The Thing Blu-ray Review
PictureJohn Carpenter's films have always had a distinctive and often impressive look that home presentation has either embraced or botched. Halloween has looked abysmal on video and disc, but now looks utterly amazing. Escape From New York, however, has been mucked-about with on its hi-def debut in the UK, as has The Fog. But despite its earlier non-anamorphic presentation on SD, The Thing has always looked very good indeed, really reflecting the style and viewer-immersion that Carpenter likes to suffuse his movies with. He attains a highly polished sheen that really sets them apart, maximising on crisp photography, eye-embracing colour schemes and smooth, high quality film stock. As I said, The Thing has always had a terrific transfer, even back in its original pan-and-scan VHS days. But in HD and now BD (which sports the same VC-1 transfer) the film yields up yet more treasures with the added sharpness, clarity and higher resolution that the 1080p transfer supplies. Immediate observations reveal the finite powder of the surface snow in the foreground, a tremendous sense of depth to the distant ridges and mountains and an altogether truer and more realistic placement of objects at the far off regions of the image. And this accuracy of objects, people and other things within the frame extends to the interiors as well, as the higher level of definition delivers darker corners and a far more accomplished 3D spatial quality that places you deeper into the film. The rooms and corridors within the base feel bigger and much more realistically “connected” to one another, the geography of the setting adding a wholly convincing new dimension. The contrast is impeccably well held too, and this is certainly a film in which this vital element is thoroughly tested. Whites are stark and crystal clear, the ice plateaus painting the image without a hint of haziness, tracing or unintentional glare, and the transitions from harsh white exteriors to subdued and gloomy interiors is always effortlessly maintained. Blacks are impenetrably deep - check out Clarke's encounter with the dog-thing, or the creepy rummage through the Norwegian camp. But the shadow-play is marvellously convincing and atmospheric whenever called into play and the Generator Room finale is a veritable haunted house. Blue is a colour that is frequently used - outside lighting on the buildings, flares, the ice-crisp skies and the frozen quality of the setting - and it literally soothes the screen with a cool indifference to the horrors it surrounds. And, thankfully, with all this white and blue vista-setting, there is no hint of banding.
The entire colour spectrum is fully utilised - this is not merely a film of snow and shadow - and is embraced by this high definition transfer. Wind-burned skin has a realistic pink glow, the multi-hued incarnations of the Thing glisten and gleam with icky-sticky organic vitality - from ghastly greens and livid reds and purples to putrid browns and yellows - and the clothing on each character reveals fresher tones than on any previous release. Flames from the numerous explosions and many instances of Thing-torching are splendidly rendered and fires blaze with an authenticity that heats up the image.
But it is in the detail offered that the higher resolution proves its worth. The Thing is a film that I have seen almost as many times as Gladiator or Jaws, but it is only since the movie arrived in 1080p that I have noticed visual titbits such as the dying fire smouldering beneath the floor of the Norwegian camp and seen flickering through holes in the wreckage behind MacReady and Copper, or the reflections seen on Mac's snow-goggles. Background equipment, such as monitors, scopes and readouts are heralded with a clearer presence and add much more information around the screen. As with all Carpenter's films, The Thing has plenty of visual interest dotted around its sets. But check out the patterns in the ice adorned walls, or the man-made horizon of distant shacks, flags, guide-ropes and radio antennas to see the extent of the heightened definition. This sharpened image also reveals just how awful the Pac-Man style graphics on Blair's primitive computer really are. And, if you're totally anal about the film (like me), you can even read the reports lying in his drawer when he fishes out his revolver. Hint - you'll have to cock your head to the left! And, for follicle-fans everywhere, there is always the pin-sharp realisation of the copious facial foliage that these intrepid ice-loving dudes sport.
The three-dimensionality that marks out the best transfers is also apparent, though with settings such as this - figures against endless white backgrounds, interesting action in the external mid-ground (helicopter-milling and movement between buildings or Thing-burning) - and Cundey's depth of field during tracking shots down corridors and around corners, it would be difficult not to attain such visual realism with a transfer as good as this.
But, inevitably, there are a few slight niggles. In occasional shots a background character may lose a little definition - those crouching outside the dog kennels on the upper right, for instance, or Bennings when he informs Mac that it is “looking pretty nasty out ... 45 knots.” But these examples where also apparent on the HD disc. So, whilst this BD transfer does not alter, improve upon or detract from the previous HD edition, it retains all that made it a thing of eerie, otherworldly beauty.
Having seen so many HDs and BDs since watching The Thing's 1080p debut for the first time - good, bad and combinations of the two - I'm tempted to raise its score by a mark, but, all things considered, I think we'll keep it at a very strong 8 out of 10. Though, personally, just between you and me, it could well be an unofficial 9!
SoundWell, the good news here is that Universal have now opted for a lossless audio track to complement the movie. Brightened, emboldened and boosted, The Thing's DTS-MA 5.1 is definitely a step up from the previous DD Plus 5.1 that adorned the HD edition. The clarity may not be any better - the DD+ was fine in that respect - but the power and steerage seems sharper, more precise and the is just, well, livelier than ever before.
The Thing's already very atmospheric mix is now enhanced. Its impeccable steerage, use of ambience and strong delivery of Morricone's hypnotic score are splendidly realised from the start. The Norwegian helicopter rotors its way across your living room, the insistent heartbeat of the score pounds away and the gunfire and explosion of the introduction sound terrifically bombastic. The DTS-MA provides a deeper, more resonant foundation for the explosion and the sense of space is wider and more naturally filled with activity than previous audio tracks could manage. The sound of snow crunching underfoot and the whistling of bullets through drifts and moving across the soundstage is certainly crisper and more realistic again. Just get a load of that crazed Norwegian taking pot shots as he strides through the stunned Yanks - there's a great bullet zipping from front right to left in there, folks.
