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"The Thing"

Directed by John Carpenter.
Written by Bill Lancaster.
Starring Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley and Donald Moffat.
Release Year:  1982 

Review Date:  11/8/02 


Sure, it was released 20 years ago, but I had never seen John Carpenter’s “The Thing” and a theater in Berkeley is showing the film in one of its art theaters.  Hey, I like movies (you know?), so I was all over this one like white on rice.

Kurt Russell stars as RJ “Mac” MacReady, a pilot based at a United States installation in Antarctica who encounters some major problems.  As part of the 12-man unit, things are pretty ho-hum for Mac and friends out in the middle of nowhere until two Norwegian explorers show up at the base trying to gun down a dog that has been running for its life.  The Norwegians are killed in their attempts to off the canine and this sets in motion the mystery of why the foreigners were so possessed in killing this dog in the first place.  Soon, the base members discover that the dog was the host for a shape-shifting alien life form...which assumes the shape of any being that it touches.  Paranoia ensues as the members try to figure out who is carrying the alien.

The film is spectacular, and it really is one of the best pure horror films I have ever seen.  I think that’s because it has both the essential horror stuff—the blood, the gore, the disgusting mutations as the alien moves from scientist to scientist—and it is really good at making you scared to possibly be in these guys’ shoes.  As the movie goes on and everyone is looking over their shoulder, fearful that one of their friends might be “it”, I was sitting there as paranoid as all of the characters.  The idea that an alien like this could be here right now really got into my head during the movie, even though I don’t believe for a second that any of my friends or roommates is possibly from another planet.  (Well, maybe.)  Carpenter creates a mood here that is never light; the lighting and the score for the film are good at creating this gloomy atmosphere.

In fact, “The Thing” is Carpenter working at his best level.  He had already done “Halloween” and “Escape from New York”, and he would go on to do “Christine”, “Starman” (netting Jeff Bridges an Oscar nomination) and everyone’s cult favorite “Big Trouble in Little China” over the next four years.  Sure, his last few years haven’t been great (1996’s “Escape from LA” wasn’t just bad, it was dogshit), but it can’t be denied that the man had a great run in the late 70s-early 80s.  Carpenter’s talented cast in “The Thing”—including Wilford Brimley, Keith David, and Donald Moffat—all respond to him very well and none of the stock characters in the team of scientists comes off as just a stereotype.  Russell, just coming off of “Escape from New York”, continued his move towards tough-guy status and is very good here.

The best part about “The Thing”, though, has got to be its title.  I mean, it is called “The Thing!”  What is funnier is watching the characters in the film continue to call it The Thing.  “How are we gonna kill that thing?”  “What the hell is that thing?”  “That thing killed him!”  “The thing is in the room!”  Seriously, that is genius!  Movies keep coming up with more creative ways to name alien life forms, but if I was running from an alien, I would probably yell out “Hey Bob, what the hell is that thing?”  I don’t have time to give it a’s trying to kill me!

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09