Updated: Nov 12, 2019
Nominee #12 - The Thing (1982)
A shape shifting alien that takes the form of its victims... What worse companion to be stuck with in the isolation and terror of Antartica?
Director: John Carpenter
Writers: Bill Lancaster (screenplay), John W. Campbell Jr. (story)
Stars: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David
The Thing (1982) follows a group of American research scientists in Antarctica. When two
Norwegians in a helicopter land near their base shooting at a seemingly innocent dog, the
helicopter abruptly explodes, and the Americans take in the fleeing dog. Soon they realise
the dog is far from the standard canine but instead a shape shifting terror.
The Thing is an intelligent piece of film making. It is sci-fi horror at its smartest. The Thing
uses its setting to perfection - the terror of isolation in the cold. Everyone is a suspect;
anyone could be the ‘Thing’ and the film does an incredible job of sprinkling reasonable
doubt over every character. The audience is never allowed to root for any one character, as
soon as we begin to see through the eyes of one character, Carpenter changes the game,
throwing us off again and again. The audience is left on the edge throughout, we feel the
same sense of distrust the characters feel, we’re drawn into the mystery and the emotions
of their experience.
Everyone is a suspect; Anyone could be the ‘Thing’
While The Thing may not be remembered for Kurt Russel’s performance, he uses the art of
subtlety to convey his own distrust for his colleagues. His performance never requires that
Oscar moment outburst yet the understated and silent performance he does deliver gives us
a strong, smart and at times suspicious leader which was absolutely vital to anchor the
narrative of this film.
However, the strongest and most revolutionary aspect of The Thing is the practical work. To
condense the effort, time and genius behind the practical work in The Thing into words is a
close to impossible task. Special make up effects creator and designer Rob Bottin is the man
to praise. Not only did he translate Carpenter’s vision to the screen seamlessly, but he
created something absolutely horrifying, grotesque and beautiful at the same time.
The Thing is the pinnacle of practical effects, it cannot be better, and it never has. Bottin
gave us some of the most disgusting creations to ever grace the screen, slimy, oozing, twisted
monsters designed for one very specific purpose, to get your stomach to churn.
The constraints of the technology at the time was no hurdle for Carpenter and Bottin.
Carpenter had a vision, Bottin ensured we experienced that. With ingenious stop motion
techniques and make up, The Thing gave use some of the most disturbingly violent and gory scenes in
cinema history that hold up to this day.
The Thing, in addition to being a tense thriller, is a lesson in practical effects. Computer
Generated Imagery is a welcome addition to the world of filmmaking but sometimes the
most convincing results involve getting your hands dirty.