Horror-meister John Carpenter (Halloween, Escape from New York) teams Kurt Russell's outstanding performance with incredible visuals to build this chilling version of the classic The Thing. In the winter of 1982, a twelve-man research team at a remote Antarctic research station discovers an alien buried in the snow for over 100,000 years. Once unfrozen, the form-changing alien wreaks havoc, creates terror and becomes one of them.
It took several decades, but John Carpenter's 'The Thing' has finally established itself as a horror/sci-fi classic, and perhaps...just perhaps...the best movie the acclaimed director ever helmed. It has had a number of quality home video releases over the years, but this new Shout Factory Blu-ray set manages to stake claim as the definitive home video version of the film. It has a great new transfer, a new audio track, and enough bonus features to keep you occupied should you ever find yourself stranded in the Antarctic.
First though, a short recap for the uninitiated. The movie is set at an American research center in Antarctica, where 12 men are manning a research station (What are they researching? Doesn't matter!). The movie opens with a Norwegian helicopter approaching the station and one of its passengers leaning out the side of the chopper taking shots at one of the station's sled dogs. The helicopter lands and the stranger continues to try and shoot the dog, but one of the station's men kills the man first. Why was he taking shots at the canine? The Americans decide to send a few of their personnel to the Norwegians' station to investigate.
The investigation team is led by R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell), who is sort of the leading man of this movie's ensemble for no other reason than – hey – he's played by Kurt Freakin' Russell! The Norwegian camp has been burned to the grown, with everyone seemingly dead – including the frozen corpse of a man who appears to have slashed his own wrists. MacReady and the men around him soon learn that they are dealing with an extraterrestrial being...and one that can take the shape of any animal form around it, including human.
It goes without saying that the alien being starts going after the humans at the Americans' base, and the remainder of the movie focuses on the distrust between all the men there...wondering who might have been taken over already and who might be next. 'The Thing' also concludes (or better yet, doesn't conclude) with a great ambigious ending that probably ruined its chances of making in a box office sucess in 1982, yet cemented its destiny to become a classic in the sci-fi/horror genre.
Of course, what makes 'The Thing' so entertaining to watch, isn't so much its sci-fi scenario or even the fact that the movie revels in a bit of blood and gore – which was considered pushing the limits of taste back in 1982, but frankly seems on the tame side by today's movie standards. No, the real reason 'The Thing' has stood the test of time is because of its psychological drama and because the movie smartly cast really good actors across the board, rather than focusing on only hiring good actors for the larger roles. It's a movie that knows characterization is the key to engaging storytelling...something you'd think the powers-that-be in Hollywood would eventually figure out, but they're just as clueless now as they were back in the 1980s as to what makes a movie 'work'.
Chances are if you're reading this review, I'm essentially preaching to the choir. You already know how good 'The Thing' is and just want to know if this Collector's Edition is worth investing in. Rest assured it is. Not only is it easily the best home video release this movie has gotten to date, it's a strong contender for the best Blu-ray release of the year. Don't be paranoid...trust me on this one.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout Factory's Collector's Edition of 'The Thing' emerges on Blu-ray in a standard Elite keepcase, which houses two 50GB discs. The flip side of the keepcase's slick seen from inside the box features the original theatrical artwork, while the front of the keepcase's slick as well as the slipcover that slides overtop features new artwork by Paul Shipper. There are no front-loaded trailers on either disc, with the main menu of the movie disc featuring a montage of footage from the movie in the middle of the screen, bordered on all sides by Shipper's artwork. Menu selections run horizontally along the bottom of the screen. The bonus disc is designed a little differently, with a white background and a trio of sections (one on the left, one on the right, and one on the bottom) for the listed bonus features. These overall sections are labeled 'Interviews', 'Featurettes', and 'More of The Thing').
The Blu-rays in this release are Region A locked.
'The Thing' was shot on 35mm film and is presented here in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The big news with this Collector's Edition release is that we're getting a brand-new transfer of the movie, taken from a 2K interpositive scan, and overseen and approved by the movie's Director of Photography, Dean Cundey.
There's little doubt that this new transfer is more detailed and film-like than the previous Blu-ray version (released in 2008, although it also appeared on the 2006 HD-DVD). There's more grain evident here, details (especially facial details) are more defined, and things that looked scrubbed over or softened by over-DNR use on the prior transfer don't suffer the same fate here. While a nice dose of grain is visible throughout the movie (giving it a film appearance that the prior Blu-ray version, frankly, was lacking), noise and/or any dirt on the print is less of an issue – and while there are a few specs here and there, any major instances have been removed. More importantly, black levels – quite important for a movie such as 'The Thing' – are excellent throughout.
There is, however, one potentially controversial point about this transfer that will be up for debate. The new transfer has changed the color timing of the prior home video releases, giving 'The Thing' a more bluish hue throughout. It's less obvious in some shots than in others (an indication that this restoration was a careful shot-by-shot upgrade, rather than someone just applying the look to every scene in the film), but in some scenes the difference is striking. While I'm personally of the opinion that 'The Thing' actually looks better with this new color timing, I realize others may insist that the movie should have keep the same timing that was used for prior versions – although whether that timing actually reflected the original theatrical presentation or was just a timing that was selected for home video is also a question up for debate. While I've been upset about other titles getting their color timing changed for no good reason (see the controversial changing of The French Connection, which then got changed back in a subsequent release), the new color timing actually seems to work for 'The Thing', given its stark, desolate winter setting.
The featured audio here actually isn't the 5.1 lossless track (carried over from the prior Universal release), but rather a brand-new 4.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, which was mixed using the original 70mm six track Dolby Stereo soundtrack. The new mix sounds great, with crisp dialogue (so crisp that it's unfortunately evident where ADR use comes into play), some fun noises involving the alien creature, and a nice rendering of composer Ennio Morricone's score. Everything is wonderfully clear, without a hint of muddiness to it.
Note: There were apparently a couple of instances in the 4.1 track that were out of sync with the movie. I have to confess that not being a die-hard watcher of 'The Thing' (this review was probably only the fifth or sixth time I've seen the film over the past 30-plus years), I would have never caught them if others hadn't pointed out exactly where they occurred. However, potential buyers NEED NOT WORRY about this glitch. Shout Factory has delayed the release of the Blu-ray in order to correct the issue, so ALL retail copies of 'The Thing' will be free of this problem. So if you read about these sync issues elsewhere, don't let that stop you from ordering a copy...your version won't have them!
In addition to the new 4.1 lossless track, the previous 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is also included, as well as a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track. Subtitles are available in English SDH only.
With a great new transfer and more bonus materials (many of them brand-new) than you can fire a blowtorch at, this isn't just a great new release of 'The Thing', it's pretty much the definitive home video release of the movie – sure to keep fans entertained for hours upon end. This is one of the best Blu-ray releases of 2016, and it's a must-own for any serious movie collector.