John Carpenter’s The Thing was released in 1982. A failure at the box office, mostly likely due to the fact that a little film called E.T. had come out earlier that year, The Thing would have to wait a couple years to arrive at its cult status through the advent of the VHS tape and cable.
Now, if for some strange reason you haven’t seen The Thing, stop what you are doing and cue up your Netflix (as of this writing it’s streaming) and see this film. I recently watched it again and was more than impressed by how well the film held up. Setting the insane cutting edge special effects aside, the film itself is a brilliant example of Carpenter’s taste for sparse, minimal shots and pacing, particularly in its early sequences.
As a designer, I’m interested in longevity so I avoid trends like the plague. Like many, I focus on timeless qualities and I find them everywhere, film itself being a particularly rich field for the study of timelessness. The Thing has an uncanny dedication to minimalism, so much so that it becomes almost a silent narrator. In fact, you may remember (I didn’t) that the very first shot we see of the creature contained no build-up music, nor is there any during the horrific scene itself. It’s a bold choice. One that would clearly not pass the weary eyes and ears of today’s Hollywood shareholders who seem to have very little interest in actually making a movie for any other reason than profit.
By the mid eighties, the heyday of the maverick director was over and studios began actively meddling in a films production and final cut. The age of the blockbuster had arrived and there was no denying it. Carpenter went with the flow practically dropping his penchant for minimalism as seen in The Thing and his brilliant and underrated 1976 film Assault on Precinct 13 giving audiences the safer Starman and the incredible Big Trouble in Little China, but I’ll always wonder what his later films would have looked like had The Thing been a smash hit. Nevertheless, the film stands the test of time and therefore I think deserves to be looked at beyond the obvious trappings of its genre and perhaps take a place amongst the standard titles that show up on any given film school 101 list.