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THE THING
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, T. K. Carter, David Clennon, Keith David, Richard Dysart, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, Richard Masur, Donald Moffat, Joel Polis, Thomas Waites
Director:  John Carpenter
Audio:  DTS HD 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Universal
Features:  Commentary, “U-Control”
Length:  109 Minutes
Release Date:  September 30, 2008

“What do we do now?”

“Why don’t we just wait here a little while…see what happens…”

Film ***1/2

You learn something new every day…I was telling my comrade-in-arms at DVD Movie Central Gordon about how good Universal’s Blu-ray release of The Thing was…we are both John Carpenter fans.  Gordon told me that The Thing was his favorite Carpenter movie.  I never knew that.  I don’t think he knew it was mine as well.

Yes, Halloween is an undisputed and indelible classic of horror, but for me, and I guess for Gordon as well, it really is The Thing that we think of when we think of Carpenter.  Maybe it’s because the combination of Carpenter and star Kurt Russell was such a perfect fit.  Maybe it was the incredibly realistic and gruesomely brilliant effects from horror master Rob Bottin.  Maybe it was just the whole notion of an apocalyptic terror breaking out in the most remote of locations where human beings are at their most separated and helpless.  Yes, it’s probably all of those things.

It’s actually a remake of sorts of a classic 50s horror staple from Howard Hawks, The Thing From Another World.  I think it’s safe to say that Mr. Hawks never envisioned the kind of queasy, wince-inducing visions that Carpenter would stylize some 30 years later.

It takes place in an Antarctic research station, where a group of men doing…well, whatever groups of men do when sent to such desolate locations are interrupted by a Norwegian helicopter chasing a husky dog, trying to kill it.  Why?

Well, strange things begin happening…when the men, led by helicopter pilot “Mac” Macready (Russell) put the dog in the pen with their others, the reaction is not good.  In fact, it’s downright grisly.  Mac and their resident doctor (Dysart) pay a visit to the Norwegian outpost for some answers.  What they find is terrifying, but not as frightening as the horrible mystery awaiting them on their return.

There is a visitor from another world, freed from the ice, and planning to move through civilization like a virus.  How?  It ‘infects’ any living host and duplicates it exactly.  Now, alone and with the deadly Antarctic winter about to descend, who can the men trust?  Any of them could be a host.  All of them could be.  How can they possibly team up to fight the deadly enemy when the enemy could be any one of them?

It’s a terrific idea for a movie, and Carpenter’s skilled direction blends the suspense and horror perfectly.  But I think the true co-star is Rob Bottin, who carved his name in the great lore of Hollywood effects men and became a legend with his imaginative and stomach challenging creations.  In 1982, no one had ever really seen horror taken to such levels, and it’s a tribute to both Bottin and Carpenter that over 25 years later, the imagery is still effective.  My wife had not seen the movie before, and she rarely gets really scared watching horror movies.  She almost couldn’t bear The Thing.

So it may have been Halloween that placed John Carpenter on the cinema landscape for the first time, but for Gordon and myself, it was really The Thing that made damned sure he would never leave it.

Video ****

I can’t tell you how pleased I am with this high definition transfer from Universal!  Well…yes I can, that’s kind of my job.  I always thought their DVD release of this movie was one of the standout digital transfers for 80s films out there, but this Blu-ray surpasses it.  Three settings look particularly exception in high definition to me:  underwater, outer space, and snowscapes.  This movie offers plenty of the latter, and when you see just how crisp and detailed objects can be against pure white glistening backgrounds, you’re going to feel extremely glad you upgraded your home theater.  In addition, the many dark scenes come through with clarity and contrast, and the way pools of light play against the darkness looks remarkable.  There are one or two minor instances of grain from the low lighting, but that’s acceptable to me given the nature of the movie, and everything else is so breathtaking that it barely merits mention.

Audio ****

The DTS HD soundtrack is dynamic and potent, with Ennio Morricone’s relentless, electronic score pulsating underneath the action and suspense and keep the subwoofer in almost constant play.  The big sequences open up all stages of audio, and dialogue is always delivered cleanly through all levels of effects.

Features ***

The disc kicks off with a terrific and fun commentary track from John Carpenter and Kurt Russell, both generous with their memories, both funny storytellers, and both great to listen to.  You also get Universal’s exclusive “U-Control”, which allows you one-click access to extra picture in picture footage while you watch.  Much of what was included on the original DVD documentary is here, but aligned with the proper scenes in the movie for extra informative value.

Summary:

The Thing is a true modern horror classic:  suspenseful, twisted, grisly and powerfully effective.  And it’s never looked or sounded better, thanks to this top-notch Blu-ray release from Universal.  Ghoulishly recommended!

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