Thing, The: Steelbook (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Jan 15, 2019
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Thing, The: Steelbook (Blu-ray Review)

Director

John Carpenter

Release Date(s)

1982 (November 6, 2018)

Studio(s)

Universal Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
  • Film/Program Grade: A+
  • Video Grade: A+
  • Audio Grade: A+
  • Extras Grade: A

The Thing Steelbook (Blu-ray Disc)

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Review

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 on 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 William 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 of, 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.”

We now come to the fourth incarnation of the film on Blu-ray (and I've actually reviewed the previous two). This time around, Scream Factory has re-released the film in a Limited Edition Steelbook, featuring not only their content, but a third disc that features the recent 4K scan of the film by Arrow Video.

More specifically, that transfer comes from a 4K restoration of the film from the original 35mm camera negative, supervised by both John Carpenter and Dean Cundey. You certainly 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 seems to have a slight horizontal stretch to it and some sharpening filters applied. Its color palette is also infused with blue hues. The reason that I’m not knocking them for any of that is because it was D.P.-approved, but now with both the D.P. AND the director involved in this transfer as well, 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.

Scream Factory’s release carries a 2K scan of the film’s interpositive element, (again, supervised and approved by Dean Cundey). I still feel that it’s a terrific transfer, even if Arrow's tops it. It's a very organic-looking presentation with even grain levels throughout. Detail, including skin textures, clothing, prosthetics, make-up, and both foreground and background elements, are quite rich. Colors are strong, Black levels are deep, and brightness and contrast levels are perfect. There’s next to no film damage other than some extremely mild speckling and light fading along the left and right edges of the frame. The shot of the United States National Science Institute Station 4 sign at the beginning of the film looks a little rougher than the rest of the footage and features some heavier fading along the edges, specifically at the right of frame, but it's small potatoes compared to the rest.

For the audio on both presentations, there are three options: English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD, and a 4.1 DTS-HD mix created from the original 70mm six track Dolby stereo soundtrack. Optional subtitles in English SDH are also included. Like the visuals, all of the audio tracks are top notch, but the real winner here is the new 4.1 track. Dialogue is crisp and discernable at all times, while sound effects, music, and score have an abundance of life to them. There's quite a wide field of sound at all times with plenty of ambience, perfect spacing, and speaker-to-speaker activity, as well as some amazing low end moments, particularly concerning the score and the sounds of the creature. All of the sound effects sound as vibrant and strong as ever, particularly during some of the squishier, gorier moments, such as the scene when Blair dissects the dead monster brought back from the Norwegian base. The other tracks pack a punch and are well-mixed, but the new 4.1 track breathes new life into the film’s soundtrack. It's also worth noting that on Arrow Video's releases, the stereo soundtrack was presented as an LPCM track, which hasn't been replicated here.

This release also features all of the terrific extras included on the original Scream Factory Collector's Edition Blu-ray release, but not what's available on Arrow Video's release. On Disc Two, there are 3 audio commentaries: one with Dean Cundey, moderated by Rob Galluzzo; another with co-producer Stuart Cohen, moderated by Michael Felsher; and another with John Carpenter and Kurt Russell. In addition, there are 2 U.S. theatrical trailers, the German theatrical trailer, the teaser trailer, 3 TV spots, 4 radio spots, and an extensive set of still galleries (behind-the-scenes, lobby cards and press stills, programs, posters, storyboards, and production artwork).

On Disc Three, the rest of the extras are split into three subcategories: Interviews, Featurettes, and More of The Thing. Under Interviews, there are 6 to choose from, including Requiem for a Shape Shifter, an interview with John Carpenter by Mick Garris; The Men of Outpost 31, featuring interviews with nearly all of the cast members; Assembling and Assimilation, an interview with editor Todd Ramsay; Behind the Chameleon: The Sights of The Thing, an extensive set of interviews with many of the film’s visual effects and special make-up effects artists; Sounds from the Cold: The Sound Design of The Thing, featuring interviews with supervising sound editor David Lewis Yewdall and special sound effects designer Alan Howarth; and Between the Lines, an interview with the film’s novelization author Alan Dean Foster.

Under Featurettes, there are 2 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 a set of outtakes (more like deleted scenes); 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 an extensive annotated Production Archive, which includes production art and storyboards, location scouting, special make-up effects, and post production – all of which has been culled from previous Laserdisc and DVD releases (and a bit more broken down on the Arrow Video release).

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 long-form John Carpenter's The Thing: Terror Takes Shape making-of documentary; and 2 additional vintage featurettes: The Making of a Chilling Tale and The Making of The Thing (the latter of which is directed by Mick Garris). All of this material is also housed in beautiful Steelbook packaging.

Not included from Arrow Video's release is an audio commentary with podcasters Mike White, Patrick Bromley, and El Goro; Who Goes There?: In Search of the Thing, a fantastic documentary that traces the evolution of the original short story, as well as the making of the original film; 1982: One Amazing Summer, a featurette that explores the summer movie explosion of 1982; NoThing Left Unsaid: Texas Frightmare Panel, a segment from the film’s 35th anniversary in 2017 with Dean Cundey, Thomas Waites, Keith David, and Wilford Brimley, moderated by Ryan Turek; The Thing: 27,000 Hours, a short film tribute by Sean Hogan with optional commentary from fans of the film; Fans of The Thing, which is divided into 3 sections: Outpost #31 – History and Impact of the Fans with 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; a 36-page insert booklet with 2 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 poster.

So that's the long and short of it. Scream Factory's Steelbook release is a nice encapsulation of how the film has been released on Blu-ray for the past few years. Despite not including ALL of the extras from both releases, it does include both transfers, which is good for selection purposes. The artwork is also top notch, so whether or not picking this up is worth your money depends on how big of a fan you are. If you don't already own any release of The Thing on Blu-ray, then it’s definitely a winner for you.

– Tim Salmons

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