Written by: Matt Molgaard
Any time you come home to a Scream Factory box, you know things are going to ease down on a positive note. It turns out the box on my welcome mat contained the brand new Deluxe, Collector’s Edition double disc release of John Carpenter’s The Thing. Yeah, the day definitely took a welcomed turn.
It’s been months since I placed my order and I hadn’t thought much of it one way or another. That just made the surprise of this arrival all the more memorable. This is a top 5, all time great film. It was hard not to feel a little excitement knowing I was going to see one of the greatest films ever made in a way I’d never seen before.
And trust me, up until today, I’d certainly never seen the movie look so alarmingly crisp. The pores on MacReady’s face opened ever so slightly, every sinewy detail of the thing mid-autopsy all but popping off the screen. The picture quality is simply wondrous. As a dedicated and unwavering fanatic of The Thing, I couldn’t ask for much more.
Unfortunately my surround is on the fritz, so I can’t tell you too much about the sound quality overall, though what my television’s stock speakers delivered sounded clean and consistent. The release was pushed back briefly to afford the engineers to get the mix as close to perfect as possible, so that too leaves me feeling confident in the audio.
I own more than a single release of this film. I’m one of those weirdos that practically studies the picture, so you can rest assured I’ve got comparison pieces to examine and while there are a few impressive releases out there, they don’t meet the new standard for greatness.
Director of photography, Dean Cundey is directly involved in the restoration process, and that probably helps to explain the success of the entire project. Cundey has real investment in this flick, and he made sure fans know how much he cares for this film, as he’s essentially manning the ship here. We should all be thankful for that, as there are no cut corners to tolerate, it’s all masterful work.
The double disc set offers a sizable chunk of both new and old bonus matetial. Disc two is where you’ll find most of the good stuff, but the first disc does feature all of the film’s original trailers, including radio spots. There’s also a few kick ass image galleries that feature plenty of images I’d never seen prior to today. There a small handful of additional options, but the real meat on the bone has been exposed. Save for the informative commentary tracks, one of which features Cundey and one of which features Carpenter and Kurt Russell, all three of which proffer something a little different.
Cundey’s track is a little on the flat side, but he is quite effective in delivering the facts, and he does become a bit more animated as the film progresses. As for Carpenter and Russell and their commentary, well, it’s a bit more entertaining, and there’s a different mystique to their contribution. Both are worth tuning into if you’re one of us who live to feed on cinematic knowledge.
I hope you’re ready for featurettes and interviews galore, because the second disc in this package deal is just overflowing with impressive goodies. It feels like disc two was designed with the super geek in mind, so you should absolutely love disc two.
Here’s a breakdown of the interviews, the featurettes and – believe it or not, maybe even more!
Requiem for a Shape Shifter
Mick Garris sits down for a very direct but light hearted chat with Carpenter. Garris does a fine job of picking the man’s brain, and it’s awfully enlightening. Garris, being a filmmaker himself, knows what questions to ask and when to ask them, which pushes this little one on one in the direction of brilliant education rather than light entertainment. To see Garris just about giddy while conducting the interview just so happens to be the icing on the cake.
The Men of Outpost 31
The bulk of the ensemble are present here, essentially merging into Memory Lane, reliving a time that was quite clearly enjoyable for the entire lot. There are a number of great anecdotes and some words of wisdom from the whole group, who we don’t see together, but in singular interviews. A reunion of some sort would be nice to see, but we haven’t reached the end of this disc yet, and anything can happen.
Assembling and Assimilation
Editor Todd Ramsay sits down to talk about his involvement in the production. While Ramsay’s name may not strike the same chord a name like Carpenter does, Ramsay’s technical understanding and his ability to transfer that understanding into layman’s word actually make his interview more compelling than most on the disc. There’s a lot of inside information here, so you can expect to learn a thing or two.
Note: interview too short!
