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In 1982 horror maestro John Carpenter introduced the world to his masterpiece, a remake of the ‘50s movie The Thing from Another World. With its talented ensemble cast and jaw-dropping special effects, the film quickly became one of my childhood favourites and was one of the first truly spectacular DVDs to be released back in the early days of the format. Packed with hours of bonus material, ranging from a feature-length documentary to an engaging audio commentary, The Thing was among the very first titles I picked up after buying my first DVD player. While impressive for its time, the non-anamorphic transfer on that release is somewhat lacking when compared to today’s modern efforts and has always irked me. With my love for the film, you can understand my delight when Universal saw fit to re-release the Collector’ Edition with re-mastered video for the ultimate horror experience.

Thing: Collector's Edition, The
Universal R2


Thing: Collector's Edition, The
Universal R1 Collector’s Edition


Feature


R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) is one of a group of twelve research scientists stationed at a remote Antarctic outpost, and spends his days drinking and playing computerised chess in an attempt to stave off boredom. One day the tranquillity of the camp is shattered by the arrival of a Norwegian helicopter flying overhead, shooting wildly at a solitary husky as it goes. The helicopter lands at the site in hot pursuit of the husky, and so intent are they on killing the animal that they accidentally shoot one of the scientists in the leg. The scientists return fire, killing one of the Norwegians, while the other manages to blow both himself and his helicopter to smithereens with a thermal charge!

Eager to discover why the Norwegians had been behaving so irrationally, helicopter pilot MacReady leads and expedition to their camp. While searching for an explanation, they unearth a number of video tapes among the research data, along with a number of horribly deformed corpses. Upon returning to their own camp they watch video footage, which shows the Norwegians unearthing a giant, saucer-shaped spacecraft that had been buried under the ice for around 100,000 years. Further examination of the data indicates the presence of an alien life form aboard the ship, one with the ability to assimilate and perfectly replicate any organic matter it comes into contact with. Before long it becomes apparent that the husky isn’t all it appears to be, and with the creature loose in their base the group quickly falls prey to paranoia and mistrust.

What follows is one of the most atmospheric and genuinely scary films I have ever seen, as one by one the men are absorbed by the alien creature and the group begins to crack under the pressure. The remote location helps to heighten the tension and creates an intense feeling of claustrophobia—these men literally have nowhere to go. Featuring excellent, not to mention disconcerting special make-up effects by Rob Bottin ( RoboCop), the film holds up very favourably in the looks department when compared to today’s movies, while being streets ahead of most of them in terms of suspense and terror.

Thing: Collector's Edition, The
Universal R2


Thing: Collector's Edition, The
Universal R1 Collector’s Edition

 

Video


I was perhaps a little generous with my praise for the transfer of the original region two release of The Thing, although to be fair I was judging it by a different set of standards than those I would apply to recent releases. This new, re-mastered effort is much, much better than the old non-anamorphic attempt, and was the main reason for my interest in the disc.

Even putting aside the obvious advantage of 16:9 enhancement, the progressively encoded 2.35:1 image is generally much cleaner than before. Whereas the older releases were littered with film artefacts, this re-release has undergone restoration to remove dirt and scratches. The result is a much more enjoyable viewing experience. Colour rendition is greatly improved this time around, especially when it comes to the purity of the snow-covered landscapes. You can see the enormous difference between the old and new releases by looking at the second set of screen captures. Black levels are far superior in this release, with greater shadow delineation during both interior and exterior scenes (see the fourth set of captures). There is more than a little film grain visible during certain shots, but it’s nothing that will spoil your enjoyment and is improved over previous releases.

This new transfer does appear to be framed slightly differently to the older release. The first screenshot shows more pictorial information on both sides, but the second image has less to the left of the frame. The third image again shows less information to the left, but there is more visible picture at the bottom. In any event the differences aren’t particularly earth-shattering (we’re not talking Back to the Future here), but it’s always interesting to see the variations between transfers of the same film. Or is that just me?

