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John Carpenter can hit or miss on some of the things he's done in his career. Vampires may be a good case in point. But In his version of The Thing, remade from Howard Hawks' 1950's classic, he doesn't focus on the creature as much as the relationship between the men in the camp and how the paranoia starts to creep in the group as they try to figure out who may or may not be infected by the creature. I might have jumped ahead of some people who haven't seen it, so here's a brief recap for those few who have missed The Thing:
An American crew working in the Arctic circle encounter a Norwegian crew that is frantically shooting at a dog that is running to the camp. The Americans defends themselves as soon as one of the men is accidentally shot, and the Norwegians are killed. The Americans take the dog in, but they also go out to the Norwegian camp to find out just what exactly spooked them so much. They find a camp littered with bodies, along with something that was thawed out by the group before they were brutally killed. From that point, various members of the group get infected by a mysterious virus and are plucked off one at a time. The crew, or at least one or two of them, begin to notice that the cause might not necessarily be of human creation, especially after the discovery of a spaceship near the Norwegian camp. So the remainder of the film is focused on trying to figure out who's human and who's not.
What made this one maybe a bit scarier than most was Carpenter's ability to create enough of a dynamic between the men, that most of them were fleshed out enough to the point where you understand how they work together. And the cast is very able, from older members Blair and Copper (Wilford Brimley and Richard Dysart, respectively), to younger members Childs (Keith David, Armageddon) and Palmer (David Clennon, From the Earth to the Moon), all held together by the film's star (and frequent Carpenter leading man) Kurt Russell (Dark Blue), who plays MacReady. Carpenter does a great job keeping the cast and the events in close quarters. With Cinematographer Dean Cundey, whom Carpenter has worked several times through the years, you see most of the interior shots always have something or someone in the frame as well, taking up more space than you're accustomed, giving you an almost claustrophobic feeling. Only when the film is outside do the exteriors get shown, and they are filmed well. Now does this mean that Carpenter eschewed his horror film roots? Far from it. With effects supervisor Rob Bottin, Carpenter creates sequences that are still considered gruesome to this day. I still can't sit through the whole scene with the dogs early on, and the later scenes are also gory and designed to shock, which they do in spades.
At the end of the day, The Thing is more than just your typical horror film, it's a very effective look at how a traumatic incident can wreak havoc on a small isolated group, and the cramped feeling in the small camp makes you feel a bit more frightened of the Thing once it appears (designed and created with the usual outstanding work by the late Stan Winston). This remains one of Carpenter's best films, and it remains one of the better horror films since its release 25 years ago.
The film's cinematographer Dean Cundey supervised a 2K scan from the interpositive for this release of The Thing, under the Shout! Factory label, and it looks fantastic. The exterior shots bring the daytime shots out with more color, the night time ones have solid black levels and good contrast. Image detail is better than expected when you see fake blood pour off a latex creature, and DNR is eradicated from most of the film. To get a better idea of how it looks compared to the previous Universal release (that I sold once I heard about this edition), there are some good screenshot comparisons here. I liked this new transfer a lot.
A new DTS-HD Master Audio 4.1 lossless surround (culled from the original soundtrack, Shout! Says) was created for the film and it sounds great, starting from the spaceship's landing. Dialogue is consistent and the low-end gets a good workout from the jump, into more dynamic moments like the dog and blood sequences through the film. There may be a little more natural immersion in this soundtrack compared to the last and the overall result is a treat.
Shout sent along one disc of the two, which includes the feature, three commentaries (two new ones), teasers, trailers, radio and TV spots, and stills galleries. At quick glance, it appears most everything from the 2008 release has been ported over, along with some new extras, so I'm going to skip that, as well as the commentary from Carpenter and Russell.
The first new commentary is with Cundey and he recalls where he was at the time of this project, as well as using the original film for inspiration. He talks about some of the production and includes things on the lighting of shots, but this is a fairly dry track. The other new commentary with co-producer Stuart Cohen is much more fascinating, as things like initial casting ideas are discussed (Kevin Kline as MacReady?), apprehensions from the studio and some of the previous efforts to do the remake. Carpenter's work onset is recounted as well, and it turns out to be a pleasantly surprising and active commentary worth listening to.
I was a little unsure about how (yet) another release of The Thing would turn out. With a beautiful transfer and surprisingly effective soundtrack, my fears were allayed. The bulk of the extra material was not only retained but added upon, and the overall package for one of the better scary movies of the last 30 years is a no-brainer to get not only for the first time, but from a double-dip perspective as well. Outstanding work from Shout! on this.