Behind the Chameleon
Visual effects supervisor, Peter Kuran gets into some cool stuff, like the spaceship, and Susan Turner, miniatures supervisor for the picture, really tackles some of the ship details and how they were able bring a realism from this crucial miniature. It’s going to be a valuable piece for those who find themselves endlessly anxious to create something with their bare hands.
This little feature takes a quick turn, dropping us in the listener’s seat while special make-up effects artist Brian Ware discusses some of the gnarly make-up effects, which we all love to discuss on a regular basis. You’re going to give this one the thumbs up, especially after Rob Burman, responsible for the foam latex, jumps into the mix.
There’s one story about Rob Bottin’s special effects that just rocks. Bottin sounds like an awesome guy to work with.
The featurette again moves in another direction, focusing now on animation and welcoming Randall William Cook into the circle. The stories continue, and there’s no shortage of intrigue here, proving that behind the scenes work can be every bit as engaging as what we see occurring in front of the camera.
The one moment you can’t miss throughout this entire segment is a solid glance of the unused stop motion animation. This isn’t exactly unseen footage, but it’s nice to see it included, regardless, as this collection would feel incomplete without it.
Sounds from the Cold
Sounds from the Cold is all about the sound design. The mood, the mix, it’s all covered. Those who play instruments or write music will find it quite compelling. Those who aren’t too concerned with music may not be compelled to care about the film’s sound. Thumbs up from me, I’ll say that!
Between the Lines
The final segment featured under the interview column leads us into the mind of author Alan Dean Foster (who did the kick ass novelization of Alien, for the record). Foster digs deep into John W. Campbell’s story and he really shares some information regarding the technical side of the business. It’s an amazing little video that I’d strongly recommend any aspiring or self-publishing author look into.
By the time I wrapped up all the interviews I was left feeling quite pleased. I’d gotten some gratifying bonus material, a lot of which is genuinely informative. It’s an awesome pile of extras, and I didn’t know how much deeper Scream Factory would plow for fans.
Then I moved my blu-ray icon over to the featurette section to see just what kind of featurettes lie in store. To my delight, seven featurettes were there for the watching.
The magnitude of this release, by this point, was really starting to set in. Scream has gone out of their way to give us not a good package, but a great package.
Job well done.
The Art of Mike Ploog
Here’s a collection of storyboard sketches and creature designs in the first featurette in the lineup. Ploog’s work speaks for itself, but it’s cool to be able basically look at the film as a comic book (a number of The Thing comics have been printed, and most are pretty damn good) as opposed to a movie. If you can’t make it through a day without doodling, this one’s for you.
Back Into the Cold
Alright, confession time: I’m a sucker for location visits. I don’t need to tell you how stoked I was to see that an entire featurette would be focused on filming locations. That said, I wasn’t overly impressed by the narration.
You win some, you lose some.
This will be a guaranteed win for all parties. Outtakes and heavily adjusted scenes are basically new old material for those who haven’t sought some of this out. Plenty of wicked footage here, justifying a fair portion of the price tag, in my humble opinion.
The throwback shorts designed to promote and appease – ah hell, there’re no two ways to put it: these old school videos rock the rock! There’s some material here that I’ve never seen, but some of it is familiar. Whether you’ve seen it or not, it’s still drenched in nostalgic endearment. You’ve got to see these videos to really appreciate them, and you will appreciate them.
Vintage Product Reel
If this product reel went out to Universal execs to keep hot heads calm, and keep belief a part of their system, it’s no wonder the production didn’t fold into itself as a direct product of studio pressures. No, this one came alive and breathed, then roared ferociously. I’m sure whoever saw this product reel could sense something special.
Vintage Behind the Scenes Footage
A rather self explanatory blend of footage, this is more for the hardcore than the casual. A bit of the footage tends to feel rather uninspired, but that’s not a recurring thing so much as a “here and there” kind of issue. Again, if you’re really, really a film freak, look into it, as there is some quality to absorb. If you’re not a super fan, you wont miss too much if you opt to give it a pass. I enjoyed it, but I’ve also made it known I’m an Incradork when it comes to The Thing.
