Release Date(s)1982 (September 7, 2021)
Studio(s)The Turman-Foster Company/Universal Pictures/Studio Distribution Services (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C+
[Editor’s Note: The film portion of this review is by Adam Jahnke. The 4K UHD portions are by Bill Hunt.]
Science fiction and horror have been crossing each other’s paths since long before either genre had a name. What is Frankenstein or The Invisible Man if not, in essence, science fiction? After all, you can’t have a mad scientist without the science. But while the best science fiction is free to explore a limitless number of concepts and themes, horror always boils down to something more primal. Perhaps this is why so many sci-fi/horror hybrids involve scary campfire stories with high-tech set dressing. Arguably the most familiar, and certainly one of the most effective, is the original Alien. But with all due respect to Ridley Scott’s modern classic and its fans, my personal favorite is John Carpenter’s The Thing.
Alien and The Thing have quite a bit in common. Both movies feature a small group of disparate individuals trapped in a confined, remote location from which they can neither escape nor call for help. Both have a malevolent alien creature awakened after a long period of dormancy. But for all its many virtues (and believe me, I do think it’s a great movie), Alien is still just folks being hunted by a monster. It’s a story told with undeniable skill and style, but for all that it’s still a familiar story. The Thing is familiar, too, but the terror is more insidious than just a monster on the loose. Once this alien gets inside you, it becomes you, and Carpenter works this angle masterfully. The real terror in The Thing comes from paranoia, claustrophobia, and isolation. And these all come from within, not from some external source. But when the fear does come from without, as it does in the transformation scenes for instance, the movie works just as well. Carpenter is able to strike a perfect balance between inner and outer terror. Even after the movie ends, you’re still left wondering who you can trust.
The Thing was shot by Dean Cundey on 35 mm photochemical film using Panavision Panaflex Gold cameras, with Panavision C- and E-Series anamorphic lenses, and it was finished on film at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio for theaters (framed at 2.20:1 for 70 mm blow-up prints). For its release on Ultra HD, Universal has scanned the original camera negative in native 4K (it’s possible that this is the same Carpenter and Cundey-approved remaster used for the Arrow release) and graded the result for high dynamic range (this disc features HDR10 only). Overall image detail is outstanding, outside of a few shots that are optically soft as filmed, or the usual anamorphic softness around the edges of the frame. But the good news is that Carpenter and Cundey use so few optical transitions that everything is crisp and wonderfully clean looking. Film grain is light to medium, but always organic, and there’s no sign of excessive grain management or the dreaded digital noise reduction that plagued earlier editions. The palette is beautiful, thanks to the 10-bit color gamut, with notably richer hues, greater variation in subtle shadings, and a color balance that’s right in the sweet spot between the SDR grades for previous Scream Factory and Arrow Video releases. Blues and reds benefit most, as you might expect given the film’s Antarctic setting and horrific nature, but flesh tones are lovely too, and the grotesqueries are more grotesque than ever. (This movie is Exhibit A in the case against CGI. Rob Bottin’s creature effects here are impeccable. One simply cannot underestimate the importance of actually seeing something physically stretch and tear, or the value in having the actors able to react to something that’s actually happening on set.) The expanded contrast deepens the shadows beautifully, with pleasing inky blacks, and adds a bolder luminosity to flashlights, flames, and the bright white daytime exterior landscapes. Overall, it’s very hard to imagine this film looking better.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is presented in a new English DTS:X object-based lossless mix that’s certainly a step above the previous Blu-ray’s 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. To be clear, this is not the most aggressive surround mix, but it is moody and engaging, with pulsing, muscular bass. The rear channels are employed often for directional effects and atmospherics, while the height channels complete the soundfield overhead and engage more actively for an occasional bit of sonic lift—explosions, flying helicopters, creature aggressions, etc. Dialogue is clean and well-positioned at all times. Ennio Morricone’s evocative and foreboding score employs the entire soundstage and is presented in fine fidelity. All in all, it’s fair to say that the new mix preserves the original sonic character of the film well, while still breathing a bit more life into it. Additional audio options include Spanish 2.0 Mono DTS and French 5.1 DTS, with optional subtitles available in English SDH, Spanish, and French.
Universal’s 4K release is a 2-disc set that includes the film on UHD and also 1080p HD on Blu-ray (the same disc released in 2008). The UHD includes the following extras:
- Audio Commentary with John Carpenter and Kurt Russell
- John Carpenter’s The Thing: Terror Takes Shape (SD – 83:53)
- Outtakes (SD – 4:08)
- Theatrical Trailer (SD – 2:04)
This is essentially legacy content from the original DVD release. The good news is, now you don’t have to use the U-Control option to watch the documentary (as was the case on the 2008 BD). And of course, the commentary by Carpenter and star Kurt Russell has been carried over. Carpenter/Russell commentaries are consistently top-notch and this is one of their finest. Obviously, none of the Scream Factory or Arrow Video-exclusive Blu-ray extras are here, so fans will certainly want to keep those regardless. You at least get the obligatory Digital code on a paper insert.
John Carpenter’s place as one of the true giants of genre filmmaking is secure thanks to his remarkable run in the 70s and 80s. Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, Escape from New York, Big Trouble In Little China, They Live... all of these are fantastic movies in every sense of the word. But The Thing is Carpenter’s masterpiece and it’s never looked or sounded better than it does here in 4K Ultra HD. Just be sure to hang onto those previous boutique Blu-ray editions for their better extras. Recommended.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke with Bill Hunt