Release Date(s)1982 (October 23, 2017)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A
[Editor’s Note: This is a UK REGION B Blu-ray release.]
When John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing premiered in 1982 and was mostly rejected by both movie-going audiences and critics, an afterlife on home video was all but inevitable. Beginning with CED, Laserdisc, VHS, and DVD, the film, like several that John Carpenter made that weren’t fully appreciated upon their initial releases, built an avid following, with many in that following proclaiming it to be “the best film that John Carpenter ever made” and/or “the best monster movie ever made”. Besides just the fan base, industry insiders, fellow filmmakers, and even the director himself have even spoken out about how it’s possibly the best piece of work that he’s ever been a part of. And with an illustrious, career-spanning catalogue of work that includes the genre classics Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, Escape from New York, Prince of Darkness, They Live, Christine, Big Trouble in Little China, and In the Mouth of Madness, that’s most-assuredly high praise for one single pearl in a very beautiful necklace.
The Thing is technically not a remake in the sense of the word, but more of a re-imagining of the original short story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr., which Howard Hawks’ The Thing from Another World was based upon. That original film wound up having not much to do with the actual story, going so far as having the alien just being reminiscent of Frankenstein’s monster. While it worked in 1951 and is still heralded as a sci-fi horror classic, Carpenter’s update eclipses it. The story is about a group of men living at a U.S. Antarctic military outpost. They learn that another group of people at a Norwegian base nearby have discovered a flying saucer buried under the ice and have brought a frozen alien body back with them. With no one left alive but one of the base’s dogs, they soon determine that the creature that was unearthed is walking amongst them, shapeshifting into whomever or whatever it wants. No one knows who to trust and each of them are killed and almost perfectly replicated by the alien one by one.
Truth be told, there isn’t much you can say about The Thing that hasn’t already been said. It’s a technical marvel in every possible away, from the spectacular cinematography of Dean Cundey to the amazing prosthetic and make-up effects by Rob Bottin, as well as additional work by Stan Winston and stop-motion animator Randall Cook. Not to be outdone, there are also wonderful performances by Kurt Russell, Keith David, Richard Dysart, Wilford Brimley, Richard Masur, and the other men of Outpost 31. There’s also a very moody and effective score, which is a combination of work between John Carpenter and Ennio Morricone that uses atonal cues to create mood and atmosphere, of which there is an enormous amount. All of this combines to create one of the finest science fiction horror films ever made.
The fate of The Thing theatrically is truly one of cinema’s greatest losses. It’s always been a personal favorite, but no matter how well made the film was, its bleakness as a story about isolation and paranoia, of which many metaphors can be drawn out, just wasn’t going to be able to hold up against the monster hit that was E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. Both are about alien beings, but both are completely different ends of the spectrum, and releasing The Thing two weeks after E.T.’s premiere all but guaranteed that it would fail. It also deeply hurt John Carpenter, changing the trajectory of his career and, more or less, forcing him to do other types of films, but with less independence and less creative control from then on in. Today, it’s seen as a masterpiece, staying true the tagline framed atop its theatrical poster “The ultimate in alien terror.”
A little over a year after Scream Factory debuted their release of The Thing on Blu-ray, Arrow Video’s REGION B release has dropped in our laps with Limited Edition, Steelbook, and standard edition options. What’s so special about it is that they have gone to the trouble of creating a new 4K restoration of the film from the original 35mm camera negative, supervised by both John Carpenter and Dean Cundey. Previously, Scream Factory’s release carried a 2K scan of the film’s interpositive element, also supervised by Dean Cundey. I gave that release the highest marks in all categories, and I still feel that it’s a terrific transfer on Scream’s part – one of their best. However, I do believe that Arrow Video’s transfer has topped it. You can’t get much better than the original camera negative and there are major differences between Scream’s release and Arrow’s, and they’re fairly obvious. Scream’s release seemed to have a slight horizontal stretch to it and some sharpening filters applied. It’s color palette was also infused with blue hues. The reason that I’m not knocking them for any of that is because it was DP-approved, but now with both the DP AND the director involved in this new transfer, minor quibbles are now pointless. Grain management is more natural with high levels of fine detail, making everything look much more filmic in appearance. The aforementioned color palette has much less blue in it, aside from a few key moments. Skin tones look a little less pink as well. Black levels aren’t quite as dark as the Scream Factory release and everything has been brightened up a bit, revealing details that were a bit more hidden before – which appears natural. Contrast levels are desirable and there is next to no film damage of any kind leftover. And if this is definitive, it’s also more frame accurate, revealing a little more information of the right side of the frame.
For the soundtrack, the three previous options are still available: English 2.0, 4.1, and 5.1, as well as optional subtitles in English SDH. The stereo source is an LPCM track while the 4.1 and 5.1 are DTS-HD tracks (it’s worth nothing that the Scream Factory’s 2.0 soundtrack was a DTS-HD track, just for the sake of reference). While all of the tracks have plenty to offer in terms of fidelity, I personally prefer the 4.1 as it’s a very involving soundtrack, particularly when it comes to the score and sound effects, the latter of which have a lot of movement from speaker to speaker, as well as some strong ambience. Dialogue is as clean and clear as you could ask for on all tracks as well. The bottom line here is that this release looks and sounds amazing. I could provide some screen grabs to show you the visual differences, but seeing it in motion will give you a much better idea of how organic-looking this presentation is. As far as any revisionism carried out on this release or any of the previous releases, I have no concrete opinion, so I’ll leave you to be the judge of that.
