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November 08, 2009


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Earthworm Jim

Man, I've somehow managed never to see this. Shall be rectified.


"Good airplane take-offs and landings" will be joining my list of favorite lines in movie reviews.

The great scene with the fire scared/excited the ever-loving crap out of me as a child. This is a film I need to revisit. Truth is, every time I've though about watching it for the last couple decades I just end up watching the Carpenter version. Arctic setting, siege movie, Kurt Russell, practical effects, Keith David, ax-wielding Wilford Brimley- it's like that movie sprang forth directly from my cerebral cortex. But then I tend to feel that way about just about anything Carpenter made from PRECINCT 13 through THEY LIVE. STARMAN excepted. And the Elvis one.

Tom Russell

You're in for a treat, Earthworm Jim. This is one of my wife's favourite films, and as such, I've seen it many, many times, and I've never failed to be completely entertained and enthralled. I especially like the simplicity of the Nyby/Hawks visual language-- the long-shots and mediums that build tension and add layers of characterization within the shot. Big action pieces and explanations unfold in longer takes instead of being blendered up into tiny fragments.

That's not wholly unusual for films of the period, but the director's/directors' mastery is really a wonder to behold.

Kenneth Tobey really is good in it, too, and I was really and truly surprised when it dawned on me that the hero of THE THING is the same actor who played the Redneck Cop Father in BILLY JACK.

Glenn Kenny

@ Otherbill: Yes, the airplane line is classic Farber. A man of simple but solid pleasures.

The thing is, when you watch the film again, you notice that he is, as customary, absolutely right. And these are little details that add to the film's overall audience-satisfaction quotient, which in this film's case is about as high as it can get.

Also, I'm kind of fond of the Carpenter/Russell "Elvis." Wouldn't mind seeing it again. Other than that, I agree with your every point on Carpenter.


When I finally got around to watching this last year (too long, I know, too long...) I, obviously, loved it. But I watched it with my wife, and was unprepared when, as the movie progressd, she made it clear that she'd developed a crush on Kenneth Tobey. Not cool, man.

It's a wonderful movie, though. If memory serves, the famous scene where Tobey and company open the door, and there's the Thing, just before the door is opened the characters are all talking about relevant stuff. It's not just filler, or silence, that tips the audience off that something's about to happen. You don't see it coming precisely because it doesn't seem like Nyby/Hawks is trying to distract you.

And that fire scene is still amazing.

James Keepnews

Paul Frees! I had no idea he ever emerged out of the voiceover booth and in front of the camera. Definitely in that "Top 5 voices for animation ever" list, after Mel, June, Daws, &c. His voice for The Thing on the not-bad Hanna-Barbera Fantastic Four cartoon was perfect and sounded like it emerged directly from Jack Kirby's cerebral cortex.

I still think Carpenter's The Thing is the best thing (pun intended) he ever did, except for maybe that the first half of They Live and the hugely underappreciated (and in the last few decades, underseen) Elvis. OK, most of Dark Star, too. On Elvis, though -- who would have seen that coming? His once-upon-a-time ability to transcend his unique talent for shock and trod the path least taken in genre makes me still pay attention to his films about 15 years after last being rewarded for such attention. In this regard, let me show a little love for Starman - sappy, but so well acted, especially by the hugely underappreciated Charles Martin Smith.

"An intelligent carrot! The mind reels!"

Fuzzy Bastarrd

Drifting off topic, I know, but @James: Carpenter's intense widescreen visual mastery always holds my attention even when nothing else about the movie does. I mean, his remake of Village of the Damned is a solidly bad movie, but every goddamn shot is so goddamn beautifully composed, I'll watch it with pleasure anyway.

Account Deleted

It's a shame Carpenter faded from view post-'They Live', though I really dig 'In The Mouth of Madness'. I was watching a few of his greatest a few days ago, 'Halloween', 'The Fog', 'Escape From New York', 'The Thing', 'Prince of Darkness' and 'They Live'. They're all still great.

Where are today's John Carpenter's and Joe Dante's? The state of genre cinema today is really quite shocking.

