As we enter the dead of winter Film Critic Matt Taylor checks out the 4K restoration release of John Carpenter’s seminal polar-based horror The Thing
John Carpenter’s The Thing opened in June 1982 to little fanfare. It made less than $20 million at the domestic box office, dropped out of the top ten after only three weeks and received scathing reviews from critics and audiences alike. People particularly highlighted Rob Bottin’s special effects, praising them for their technical brilliance, yet damning them for being over-the-top and excessive. The film quickly fell off the radar as Carpenter tried to recover from what was a massive blow to his career. In the years to follow, however, the film has gone on to become one of the most celebrated horror movies of all time, and rightly so. In honour of its 35-year anniversary, UK distributor Arrow Films have released a brand new, fully restored Blu-ray of the film.
The restoration is the new version’s big selling point, and it doesn’t disappoint. Restored in 4K from the original 35mm negative, the film looks absolutely gorgeous – so good, in fact, that a flatmate didn’t realise how old it was until it was mentioned when the final credits started to roll. Accompanied by a new 5.1 DTS-HD audio track, in this format, The Thing could have been released in cinemas just last week. Frankly, it’s the best restoration of any kind that I’ve ever seen.
The film itself is nothing short of a masterpiece. It centres on Kurt Russell’s RJ MacReady as the head of a research team in Antarctica, that find themselves terrorised by a shape-shifting alien that can take the form of any organism it chooses. It’s a slower film than many other horrors, forgoing more typical jumpscares in favour of scenes of long, drawn-out tension. It’s something handled superbly by all involved, not least by composer Ennio Morricone (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Hateful Eight), whose excellent score is full of much more synth than his others, but uses silence punctuated by sudden beats to induce a feeling of dread.
Performances all-round are incredible. Of particular note are Kurt Russell as MacReady, the only one of the team who seems to keep his head and form a plan; Keith David as Childs, who undermines MacReady’s every decision; and Donald Moffat as Garry, the should-be man-in-charge who can’t handle the responsibility of the necessary decisions. That’s not to slight the others; the remaining nine round out an excellent cast to carve out twelve realistic, believable characters who ground The Thing in as much reality as possible.
The absolute star of the show, though, is ‘The Thing’ itself. Rob Bottin’s practical effects are simply unparalleled. They bring the creature to life in an extraordinary way, and a terrifying one to boot. The design of every incarnation of ‘The Thing’ is the stuff of nightmares, but through the terror you can’t help but marvel at Bottin’s now iconic work. Combined with Carpenter’s ever-excellent direction and Dean Cundey’s nerve-wracking cinematography, we’re always on the edge of our seats, waiting with bated breath to see what will happen or who will die, or how disgusting the thing’s new form will be. Quite simply, The Thing is an exercise in terror, and among the greatest horror movies of all time.