For the supplemental materials, Arrow Video has included some of what Scream Factory had to offer in their massive and exhaustive collection of extras for their release of the film. With this release, you get the older but still great audio commentary with John Carpenter and Kurt Russell; a new audio commentary with podcasters Mike White, Patrick Bromley, and El Goro; Who Goes There?: In Search of the Thing, a fantastic new documentary from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures that traces the evolution of the original short story, as well as the making of the original The Thing from Another World (only making me further salivate for a 4K restoration of the film); 1982: One Amazing Summer, another new featurette from Ballyhoo that explores the summer movie explosion of 1982; the vintage but terrific John Carpenter’s The Thing: Terror Takes Shape documentary; NoThing Left Unsaid: Texas Frightmare Panel, a new segment that was filmed for the film’s 35th anniversary in 2017 with director of photography Dean Cundey and actors Thomas Waites, Keith David, and Wilford Brimley in attendance, moderated by Ryan Turek; The Thing: 27,000 Hours, a new short film tribute by Sean Hogan with optional audio commentary from fans of the film; Fans of The Thing, which is divided into three sections: Outpost #31 – History and Impact of the Fans with fan site founder Todd Cameron, “We’ve Found Something in the Ice” – A Fan’s Journey – featuring fan Peter Abbott’s trip to the movie’s filming location, and The Thing Tribute Artwork by Danny Wagner still gallery with 25 stills; the massive Production Archive still and video galleries from the film’s original Laserdisc and DVD releases broken down into 10 categories: Production Background Archive (30 stills), Cast Production Photographs (16 stills), Production Art and Storyboards (53 stills), Location Design (69 stills), Production Archive (62 stills), The Saucer (Frame by Frame – 48 stills or Full Motion elements), The Blairmonster (Frame by Frame – 45 stills or Full Motion elements), Outtakes (Frame by Frame – 8 stills or Full Motion elements), and Post Production (29 stills); one of the film’s theatrical trailers; a 36-page insert booklet with two essays: “SomeThing Wicked This Way Comes...” by Violet Lucca and “In Defense of John Carpenter’s The Thing” by Kevin Alexander Boon, as well as restoration details; 8 lobby card reproductions; and a 2-sided fold-out poster, all housed within sturdy cardboard packaging.
On Disc One of Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release, there are three audio commentaries: one with director of photography Dean Cundey, which is moderated by Rob Galluzo, one with co-producer Stuart Cohen, which is moderated by Michael Felsher, and the previously-mentioned audio commentary with Carpenter and Russell. In addition, there are two U.S. theatrical trailers, the German theatrical trailer, the teaser trailer, 3 TV spots, 4 radio spots, and an extensive set of animated still galleries (Behind-the-Scenes – 58 stills, Lobby Cards and Press Stills – 52 stills, Programs – 21 stills, Posters – 24 stills, Storyboards – 31 stills, and Production Artwork – 17 stills). On Disc Two, the rest of the extras are split into three subcategories: Interviews, Featurettes, and More of The Thing. Under Interviews, there’s Requiem for a Shape Shifter, an interview with John Carpenter in conversation with Mick Garris; The Men of Outpost 31, which includes interviews with nearly all of the main cast other than Russell; Assembling and Assimilation, an interview with editor Todd Ramsay; Behind the Chameleon: The Sights of The Thing, which is an extensive set of interviews with many of the film’s visual effects artists and special make-up effects artists; Sounds from the Cold: The Sound Design of The Thing, which contains interviews with supervising sound editor David Lewis Yewdall and special sound effects designer Alan Howarth; and Between the Lines, an interview with The Thing’s novelization author Alan Dean Foster. Under Featurettes, there are two animated still galleries: The Art of Mike Ploog and Back Into the Cold: Revisiting the Filming Location of The Thing, the latter of which is narrated by Todd Cameron of Outpost31.com. There’s also the outtakes presented separately; a set of 9 vintage featurettes from the film’s original Electronic Press Kit featuring interviews with Carpenter, Russell, and special make-up effects artist Rob Bottin; a vintage product reel, which is a condensed version of the film with footage not used in the final cut; a brief bit of vintage behind-the-scenes footage shot for publicity purposes; and the aforementioned Production Archive, but presented in animated form instead of stills. Under More of The Thing, there’s the network TV broadcast version of the film, which features additional, deleted, and alternate footage, dialogue, and music cues in standard definition (some of which is also present in the featurettes and outtakes); the John Carpenter’s The Thing: Terror Takes Shape documentary; and two additional vintage featurettes: The Making of a Chilling Tale and The Making of The Thing (the latter of which is directed by Mick Garris). Obviously, all of this material couldn’t have been included in Arrow’s new package as they likely spent the majority of their budget on the new transfer (a wise decision), but the new supplements, particularly the Who Goes There? documentary, are excellent and most-assuredly worth your time.
As of this writing, the Limited Edition and Steelbook releases of Arrow Video’s release of The Thing are out of print, but you can still get the standard version which contains all of the extras aside from the swag and the insert booklet. Personally, as a fan, I’m in favor of both Scream Factory’s and Arrow Video’s releases being on your home video shelves next to each other. Both offer substantial perks over the other and they are, more or less, brother and sister releases... at least to me. Arrow’s decision to do a ground-up restoration instead of securing extras that were already readily available in another company’s package was an astute one, making this release of The Thing one that should be a priority for you if you’re REGION FREE enabled at all.
- Tim Salmons