we as an audience find ourselves being quickly and effectively thrust into their existence when a pair of seemingly crazy Norwegians, flying a helicopter the way a gamer would in Grand Theft Auto 5, appear at their base camp, chasing and attempting to shoot what appears to be a seemingly innocent dog. It isn’t long of course before the Norwegians are dispatched of (one of whom has a death that would easily make it on the Darwin Awards ballot for the year 1982), and the dog is accepted and brought into this colony of men, and this is when things really start to get crazy. I say this because it turns out the dog isn’t a dog at all, (you most likely already knew that though) but an alien organism that has the ability to perfectly mimic and recreate any organism through and through that it touches, and with this alien organism loose in their compound and the paranoia and terror starting to set in it’s up to the men, led by courageous helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell), to quickly figure out who’s still human and which of them is….THE THING!!! (Dun dun dun!!)

Now although the story is far from groundbreaking, think Guess Who meets Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, I honestly really and truly feel movie goers that the same can’t and should not be said about Rob Bottin’s daring make-up effects. I say this because they simply are, in the best way possible, so astoundingly revolting that even today they still hold a huge amount of impact in creating a horrific, as well as incredibly menacing and freaky vibe that, when mixed in with just the right amount of gore you really truly get the stuff that iconic horror movie moments truly are made of, and trust me when I say The Thing has several of those moments. Also although as I said before whereas the story isn’t something out of the ordinary, I do feel that the paranoia aspect of the tale is some beautifully constructed work that is only aided by a well-chosen and diverse group of characters that start slowly but surely losing it.

Indeed Carpenter manages to do an excellent job of turning things up a notch by seemingly tightening the confines of these characters’ surroundings to the point that he manages to sustain the feelings of isolation and tension all the way to the very end. Along with that Carpenter also creates a very somber and downbeat atmosphere that goes very well with the cold, isolated, and extremely tense conditions of the setting. Also complementing the chilling feel of dread that has been created is Ennio Morricone’s throbbing score that’s simply sublime, and this is because not only does the score pack a real unsteadiness punch and shower the flick with such vigorousness, but it also does pretty much everything in its power to alienate you as an audience member from what’s happening on screen before your eyes. Yet underneath all that brilliance the film saves its most fatalistic aspect for last in that this film really does have what can best be described as an apocalyptic attitude about the whole affair right down to making you in the audience feeling that no matter what these brave men try it really truly looks like there’s nothing that anybody can do to stop this highly volatile and highly dangerous organism and if that’s the case then we in civilization really truly might just be next and that just might be the most terrifying aspect of all…

Now the performances in this film are all solid, from Kurt Russell who, as MacReady, is perfect as the man who reluctantly becomes the leader of the frightened band of men, and who delivers with his usual charismatic presence thus proving yet again that he really is one of the better under-the-radar stars that Hollywood ever produced to dependably great work from noted and terrific character actors Keith David and Wilford “Liberty Medical” Brimley as Childs and Diabetus ehhh Blair respectively, and although the majority of the cast after that really are nothing to write home about this isn’t because they aren’t good; far from it. It’s just that aside from Russell, Brimley, David, and maybe one or 2 others the rest of the cast in this, despite all being solid characters, are really nothing more than pawns in this game of Alien vs. Man. Yet despite that going against them the entire ensemble manages to still give such raw and potent performances as well as showcase a fantastic chemistry that is truly believable for the scenario being played out in front of you that not only do they all add more to the realism factor that Carpenter’s striving for here, but you will find yourself impressed by everyone’s work in this film no matter how big or small their part may be.

All in all while The Thing “82” may not have earned its audience upon initial release I’m glad that time gave it a chance to earn one. Here is a truly rock-solid film that happens to possess relentless suspense, retina-wrecking visual excess and outright, nihilistic terror as well as a fantastic and game cast and when you mix all of the aforementioned ingredients together not only do you get a great movie period, but you also get what can best be described as a horror film for the ages, and one that will thrill and chill for generations to come. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Thing “82” a solid 4 out of 5.

Note from the Writer: Normally this would be the place where I insert a trailer to sell you on seeing the movie, but seeing as the main trailer spoils several key things, pun intended, about the film it is my recommendation that if this movie interests you that you go into it as blind as possible in order to enjoy the surprises that unfold therein. Thanks again! Ag