Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Thing Week: The Initial Response

Well folks, today, 29 years ago, John Carpenter released The Thing upon the world. And everybody… hated it. Yes, it’s one of the cases where its release was overshadowed by something tamer, namely E.T. So, I decided to pull out some quotes from top film critics who didn’t like the film on its initial release.

“But it seems clear that Carpenter made his choice early on to concentrate on the special effects and the technology and to allow the story and people to become secondary -- there is not need to see this version unless you are interested in what the Thing might look like while starting from anonymous greasy organs extruding giant crab legs and transmuting itself into a dog.”

- Roger Ebert

Side note: Ebert enjoyed the movie for the most part but I think he wanted more character and less “barf bag” special effects.

“John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ is a foolish, depressing, overproduced movie that mixes horror with science fiction to make something that is fun as neither one thing or the other. Sometimes it looks as if it aspired to be the quintessential moron movie of the 80’s – a virtually storyless feature composed of lots of laboratory-concocted special effects, with the actors used merely as props to be hacked, slashed, disemboweled and decapitated, finally to be eaten and then regurgitated as – guess what? – more laboratory-concocted special effects."

- Vincent Canby of The New York Times (Published June 25, 1982)

“Designer Rob Bottin’s work is novel and unforgettable, but since it exists in a near vacuum emotionally, it becomes too domineering dramatically and something of an exercise in abstract art. The weird lad down the block, the one who is always fooling around with his chemistry set, will love The Thing. The rest of the neighborhood is likely to find it more of a squeamer than a creamer."

- Richard Schickel of Time Magazine (Published June 28, 1982)

“If you want blood, go to the slaughterhouse. All in all, it’s a terrific commercial for J&B Scotch.”

- Christian Nyby (Director of The Thing From Another World)

Now, I’d be lying if I said that they don’t bring up some great points about The Thing. Yes, it’s emotionless and very cold because it was Carpenter’s commentary on the Reagan administration and the moral defeat we had with Vietnam. The biggest problem that most critics had with it was that Carpenter seemed to have substituted great character developing for grossing the movie out, effectively overshadowing the entire movie with special effects. But does that mean it’s a bad movie? No. Really, in perspective, it means that Carpenter was ahead of his time. Then again, who would know that the movies following the mid 90’s would kill actor performances, characters, plot and “originality” to make way for blood, boobs and hot teen models. Comparing Carpenter’s The Thing to gorefests today is easy because Carpenter’s movie, in comparison, has thicker characters and more development. Even as a stand along film, The Thing has great character involvement. He mixed the mood and characters that were seen in horror films of the 70’s with gore and special effects of the early 80’s to make a hybrid the still works today. Talk to anybody who loves the thing and they’ll say that it’s timeless.


Patrick said...

Excellent post. I have heard that the critics hated this most awesome of sci-fi/horror classics. I hadn't, however, ever read their specific critiques. Man, they were downright scathing.

C'mon, film critic guys, where's the love?

Your closing statements are brilliant. I totally agree that his character development was excellent. The way we get to know them is in line with the overall mood. I'm actually quite impressed at how well we got to know the main characters.

I also agree with the timeless aspect. It's as topical and fun to watch today as it was in 1982. It would be interesting to know the opinions of those critics now. I'll have to look into that.

Thanks, as always, for the great posts, man. Fantastic blog. Respect.

Mr. Johnny Sandman said...

Thank you very much Patrick for taking the time to voice your opinion on this wonderful movie. It's nice to know just how loyal the fans are.

Anonymous said...

The critics were the first time around. This movie is overrated beyond belief,

Montag said...

Strangely enough, I remember the characters vividly: MacReady, Childs, Palmer, Nauls, Blair, Copper, Garry, and Clark in order of vividness; the rest I forget.

Perhaps we should have had them do a little My Dinner With Andre...

There are more ways to develop character than we seem to recognize, and I consider the film to be much more than a precursor to mindless slaughter films with a scrap of a plot.

Of course, Carpenter did follow up with things like "Vampires", which does not help my argument.

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