Dialogue is always sharp and clear, vividly delivered and supplied with plenty of directional use for the voices. The unearthly shriek of the Thing - as heard with the dog-creature's wail that rouses MacReady, or from Bennings as he squats, alien-armed in the snow, and particularly from the stretching belch as Norris mutates and the Blair-monster's final roar - fills the environment with an eerie, piercing resonance. The flamethrowers sound great, too. Especially cool is the thick whump! whump! of Mac's flamethrower when it malfunctions. And listen out for the realistic rustle of his leather flying jacket during the blood-test. In fact, everything sounds great. Don't get me wrong, though. The Thing was never a movie with a full wraparound sound-design, and what has been created here is hardly comparable with the latest blockbuster in terms of rip-roaring aggression and floor-trembling sub-levels. But the atmosphere created with the aid of this respectful, and intelligently utilised, mix is magnified tenfold. The Antarctic winds really whistle and murmur with a weight and a presence, the ripping open of the floorboards in the generator room have a solid mass and the subtle things like footsteps, sizzling blood in Petri-dishes and the organic popping of Thing-tissue and the slopping of goo are reproduced with distinction. Something I've always noticed with the film - and its BD incarnation is no different - is that there seems to be a curious excess of sound fx whenever Garry's revolver is brought into play. But, as I say, this has always been present and isn't glitch of either DD, DD+ or DTS-MA. Just why does it click so much?
The sound emanating from the ghetto-blaster in Nauls' kitchen is authentically tinny and muted, too, whilst the alarm klaxon is powerfully shrill and galvanising. And what about that stray bullet fired by Blair as he holds the radio room in his maddened grasp - it has a really terrific whhhoooopp! of wild trajectory to it that can't fail to bring a little grin to you face!
An excellent all-round track, folks, that presents a very familiar film with yet more detail and a vitality that makes it even sound fresh. Thus, because this is certainly an improvement over its last audio outing, The Thing's DTS-MA mix has to get a 9 out of 10. Things are looking up!
ExtrasThis is were it all begins to fall apart though, folks.
The Thing's SD and HD incarnations were packed to rafters with good stuff, but for some unknown reason, Universal have elected to ditch a lot of extra features and put out a comparatively sub-par disc with regards to added value.
Thankfully, we still get the great commentary track from John Carpenter and his celluloid alter-ego Kurt Russell. Throughout this, the two have a terrific time shooting the breeze, having a drink or four and reminiscing about the experiences they had in the snow and ice. They had a good laugh on their track for Escape From New York but, in my opinion, this one is much better. Listen out for Kurt Russell when he recaps his attempts to take control of the helicopter for real, and especially when an exploding Thing makes a much bigger bang than he expected and almost blows him off his feet. Infectious fun that puts in the company of two fine old friends who are clearly enjoying watching the movie as much as we are.
The original feature-length, retrospective making-of, Terror Takes Shape, has now been chopped-up and mucked-about with to reform it into the BD edition's PiP facility. What was once an amazing 83.49 minute warts 'n' all doc is now still the best parts of the incredibly frank, humorous and revealing exposé of bringing the ambitious project to life, but the little window of interviews with the cast and crew and behind-the-scenes gubbins is now just like a potted highlights show, with plenty of lulls in-between. So, whilst this is still nice to have - and certainly works well enough - it is not the full picture and fans will ultimately be left wanting. At the time of writing, it seems as though the UK BD release of the film will actually incorporate all of the original selection of fine extras. For a rundown of the full list of what is on offer - and what is obviously missing from this release - please check out the review for the HD edition.
Personally, I think this is a woeful blunder and, naturally, even though I've got more copies of this film than socks (!), if the UK disc is, indeed, better, then I will be getting that as well. And if that's the case, folks, I guess I'll be seeing you all again to discuss The Thing all over again.
VerdictThe Thing is a bone-fide cult classic. Much like its titular creature, the film gets inside you, and slowly takes you over. Its themes of loss of identity and horrendous bodily infection are ever-prevalent and thought-provoking. Carpenter's strong direction is a meticulous and well-honed engine of suspense and his unique ensemble cast have created indelible characters. The Thing is much, much more than a just a sick-bag of disgusting fx - though they are obviously just as memorable - it is a convincing exhibition of distrust and paranoia in an era where those conditions exist on a global scale. Its influence can still be seen rippling throughout the genre. The smart and fun Slither took many gloopy ideas from Carpenter's classic, for example. With the possibility of more Thing-related adventures to come, the future is looking interesting, to say the least. Gloopy ... but interesting.
Universal's disc has AV quality that is utterly fantastic and really gives The Thing the greatest platform with which to showcase its delirious wares. However, its perplexing handling of the once-plentiful and fantastic extras drops the ball completely. Thankfully, the cover art of the BD is a retooling of the original poster and not the woeful videogame image that crept onto releases a few years ago. But the main reason to get your hands on this edition is for the outstanding transfer.
An essential purchase, though, if you are a fan of the movie and want to upgrade to the superior lossless audio track - unless you can wait for the UK disc, which may yet be better again with its all-round package. As it stands, however, The Thing BD is a great demo disc to show what the high definition process can do with older movies.
And one final thing. For further reading, have a look at Anne Billson's excellent study of the film for the BFI Guide.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £17.97
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