The inhabitants of an Antarctic scientific research station get unusual visitors one day: two Norwegians from a nearby facility (or as nearby as one gets in Antarctica), who are pursuing a single sled dog. Perhaps hunting is a better word, as the Nords aren't being shy about using a high-powered rifle and grenades. After a carelessly tossed grenade wipes out one Norwegian and the other is shot in self-defense, the station's copter pilot (Kurt Russell) and doctor (Richard Dysart) travel to their base to find out what happened. There, they find destruction, death, and something the dead scientists tried to destroy with flaming kerosene.
Examining videotapes found at the destroyed base, the Americans discover that the Norwegians found a wrecked spacecraft buried in the ice, along with a frozen alien, which they thawed out to study - and it wasn't quite dead yet. The revived alien can assimilate any life form and then successfully imitate that animal... or human... on a cellular level. Winter is coming on, the radio's not working, and the Thing could literally be anybody...
John Campbell's classic story "Who Goes There" was adapted once before, as Christian Nyby's The Thing from Another World, which jettisoned the alien chameleon concept in favor of a more Frankensteinian monster. A lot of people still reference the original Thing as one of the scariest movies they had seen (it does definitely have its moments), but one can only reflect that had Carpenter's version slipped through a time warp to the late 50's, there would have been a rash of cardiac arrests in theaters. The chameleon concept is brought to the fore and pushed further into the realm of the horrific via Rob Bottin's organic, uber-gooey monster FX.
You can generally tell a good video transfer by the amount of detail you can perceive in shadows; whereas there are plenty of dark spaces in this movie, it can also go to the other extreme in the white vistas of Antarctica. The quality of the transfer (and the original photography) is such that we still get quite a bit of detail in the exterior scenes, with nary a bit of grain or video chatter. The 5.1 soundtrack is serviceable for the most part - then in other parts, it will reach out and grab you by the throat.
This Collector's Edition lives up to its title with a sizable amount of extras. Most of these fall into the "text-and-picture" category, text pages (with remarkably large and readable type) interspersed with photos. These are broken into subjects like "Production Background", "Cast Production Photos", "Location Design", "Post Production" and "Production Art and Storyboards". A series of text pages entitled "Production Notes" is composed of smaller type, and repeats factoids related elsewhere on the disc.
There are three video sections, too, each of which allows the option of viewing at speed or frame-by-frame: "The Saucer" examines the layers of FX involved in the opening sequence and the wreck matte paintings; "Blair Monster" gives us a look at unused Randy Cook stop animation; and "Outtakes" would be more appropriately titled "Deleted Scenes", although we do get to see a corpse blink. The original theatrical trailer is included, but its fuzzy image quality leads one to believe it's taken from a VHS tape.
The prize extras are an original featurette called "Terror Takes Shape", which interviews a large number of production personnel; and the commentary track, featuring Carpenter and Russell. This track is simply ported over from the earlier deluxe laserdisc pressing, and that's a wise choice. Russell and Carpenter are obviously close friends, and are so at ease with each other, one expects to hear the occasional foosh of a beer can opening. Chatty and jocular as their commentary is, they are never less than informative, holding forth in detail on the grueling shoot, working with a heavy FX schedule, and their mutual admiration of Wilford Brimley.
At times a little too gratuitous for its own good, The Thing still remains one of the best monster movies ever, especially considering the extreme, pre-CGI creature effects (the demands of which eventually pushed their creator, Bottin, into a state of nervous exhaustion). Downbeat, paranoid, well-acted and directed, The Thing died at the box office, pitted against the near-Disney saccharine of Spielberg's E.T. - thank goodness for video. As the last totally serious horror film to be released by a major studio for a number of years, the movie deserves more respect than it got - respect it finally receives with this edition
Dr. Freex, 10/2/00