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Fresh off of finishing Escape From New York, director John Carpenter began working on his next project, a new screen adaptation based upon the short story titled Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell (first published in 1938). It had previously been adapted for the cinema in 1951 as The Thing From Another World and was the first major film to feature a mysterious creature of ill intent. Casting the lead role to his good friend and frequent collaborator Kurt Russell, Carpenter brought The Thing to the big screen on June 25, 1982.

Released to DVD during the format's infancy, The Thing was the de facto standard on how to do a special edition right. The sheer quantity (and tremendous quality of the included features) is something that few special editions get right even today. It has been over four years since the original DVD was released and since then there has been one major issue: the video transfer. Advancements in this area have come quite a distance in the last few years and it is definitely time that The Thing received the attention it deserves.

Thing: Collector's Edition, The
Film
MacReady (Kurt Russell) is one of twelve men who have been assigned to a U.S. research station in the Antarctica. One day while outside they spot a helicopter piloted by two Norwegians chasing and shooting at a lone huskey. The huskey runs into their base for safety but the Norwegians continue firing wildly at the dog and one of MacReady’s partners gets shot. They kill the Norwegian and the helicopter is blown up by a stray grenade. They immediately decide to pay a visit to the Norwegian’s base, only to discover that the place is in ruins and all of their research team is dead. MacReady gathers up some research data and heads back to their base.

They look at some video footage that depicts the Norwegians blasting down through the snow to uncover a huge flying saucer that has apparently been buried there for 100,000 years. By studying the data further they ascertain that inside the saucer was a creature that, up until that point, had been in a state of hibernation. The huskey that the Norwegians were trying to kill was attacked by this creature that has the ability to absorb and imitate any living organism, taking on all its characteristics. The imitation is so perfect that the copy is indistinguishable from the original. With the creature loose in their base, distrust among the group grows and the men quickly degenerate into an irrational mob. This makes finding out who is real and who is an impostor a difficult task.

John Carpenter's The Thing is a very well crafted and truly creepy movie. Looking back on it is always a treat as it has aged very well. The outstanding stop-motion animation still looks impressive and the creature effects that grossed some film-goers out to the point where they had to leave the theatre are better than much of what is being produced today.

The filming location in British Columbia was perfect for the exterior shots and the set design of the research base makes the claustrophobic aspect of the situation very apparent. A good sign for me of excellent storytelling is that I was able to name each of the twelve characters very shortly into the movie. I liken this to Aliens (1986) where each of the marines was addressed by their last name. There wasn't one character's name that I did not know.

Thing: Collector's Edition, The
Video
The new transfer is definitely the most noteworthy aspect of this disc. First off, it is still presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. However, unlike the original release, this one is anamorphically enhanced offering a significant boost in resolution to those with capable displays.

One of the first things you will notice about this transfer is how the colours have been toned down and exhibit a much more natural quality. Contrast has been decreased to reveal image detail in many places. Have a look at the clouds on the left-hand side of the second image or the flare that MacReady is holding in the last image for examples of this. Contrarily, some scenes are a bit brighter and do not have such a murky look to them. Have a look at the third screen shot. The faces of both Blair (left) and Fuchs (right) have significantly more detail than in the original version. Physical blemishes such and dirt and scratches have also been worked on and although they still appear sporadically, have been reduced a great degree. Thankfully, edge enhancement has also been toned down. It still appears in places but is far less intrusive than it was before.

One problem with this new version is the amount of grain present in outdoor shots. It is a rather distracting element of some shots that was not as pronounced on the previous disc. When it all boils down, though, the good definitely outweighs the bad and this new transfer is the main reason to own this edition.

Audio
First off, an important note: the back of the box incorrectly states that a Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish mix exists on the disc when in fact it is nowhere to be found. Instead, there is a Dolby Surround 2.0 French track (which is not listed on the exterior packaging). The tracks present here are identical to those found on the original disc.

The new release of John Carpenter's The Thing utilises a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that is sampled at a rate of 448kbps. From the sound of it, this is an identical mix to the one that appeared on the original disc. This track exhibits wonderful directional effects across the front soundstage and there is lots of surround activity to boot (although it seems to be a mono surround signal). The dialogue has been mixed at an acceptable level and is anchored firmly in the centre channel. However there is just no forgetting the fact that this movie was released in 1982. There really is not much activity from the LFE channel as I had hoped for and overall fidelity comes up shy from what we would expect from a modern movie of this type.