James Keepnews

Fuzzy -- Village was precisely cutoff I was thinking of, 15 years gone by now. I agree with JC's ability to work a widescreen and you may be able to point out the more memorable moments of this tendency in films like Escape from L.A., Ghosts of Mars, &c., which I have largely succeeded in completely forgetting. Except for Peter Fonda's climactic surfing in the former, naturally... :}


My good friend, filmmaker, and fellow Hawks champion Dan Sallitt wrote up THE THING on his blog, here:

Aaron Aradillas

@markj: What do mean? Hollywood has been eaten alive by genre filmmaking. What is Paranormal Activity but a '70s-style low budget chiller that freaks you out. All that Hollywood cares about is genre filmmaking. Law Abiding Citizens is nothing more than a Charles Bronson-Michael Winner revenge programmer with better actors and a bigger budget. Hell, even Eastwood's Gran Torino revenge pulp for the art house crowd.

The cynical joke of guys like Peter Jackson and James Cameron going to Comic-Con and acting like they're still fighting The System is that they ARE The System.

You want to know where you can find the new Carpenter or Dante? Just go down to your local multplex and see what's playing.

Shawn Stone

George Fenneman! The ideal TV announcer.

Those Shout!Factory YOU BET YOUR LIFE sets are terrific, I'm sorry they only stopped at two.


Aaron, your final para is truer than you may have intended: those of us who look for exciting or interesting directors have to troll through a lot of multiplex crapola to find them.

Carpenter and Dante are great, but the pictures playing in the next auditorium were, likely as not, horrendous. We're not valorizing the '80s already, are we?

I don't sympathize with the unnuanced view of one, monolithic System. Even if you hate the System, wouldn't it do well to ID its layers, its moving parts?

I'd say Cameron is Lightly Likable, sometimes better. Jackson is Less Than Meets the Eye, sometimes worse.


So do you think Christian Nyby feels the same way about 'The Thing' as producer Tony Visconti does about David Bowie's 'Low' album? Everyone assumes it was made by someone else (Brian Eno in this case) which would really tick me off.


Saw this last night and didn't like it much. It struck me as another tiresome Hawksian yarn about Men Working Together To Solve Problems. "I'll go get the wire!" "I'll go flip the generator!" How exciting, hurray for teamwork. That stuff can work when there are actually characters sufficiently individuated that you can remember their names - 12 hours later I just remember the Captain and the reporter - or where there's some kind of narrative of triumph over personal failings (Dean Martin in Rio Bravo, all those horror movies where the wimpy guy steps up to the plate and slays the zombie), or at least where there's some suspense and you don't feel certain that they'll succeed and kill the monster in the end. Otherwise it's just a bunch of faceless guys running around looking for cans of kerosene. As for those complex philosophical issues, um, no. You've got this wacko doctor who might as well have been played by Vincent Price, and every 5 minutes he pops off some monologue about how they all should sacrifice their lives to science, although it's none too clear how any research on this plant-man is supposed to work until he's in condition to be autopsied, or who's going to do the scientific research once everyone's dead. (By the by, wouldn't an actual giant plant have been a lot creepier than this plant who just happens to look just like a giant Frankenstein?) Then there are the soldiers (and by the end all the scientists who aren't Carrington), who don't engage with the doctor's "arguments" at all other than to note that they'd rather not die, and rather not be responsible for everyone else on the planet being devoured by hordes of rapidly reproducing plant-men as well. It's not as if the debate's the standard 50s sci-fi "can we peacefully coexist with the alien-proxy for the Reds" debate; it's just self preservation vs. suicide for dubious scientific gain. Other than that, yeah, it's a well-made and well-acted film. Margaret Sheridan is very good, as is Tobey. Certain scenes are quite effective. But as a whole the thing disappointed me.

Tom Russell

"... who might as well have been played by Vincent Price..."

You say that like it's some kind a bad thing.

For me, the personalities popped, the film moves, is thrilling, etc., etc. Obviously, your mileage varies; for me, "another... Hawksian yarn about Men Working Together To Solve Problems" is Awesomeness Incarnate, and certainly not "tiresome".

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