John Carpenters’ The Thing is the crown jewel of special effects pictures. Sure, the helicopter explosion at the beginning looks like rubbish, and the film might not be as grandiose or influential as Terminator 2, but there isn’t another movie that portrays such a complex idea so elegantly.
I say this because the actual creature is the lynch pin of the story – everything revolves around it. The movie’s success depends on the effectiveness of the monster. There is a healthy symbiotic relationship between the special effects and the story in the picture. Surely one cannot exist without the other. We learn things about the monster as the movie progresses and see the effect it has on our characters. When the special effect comes on the screen you think “holy fucking shit it’s the goddamn Thing.” It’s a sinister villain. Think about the magnitude of its power. “It could have imitated a million different life forms on a million different planets.” The Thing comes from a distant planet and, indeed, a different time altogether.
Now, this was the 1980’s (probably in the top 5 most glorious decades for film) so to realize this creature they actually had to device a way to capture something on film – no computer bullshit. It just seems so much more authentic when people bother with practical effects. I feel like when you look at something a computer generated, your eyeballs can just tell that it’s fake. If you’re looking at a prop designed to look like something (say, the velociraptors from Jurassic Park) you might not fully believe what you’re looking at is “the real thing,” but it occupies an actual physical space, which is reassuring. Furthermore, if you’re an actor, there it’s way easy to act against and react to (very important in horror) an elaborate prop than it is to act alongside a tennis ball on a stick. The short bit is that all of the goopy shapeshifting looks sublime.
Throw in Kurt Russell, Keith David, and a host of other great character actors and you’ve got a picture show. It’s very fun to watch the puny man try to fend of a terrible creature that transcends space and time. Gleeful to see them pitted against each other as the monster carries out its plot. Wonderful to see the plot come to fruition. Great picture.
-Quincey and Doyle