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A twelve-man research team stationed in Antarctica finds an alien being that has fallen from the sky and has been buried for over 100,000 years.
For more about The Thing and the The Thing Blu-ray release, see the The Thing Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on September 23, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, T.K. Carter, David Clennon, Keith David, Richard Dysart
Director: John Carpenter
» See full cast & crew
The Thing Blu-ray Review
John Carpenter's horror masterpiece is a disc worth absorbing into your collection.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, September 23, 2008
Trust is a tough thing to come by these days.
John Carpenter's The Thing is a seminal piece of horror that is not only a fine specimen of its era, but it also serves as a shining example of horror done absolutely right in any era. Combining gross-out special effects reminiscent of Hellraiser, the nail-bitingly intense, claustrophobic filmmaking of Alien, offering a story that is very well-paced, such as George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead, and presenting the idea that true terror can be found at any time, in any place, and inside anyone, much like Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, The Thing works on every level, and represents the peak of each and every aspect that may be utilized to make horror films effective. Granted, this amalgamation of styles is not the only formula for winning horror. Carpenter's Halloween features next to no gore, relying instead on the other hallmarks of great horror to craft perhaps the finest film the genre has ever seen. It is for this reason that John Carpenter is arguably the foremost horror director alive. He's a slave to no particular style, and because of his mastery of both ends of the spectrum -- intense, gory horror (The Thing) and psychological, relentless terror (Halloween), and everything in between (They Live) -- Carpenter will go down in the annals of cinematic horror as one of the finest there ever was, alongside Dario Argento, Alfred Hitchcock, George A. Romero, and Wes Craven.
A Norwegian chopper circles the perimeter of United States National Science Institute, station 4, a remote scientific outpost deep in the Arctic. For reasons unknown, a gunman inside the chopper fires a rifle at a dog. The engagement ends with the chopper down and the two-man crew killed. The confused American research team takes in the seemingly harmless dog, and several of the group, including R.J. "Mac" MacReady (Kurt Russell, Stargate), take their own chopper to the Norwegian outpost in hopes of discovering what drove the Norwegians to hunt the dog in such an aggressive manner that ultimately cost them their lives. There, amidst the smoldering remains of the station, they find the remnants of some "thing." Taking it back to station 4, the facility's medical examiner, Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley, The Natural), finds inside of it normal human organs, but the "thing's" external appearance is anything but, a bloody jumble of limbs, torsos, and faces melded together as one. Soon after, the team discovers a deadly creature in their midst, one that can absorb and imitate any life form it so chooses, leaving the team confused, frightened, and untrusting of one another. A series of bloody events reveals that appearances can be deceiving, that your best friend may very well be harboring inside of him a deadly creature capable of unleashing unspeakable, grotesque attacks.
The most obvious, and superficial, aspect of The Thing is its incredibly gory and downright disgusting props and special effects. Let it be stated up-front that anyone without an iron stomach will want to stay far away from this film. The gore is appropriate to the story and no matter how nauseating, no matter how twisted, and no matter how far the effects push the boundaries of taste, they make the film all that much the better. Nothing short of the grotesque would suffice in moving the story along, showcasing what there is to fear and why the paranoia and tension amongst the stranded Arctic team is as elevated and intense as it is. As noted in the open, however, the film's special effects are not the centerpiece of the film. For as unpalatable as they may be, they simply reinforce the story rather than tell it. The movie, including the dialogue, the direction, the acting, the set design, and the music, does an excellent job of elevating the tension in the American compound that finds itself the new victim of "The Thing." The actors are convincing in their paranoia, distrust, and outright fear of one another and everything around them. The nondescript sets, with little recourse for the comfort of the terrified prisoners-of-fear, certainly elevates the film, as there is nothing but a flamethrower and a few sticks of dynamite to protect themselves, and only a scalpel and a few petrie dishes to assuage their paranoia and decipher who is human and who is not.
Also a show-stopper and plot mover is The Thing's excellent score courtesy of Ennio Morricone (The Untouchables). The legendary composer's work features heavy use of electronic and synthetic beats and is not only reminiscent of Carpenter's own work on films like Escape From New York, but also of Goblin's tremendous soundtrack to Dawn of the Dead. Reminiscent of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the score features pulsating, low beats meant to instill in listeners a sense of impending dread, while other, higher-pitched cues are meant to give listeners the chills, and it does so efficiently and without remorse, complimenting each and every mood and emotion throughout the film perfectly. Last but not least is the film's conveyance of the true meaning of terror, one that I cannot specifically delve into without spoiling the film, but suffice it to say that the conclusion is the very essence of horror. In many ways, it is trademark Carpenter, particularly when thought of in the context of Halloween and They Live.