Audio


Sound is once again courtesy of a Dolby Digital 5.1 (448kbps) track that is almost certainly the same as the one found on the previous disc. While it’s never called upon to be particularly dynamic, the track does what it is asked to do very effectively. From the opening moments as the alien spacecraft roars overhead on its way to Earth, through the swirling snowstorms and chopper fly-bys, to the explosive finale, it never really puts a foot wrong. There’s a surprising amount of surround action—although it isn’t discrete—and the all-important dialogue remains perfectly clear and anchored in the middle of the soundstage through the entirety of the proceedings. Creature sound effects are also very unsettling, in a decidedly un-Earthly sort of way. If ever proof were needed that a subtle, atmospheric track can be just as effective as a pumping, action-packed one, here it is.

Thing: Collector's Edition, The
Universal R2


Thing: Collector's Edition, The
Universal R1 Collector’s Edition


Ennio Morricone’s ever-present score for The Thing sounds as good today as it ever did. It really does fit the film like a glove, creating just the right atmosphere of paranoia and tension. I have no doubt that Morricone’s work is one of the driving forces behind the success of this film, in much the same way as George Lucas owes John Williams a pint or ten for his work on the Star Wars movies.

Extras


As with the previous releases of the movie, bonus material is reasonably comprehensive. In fact, the content of this new Collector’s Edition is pretty much identical to what’s come before, save for a couple of text-based biographies that didn’t make the cut. First up is a commentary track from director John Carpenter and star Kurt Russell, which is full of banter and makes for a very enjoyable alternate audio experience. Carpenter/Russell tracks are invariably excellent, as the two are quite clearly very fond of one another. This friendship really helps the tracks to flow in a natural manner, offering just the right blend of technical and anecdotal information. To this day the commentary remains one of the most enjoyable tracks on the format.
 
Also on offer is the original ‘John Carpenter’s The Thing: Terror Takes Shape’ documentary, which runs for a little under eighty four minutes. The documentary is about as thorough in its exploration of the material as is possible, featuring interviews with almost everyone of importance who had a hand in the production. The piece is rather unusual in its execution, in that most of the running is devoted to a series of ‘talking head’ sequences interspersed with the occasional behind the scenes shot. Thankfully the participants are animated enough to keep the piece interesting, especially the enthusiastic Rob Bottin. The only negative thing I have to say about the documentary is that the chapter stops from the previous releases have been removed, forcing you to watch the whole thing in one sitting or keep your finger on the fast forward button for excessive amounts of time. It’s a schoolboy error on Universal’s part.

A series of still galleries follow. Included on the disc are: production background archives, cast production photos, production art and storyboards, location design, production archives and post-production. A couple of video segments are also included (‘The Saucer’ and ‘The Blairmonster’), along with a series of outtakes and the film’s theatrical trailer. It’s a slightly week ending after such a promising start, but the commentary and exhaustive documentary are hard acts to follow. As mentioned before, this release features almost all of the material available on previous editions. The most lamentable omission is the isolated version of Ennio Moricone’s score, which appeared one region one discs as an unadvertised secondary audio track on the 'Terror Takes Shape' documentary. As it was an Easter egg it’s not really fair to take it into account when awarding points, but I was disappointed that it could not be included (because of rights issues). Even if it had been present, there’s no escaping the fact hat the bar has been raised since The Thing’s 1999 debut, and the supplements just aren’t as impressive as when they were originally unveiled. It is for this reason that I have deducted a point in this area.

Thing: Collector's Edition, The
Universal R2


Thing: Collector's Edition, The
Universal R1 Collector’s Edition


Overall


With this re-release, Universal has delivered a better than average presentation of a classic film. Video quality is much improved over previous efforts, and although still some way off the standards set by modern transfers it is very impressive for a film made in the early eighties. This has been reflected in the scoring. Thankfully the fine audio track from the previous releases remains unchanged. I must admit to being a tad disappointed with the lack of any new bonus material, but this was mostly because of the exceptionally high standards set by the commentary and feature-length documentary. Still, those two supplements together are enough to earn the disc reasonably high marks in the extras category. If you’re a fan, do yourself a favour and pick this disc up as soon as possible. If you’ve never seen the film and are looking for a superior slice of horror, look no further than The Thing.


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