I was surprised when I saw that the scoring credit did not go to John Carpenter himself, since it has become usual for him to score his own movies. For The Thing, famed composer Ennio Morricone was commissioned and contributes a beautiful and creepy score that sets the mood brilliantly. I just love the opening theme with the bass guitar plucks all played at the same pitch. Great stuff!

Thing: Collector's Edition, The
Extras
This newly released Collector's Edition shares much of the same content as its predecessor, but with a few notable changes. The packaging has been revamped and now features a largely transparent slipcover that works with the artwork on the box when it is in place. It is too bad they did not stick with the original cover art as I thought it was much more appealing. Upon opening the package, which consists of a cardboard foldout with a large plastic portion that holds the disc in place, you will notice there is an obvious spot for an insert. There is not one present but it is not a packaging error. Universal, along with many other studios have done away with chapter listing and production note inserts. This direction is somewhat unfortunate as it gives things an incomplete feel. Upon popping the disc into your player, you will be able to navigate through a series of static menus to access special features, languages and scene selections. These menus are now anamorphic and have some rather odd music accompanying them.

As mentioned, this new edition shares most of the same content as the original. This is absolutely fantastic as Universal really hit the mark the first time around with both the quantity and quality of the bonus material. First up is the documentary titled John Carpenter's The Thing: Terror Takes Shape. This eighty-four minute piece gets in-depth on just about every aspect of the film you would ever care to know about. Everything from pre-production right up to comments on what critics and fans thought of the film. The format of the documentary is a bold one. Unlike many flashy EPK pieces, this documentary involves talking heads against a black background almost exclusively. There is some movie footage as well as other miscellaneous shots interspersed. For the most part though, it relies on the ability of each person to impart information in a thorough and lucid way. It is a true testament to the care and thought that went into crafting this documentary as it remains very interesting from start to finish.

This documentary has some differences than the one present on the original disc. On the new disc, when the viewer selects it from the bonus materials menu, it starts right into it. On the original disc, the viewer was taken to a sub-menu where he or she could choose to listen to an isolated score instead of the dialogue or choose to begin viewing from one of eight chapter stops. Both of these handy features are gone which is a bit of a shame. I read that the score was eliminated due to legal reasons and certainly not space reasons as the feature and documentary utilise approximately the same space on both versions. The deletion of the chapter stops is puzzling though as there seems to be no real reason why they were omitted. The documentary now runs as one continuous eighty-four minute long chapter.

The bonus features have been condensed onto two menu pages instead of three. This was done by leaving out a few minor features (more on this below) and reducing the gap between the listings.

There are several other very worthwhile extra features ported over from the original release. First is a screen-specific commentary track from John Carpenter and Kurt Russell. These two men are very good friends and have worked together a great deal. It really shows during this track, as the pair have comfortable, friendly exchanges that really do sound like two friends sharing thoughts. There is much laughter from them as well as lots of production information as they talk about the difficulties they had with the creature effects and the remote location where they filmed the exterior shots. Well worth a listen.

Thing: Collector's Edition, The
The majority of the remaining extra features are presented by way of annotated photo galleries. These short pieces (ranging from three to ten minutes in length each) cycle automatically from image to image with no intervention required from the viewer. The areas covered through these featurettes are: production background, cast production photos, production art and storyboards and location design and construction. There are also a few short video clips dealing with special effects shots (which I will not detail as they contain plot-spoilers) and outtakes. Finally, the film's theatrical trailer is included. It is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen and is of pretty rough quality. If you have not yet viewed the movie, do not watch this trailer beforehand as it contains some mild to moderate plot spoilers.  

Three items were left off of this new disc—some text-based production notes, two bios/filmographies (one of John Carpenter and one of Kurt Russell) and some Universal Web Links. It is strange why the production notes and bios/filmographies did not make the cut, they certainly would not have taken much disc space. In addition, the web link present on the original disc is still good as it simply points to Universal Studios Home Video homepage. Why they left it off is also a mystery.

Overall
John Carpenter's The Thing is a movie I can watch over and over again. It is a classic 80s film that has stood the test of time. The DVD itself also continues to amaze me. The improvements to the video transfer alone make this a worthwhile purchase. Coupled with the solid surround mix and incredible extras ported over from the 1998 release make this special edition one of the most complete out there.


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