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UNIVERSAL

MOVIE INFO

Director:
John Carpenter
Cast:
Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, T.K. Carter, David Clennon, Keith David, Richard A. Dysart, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, Richard Masur, Donald Moffat, Joel Polis, Thomas G. Waites
Writing Credits:
John W. Campbell Jr. (story), Bill Lancaster

Tagline:
The ultimate in alien terror.

Synopsis:
MacReady (Kurt Russell) and his team of twelve Antarctic researches unearth and inadvertently defrost a hideous, 100,000-year-old alien life form. Havoc ensues as the isolated scientists struggle with a foe that is a shape-shifting misanthrope. The remaining men are soon faced with the task of determining who's who in order to ensure their survival. Stunning visual effects, an eerie score by Ennio Morricone, and director John Carpenter's familiarity with spine-tingling material make this a gruesome nail-biter. This is a remake of the 1951 Howard Hawks/Christian Nyby classic, but is much more in keeping with the John W. Campbell, Jr. story on which it is based.

Box Office:
Budget
$15 million.
Opening Weekend
$3.107 million on 840 screens.
Domestic Gross
$13.782 million.

MPAA:
Rated R

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.35:1
Audio:
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
French DTS 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French

Runtime: 109 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 9/30/2008

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director John Carpenter and Actor Kurt Russell
• “U-Control” Interactive Feature


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


The Thing [Blu-Ray] (1982)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 22, 2009)

For movie fans, the summer of 1982 was possibly the strongest ever witnessed, though we wouldn't recognize this until years later. Megahit ET dominated the box office, though a few other films did pretty well for themselves. Among others, Poltergeist and Star Trek II succeeded well, and Conan the Barbarian did pretty well also.

Some of the year's box office disappointments subsequently became notable. Blade Runner made little money but later emerged as an incredibly influential and popular movie. To a lesser degree, John Carpenter's remake of The Thing also falls into that category. It definitely proved less-than-popular at the box office that summer, but it went on to become a very respected and noteworthy film in its own right.

To be frank, I've always found Carpenter to be an overrated filmmaker. He's coasted by on the success of Halloween for years, and I think The Thing is probably his only other truly noteworthy film. Most of his other works vary from decent to truly awful, with most of them leaning toward the latter domain.

Not The Thing, however, which I don't believe see as a great film but still find it pretty compelling and unusual. It focuses on the American inhabitants of a scientific base in the Antarctic. Their extremely monotonous lives get shaken one day when an apparently-crazed Norwegian helicopter pilot flies into camp and shoots at a stray dog. The Americans attribute these seemingly irrational actions to cabin fever, but we soon find out the real reasons for his shooting spree as something sinister infiltrates the camp.

The Thing works because Carpenter largely forgoes action theatrics. Instead, he produces a sublime mood of paranoia. The movie's all about knowing who you can and cannot trust, and when you literally cannot trust anyone, how do you get through that situation? Carpenter resorts to some stock horror tactics at times to wake up the audience, but for the most part, he sticks to a subdued tone of suspicion and wariness that creates a terrific tension.

It helps that the all-male cast works quite well. Kurt Russell provides a strong anti-hero as chopper pilot MacReady. Unlike most "action heroes", Russell's MacReady doesn't seem particularly smart, brave, clever, daring or quick, and instead of the usual witty rejoinders we here from these kinds of characters, the best line he can offer when challenged by the thing is "fuck you, too!" Shaggy hair and beard nicely obscure Russell's boyish good looks and make him seem appropriately weary and cynical. Russell's never been a great actor but he fits this role well.

All of the other actors do fine work, though I don't think any stand out to any substantial degree. Russell dominates the movie, but the others seem more or less created equal; yes, we get to know Blair (Wilford Brimley) better than Fuchs (Joel Polis), but none of the characters gets a tremendous amount of development.

Oddly, that somewhat superficial nature works in the best interest of the film. Since The Thing revolves so tightly around suspicion, it's ideal that we know little about the characters. Even MacReady becomes our main character essentially by default; Russell enjoys more screen time than the others, but we never learn the slightest hint about his life - or any of the others - prior to his arrival at this camp. Their worlds began and ended in the Antarctic, as far as we can see, and that absolute sense of isolation helps accentuate the mood.

It also prevents the film from degenerating into any form of sentimental melodrama, as we have little reason to sympathize for these characters. Oh, we may develop affections based on superficial characteristics, but we don't hope for the survival of one character because of his wife and kids or discard another because he used to be a prison inmate; those factors may reside in their pasts, but we never learn anything along those lines, so the drama is reduced to the bare minimum.

The Thing isn't quite good enough to truly be considered a classic, but it's a very strong film nonetheless; there's a reason why it's stuck around for all these years. Director Carpenter creates a marvelously tense and cynical piece that remains with you after you see it.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus B

The Thing appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. While not flawless, the movie looked quite good.