Annotated Production Archive
A final series of images comes accompanied by some facts that most casuals probably aren’t familiar with. The production isn’t seamlessly assembled, and the injection of facts, from a visual standpoint, feels a little crude. This featurette could have been improved upon by implementing a pop up format for the facts, but there are still enough slick tales and unseen images to comfortably carry viewers through the extensive gallery.
If you’ve read this much of the article you’re likely anticipating a not-too-distant wrap on the rise, but you’ll be waiting for a while – this package is the package that keeps on giving.
The next series of bonuses is a wonder to behold. The truth is there’s still an array of extras to comb through, including what I’ve been looking most forward to, the television broadcast version of the film, something I missed, as I was only a year or so old when this beauty screened for home viewers who’d chosen to pass on the theatrical release (The Thing was – surprisingly – a commercial failure, coming up short with audiences until the movie landed on VHS, where things picked up and a genuine cult following began to grow).
Network TV Broadcast Version
Don’t even pretend you’re not at least a little curious to know what fans got to see on the boob tube back in the early ’80s. Censorship was quite different 30-plus years ago, so they had to make some serious trims in order to air this film, right?
There are some very noticeable differences between this film and the film that landed in theaters. A fair chunk of the opening act is cutaway and we get some narration to help introduce us to the characters, seeing as the character introductions are so truncated. It feels as though we’re just a blink of the eye in when MacReady and Copper hit the Norwegian base camp. And from here it’s really off and running.
Unfortunately anyone who saw this version of the flick prior to seeing the theatrical rendition probably didn’t invest too much in The Thing, in fact, they may have never returned to this chilly world, at all.
Nearly all of Rob Bottin’s stunning special effects work is done away with. We don’t get to see a fraction of what helped make this movie so special. One of the byproducts of these cuts is a disjointed story. Some relevant details are axed because they’re disclosed in the middle of gore-soaked scenes. It all makes for a strange viewing experience, to say the least.
As things heat up at base camp viewers finally get a glimpse of glorious special effects during the big Palmer scene, which is cut up, but not entirely. We get most of the final reveal, which was a good call, but the scene still pales in comparison to moments like the dog kennel shot, or Copper’s demise, two of the more gruesome moments in the movie, both of which failed to make it into the nationally televised version of the feature.
All in all, it’s nice to watch this version, which hasn’t seen a hint of restoration, lending it a very throwback feel. It could even be likened to tossing a first press copy of the film into the old tape player. But beyond nostalgia, it’s a little disappointing to see so much hard work completely omitted from the flick.
John Carpenter’s The Thing: Terror Takes Shape
This is a feature length documentary that was released as a bonus on one of the earlier DVD releases of the movie. Just about every significant player in the production is on hand to talk about the movie, and it’s damn gratifying. This documentary alone is worth zoning out to on a Saturday night. It’s familiar, but including it was a good call, because it holds up today.
The Making of a Chilling Tale
Here we have a brief vintage featurette. The back track features some animated narration and we do get a few quality interview clips that feature the likes of John Carpenter and leading man, Kurt Russell. The featurette boasts more gore than the television version of the movie, but it’s limited in valuable content. It’s worth a watch all the same.
The Making of The Thing
This is yet another throwback featurette. Running roughly nine minutes in length, we get some very cool info from the participants but ultimately, this is little more than a stretched out rendition of the featurette we just covered.
And finally, we reach the close of this incredible release. As far as The Thing goes, we’ve never seen a release so comprehensive. There are a few things that somehow managed to slip through the cracks, including some stop-motion footage (we see most of it) that I didn’t spot and a few alternate scenes that seemed to get by the guys at Scream Factory, but that’s tolerable. This is still a stuffed bird begging to be devoured, and you can bet your house you’ll cherish every savory taste!