The Thing Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Thing infests Blu-ray with a fine-looking 1080p, 2.35:1-framed transfer. Obviously, The Thing has never looked better on home video than it does here. The film's open, featuring a background of white arctic snow contrasted against a bright daytime sky, is pure in its presentation and a pleasure to behold, particularly for those who have seen the film countless times before. Still, there is some noticeable noise against some of the brightest backdrops that may bother viewers looking for the smoothest picture available, but it peaks in such scenes and is never very noticeable through the rest of the film. Colors are somewhat dull, a reflection of the nature of the movie and not a shortcoming of the transfer. Colors look fine, however, every shade rendered very well in the context of the film, with the brighter, outdoor, snowy scenes showing a bit more depth and vibrancy than the dim interiors. Black levels are fairly good. Flesh tones are accurate, if not a bit pale, but considering the cold, unforgiving temperature, that's to be expected. What makes the disc look so good is the detail inside the compound. It's rather drab and colorless, but it looks worn and beat up, old and lived in, cold and lifeless, and every little nuance shines through, a tribute to the wonderful set design in the film. Sure, it's pedestrian, but it is meant to be, and it's stunning on this disc. Detail is increased considerably over the previous DVD edition in every regard. The Thing boasts a fine transfer that offers quite the upgrade from previous standard definition versions.
The Thing Blu-ray, Audio Quality
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I would imagine the film's title creature would agree. In this case, however, Universal's lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack is not simply a lossy imitation -- it's the full thing, The Thing exactly as it was meant to be heard. Whether he writes the music or not, Carpenter's films always feature standout music, and The Thing is certainly no exception. As expected, it's never sounded fuller and more robust than it does here. The music that plays over the credit sequence to start the movie is clean and precise, with a constant low frequency pulse that sets a most foreboding tone. Then, a flying saucer sweeps past us and hurtles toward Earth in a scene that would later be replicated to begin the Arnold Schwarzenegger action classic Predator. The opening scene in Antarctica as we follow a chopper and a shooter chasing a dog from above features the sound of the rotors spinning all around when the camera is placed in or near the chopper. Gun shots crackle precisely in each speaker, the result of great sound design. The entire sequence -- featuring not only the chopper and gun shots but a few explosions -- sounds far better than I've heard it sound before. One scene that stood out was a rather simple one, and a fairly nondescript one at that. At one point in the film we hear a cassette recording of Stevie Wonder's hit song "Superstition" playing through a vintage boom box's small speakers. It sounds rather tiny and uninspired through our speakers, meaning it recreates to great effect the sound we should be hearing were we in the film. A booming, full-throttle rendition of the song would not fit in this instance, and here is one case where less is most definitely more. There is often an appreciable atmosphere created in the soundtrack as the harsh, chilled arctic breeze is generally heard blowing around the room, mostly over the front soundstage, but to very good effect nevertheless. It's just one small part of the track that adds to the overall feeling of realism. The film's action sequences also shine. The shrieks of the creature, the power of the flame thrower, and the various audible accompaniments that enhance the special effects are all integrated into the soundtrack with nary a hiccup. Dialogue reproduction never falters throughout. The Thing does not offer an expansive, rich sonic experience as we might expect from the latest summer blockbuster, but taking all things into account, the film has never sounded better at home.
The Thing Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The one area where this disc is sorely lacking is here, the supplemental section. Fortunately, the disc offers two solid extras, the first being a wonderful commentary featuring director John Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell. Carpenter's recounting of the filmmaking process and the experiences he and the cast and crew shared while shooting the film is impressive. Russell plays second fiddle to the director, but his contributions are nevertheless insightful and interesting. Anytime you have the chance to listen to a world-class director and an accomplished actor, attached to a picture representing a fine example of a particular genre, it's hard not to take notice, and this commentary track is well worth the time one invests to listen to it. Lastly, this disc is U-Control enabled. When turned on, a pop-up window will appear intermittently throughout the course of the movie. This window provides an array of behind-the-scenes materials, ranging from John Carpenter's recounting of the first time he saw The Thing From Another World, and his desire to make a film truer to the original John W. Campbell story, Who Goes There?, to the work that went into creating the special effects seen in the film. Via the main menu, users can also choose to jump directly to each segment rather than simply waiting for them to appear.
The Thing Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Thing is a fine example of horror cinema, one that not only manages to offer audiences a barrage of gruesome imagery, but one that also maintains a smart plot and a quick pace while indulging in plenty of psychological terror along the way. Expertly crafted, well acted, and a pleasure to watch, The Thing is not for all audiences, but for those capable of withstanding a series of bloody and oftentimes shocking special effects, the film offers a rich horror experience, one sure to stick with you long after the end of the film, and one that has solidified itself as a classic in the genre. Universal wasted little time bringing this film to Blu-ray, and finally owning and screening the film in Blu-ray high definition is most welcome. The film features a solid video and audio presentation, but it does lack in supplemental material quantity, but the quality of what is available is first-rate. Despite the lack of bonus materials, The Thing is a Blu-ray disc worth owning, and is an essential addition to any serious library. Highly recommended!
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