Sharpness seemed mostly crisp and clear from start to finish. Some softness crept into the occasional wide shot or interior, but most of that seemed to stem from the source material, as the combination of anamorphic lenses and dimly-lit sets made for focus challenges. Overall, the image was well-defined. Jagged edges and moiré effects were virtually nonexistent, and I noticed no edge enhancement. As for source defects, I noticed a couple of specks but nothing else. The movie looked surprisingly clean.

Colors looked appropriate. The film used a blue tint to match the chilly setting, and the hues were seemed accurate and true. Black levels were nicely deep and rich, and shadows were solid. As I mentioned, the movie featured many low-light interiors, and those caused potential problems. Nonetheless, they usually appeared reasonably concise. Overall, the transfer proved positive.

I also found the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of The Thing to prove satisfying. The soundfield was surprisingly wide and detailed for a relatively old film such as this. The mix appeared quite active and the elements were appropriately located within the environment. Panning between speakers seemed slightly awkward but worked acceptably well. Although I didn't notice much split surround usage, the rear channels added a nice element to the track and helped create a nicely encompassing soundstage.

Audio quality was similarly positive. Speech was natural and concise, with no signs of edginess or issues connected to intelligibility. Effects were occasionally a little thin but they remained decently realistic. They displayed only a little distortion, most significantly during explosions. Ennio Morricone's score came across very well. It seemed smooth and clear and boasted some good bass at times. It's an impressive mix for an older movie.

How did the picture and audio of this Blu-ray of The Thing compare with the 2004 Special Edition? The audio is pretty similar; the lossless DTS track offers a little more punch, but there’s only so much that can be done with the source material, so don’t expect revelations.

As for the picture, it demonstrates the usual step up in tightness we get with most Blu-rays. Actually, the increased resolution can be a drawback in some ways, as softness inherent to the original footage becomes more apparent; the lack of definition found in some interiors was less noticeable on the DVD. Nonetheless, much of the Blu-ray looks very good, and it clearly outshines the DVD.

One area in which the DVDs top the Blu-ray relates to extras, as the Blu-ray doesn’t include all of its predecessors’ components. First up is an audio commentary from 1995 that features director John Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific discussion. The track rambles a bit and the participants - especially Carpenter - tend to spend too much time describing the action on screen, but I liked it nonetheless.

Both of the guys sound like they're having a great deal of fun as they talk about the movie, and enough interesting information appears to make the commentary worthwhile. We get notes on the sets and locations, story and character issues, stunts and effects, and various production elements. Honestly, even Carpenter's frequent blow-by-blow of what we already see on screen bothered me much less than usual just because the pair are so engaging. Lots of people regard this as an all-time great commentary; I don’t think it’s that good, but I like it.

For something more interactive, we jump to U-Control. Also found on other Universal Blu-rays, this offers a way to experience content as you watch the movie. However, don’t expect a wide variety of forms of content; unlike other similar programs, this one sticks with picture-in-picture material.

“U-Control” mixes interviews and behind the scenes footage. We get notes from Carpenter, Russell, producer David Foster, screenwriter Bill Lancaster, director of photography Dean Cundey, production designer John Lloyd, special makeup effects artist Rob Bottin, additional creature effects artist Stan Winston, special optical effects artist Peter Kuran, editor Todd Ramsay, Joel Polis, matte artist Albert Whitlock, model maker Susan Turner, and actors Richard Masur, Charles Hallahan, and Joel Polis. We learn about the adaptation of the source material and the film’s development, sets and locations, creature design, various effects and visual choices, cast and performances, and a few other production issues.

If you own either of the prior Thing DVDs – or the 1995 laserdisc, for that matter - you’ve already seen this material. “U-Control” simply takes the old “Terror Takes Shape” documentary and spreads its 84 minutes across the film’s 109 minutes. It’s a fine program, but it works best when viewed as intended, not as a bits-and-pieces “interactive” show.

Honestly, I’m not sure why the Blu-ray’s producers felt the need to alter the documentary’s presentation. If the “U-Control” broadened the show’s scope, that’d be one thing, but as it stands, the Blu-ray omits a bunch of behind the scenes features found on the SE DVD. I think it’s a big disappointment that the Blu-ray – with all its extra storage capacity – comes with fewer supplements than the 2004 DVD.

Although it was a financial bomb at the box office in the summer of 1982, The Thing has since gone on to become a minor classic of the science fiction genre. Its delicious melding of sci-fi creatures with Fifties-era paranoiac drama create a film that remains wonderfully tense and unusual. The Blu-ray provides pretty good picture and sound with a few interesting extras.

I’d love to wholeheartedly recommend the Blu-ray, but I can’t. While it presents the movie in the best manner to date, it drops many of the supplements from the prior DVDs. Fans will want to get it to see the film in the most positive way, but the absence of so many existing extras makes the Blu-ray a disappointment.

To rate this film visit the Collector's Edition review of THE THING

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