Universal defrost The Thing with a gleaming VC-1 encoded 2.40:1 transfer that is frequently gorgeous to behold in terms of the film's immense contrasts. The shadows of the interiors become the creepy answer to those vast white-out plains of Antarctica, offering up stark visual extremes that are handled with absolute and pristine integrity. In short, the image can be breathtakingly rendered, utterly smooth in motion and capped-off with incredible depth during the daylight exterior shots of the pearly-white/blue plateaus of endless ice and snow. The opening view across the vista to that little dot of a distant snowplough, and the travelling shot of the US helicopter blowing ice off a ridge-line are particularly fine examples of this yawning depth of field and vital devotion to scintillating contrast. Yes, it looks that good during these moments that you would suppose that this transfer was absolutely superb right across the board.
However, this is not quite the case. Although digital anomalies are kept to a bare minimum – with only a slight trace of aliasing here and there – I think that some mild DNR that has been applied. Faces may have lots of detail in close-ups, but they have a tendency to become softer and waxier once they move a little further back, and becoming a touch smeared. This shouldn't be a concern for most people, though, as it is only minimal. The picture retains some grain, but it is very slight, giving the impression of the film having been lensed digitally, though this is not the case. Heijningen went anamorphic and traditional, and together with DOP Michel Abramowicz, tried to emulate the look and feel of the what Carpenter and his regular DOP Dean Cundey created back in 1982. We have those vintage lens flares and frames that are frequently packed with the ensemble cast. There are lots of swooping, angel-glide helicopter shots. The camera floats down corridors with spectral ease. Thankfully, the disc captures all of this marvellously without any worrisome edge enhancement, any evidence of banding and without any traces of compression artefacts. Detail is actually very good and the image is certainly crisp enough, though it is never razor-sharp and there is some softness creeping in on occasion. Again, this is the sort of look that anamorphic lenses provide. Thus, the film tends to appear lavishly wide, yet still curiously old fashioned at times. This said, some of the CG elements look even more fake because of the middle-distance softness – which robs them of texture and renders them even more cartoon-like.
This may not be the most colourful of movies but there are no errors with the palette on display. The environment is either dazzling white and blue, or dark and subdued with a hefty dose of earthy hues – lots of browns, greys and greens. But when things, or the Thing go on the offensive, the image gives space to splashes of reds and purples. However, this is not as vibrant or as comic-book livid as Carpenter's film, which really wallowed in all manner of garish goo and gloop. Instead, there is a potentially more “naturalistic” shade to the colours of mutation and mutilation. Skin tones are good, even if the texture can vary under the auspices of the noise reduction. The burning fireballs that liberally decorate the screen are fantastic. No question. Gorgeous orange clouds of fire are spewed all over the place, but within them we get that intense white-hot core, as well as the darker elements that roil and cavort within each conflagration, such as the immolated things themselves. Interestingly, I never noticed at the cinema the little bloody penetrations that the spider-arm makes to one of the Norgies as it clambours up his body towards his face, but there are very apparent here on BD.
All in all, this is a very good image that should please most people. I would say that the slight niggles are pretty much negligible at the end of the day, because the good stuff really does outweigh the bad.
Audio-wise, we are in the land of massively immersive DTS-HD MA 5.1 glory. Although, unlike the image, there is nothing to complain about with this fabulous soundmix.
Clarity is strong and clean. Just listen to the weird warbling cadence of the alien signal. Snowploughs rumble convincingly, skin-shredding sound effects have a supremely icky life of their own, the drill bores through the ice with a painstakingly authentic realism. And all the time, the mix is skilfully steered around the set-up with absolute transparency and superb all-speaker activity.
Bass elements are very satisfying, with lots of depth and gut-rumbling intensity. The sub certainly enjoys the more bombastic side of the story. The snowplough crashing down through the ice at the start has masses of bone-jarring weight, and also fine movement and directionality amidst the rushing cacophony. Machine-junkies can revel in the thundering of the helicopter rotors. Impacts are both wild and creative. We've got the massive eruption of the Thing breaking free from the ice-block. Then there is the explosion of the fuel tank on a dead man's back, the sudden kicking-in of the mighty engines on the spacecraft, and various transforming bodies hurtling through walls or windows. Marco Beltrami's score is aggressively presented, and often features great stingers of its own – and these all come through with considerable power. He uses severely jolting percussive wallops that have a great metallic quality to them – the initial introduction to the spacecraft for instance - and these offer the heart a real lurch.
The scuttling of the spider-arms that skitter and rasp with exquisite staccato beats across the soundscape – scurrying around behind you with complete clarity and seamless movement from channel to channel. Listen to the scattering of debris as the Thing escapes from the ice and takes off through the roof, the entire soundfield pummelled with shards and splinters raining down.
I certainly had no problems at all with the dialogue. Even when things are getting nasty, with lots of screaming and shouting in various languages, bullets and flame-throwers being unleashed and hideous entities roaring and shrieking, the track keeps the verbals clean and clear. Like Carpenter's film, there are lots of scenes of mass arguing, and these remain authentic and natural sounding without degenerating into a sonic mush.
This is a great track, folks, exciting and superbly designed, and it gets a well-earned 9 out of 10.
Don't be fooled by the promise of a U-Control PiP track, folks – because it isn't very good. There are lengthy lulls in its delivery and the snippets, which cover FX, locations, stunts, Norwegian singing and whatnot, are only brief and barely scratch the surface of the production. I found this quite dull and unrewarding.
The Commentary Track from the combined team of director and producer is nice and relaxed and strives to ensure that we understand the loving and nostalgic motivations that they had for making the movie. Interestingly, they admit that Sander was based on Robert Cornthwaite's Dr. Carrington from the Hawks film, and they make reference to the fact that I mentioned about Colin actually looking like the frozen suicide prop from Carpenter's version. They talk about how they fought to match up with the classic from Carpenter, or J.C., as they insist on calling him. We hear lots about the FX and the photography, and plenty about the narrative itself, such as why they removed certain scenes, the various ideas that were originally scripted and the “who's the Thing; suspense and mystery that they tried in inject. Altogether, this is a reasonable chat-track, although there are a few little mistakes that Heijningen makes along the way, which could just be down to both his accent and his evident enthusiasm.
The Thing Evolves is a fourteen minute look at primarily the creation of the prosthetic special effects. In fact, this reveals that a great deal of the Thing-isms are actually tangible creations and not, in fact, as CG dominated as we might think.
Fire & Ice is a four-minute flash-in-the-pan exposé of how to set people and Things on fire and shoot them writhing amidst the flames on camera.
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the extras is contained in the selection of Deleted/Extended Scenes. Here, there is some actually good monster stuff dispersed between the extensions and the understandably trimmed talkie-bits. One sequence in particular should never have been removed and boasts some fine FX and a seriously good burning-man stunt. Another actually shows us how one character deals with the desperate situation and leaves an enigmatic corpse for MacReady and Dr. Copper to find.
This US release also comes with a DVD and a Digital Copy of the movie, plus it has Pocket BLU, BD-Live and D-Box Motion Control.
The more Things change, the more they stay the same.
Matthjs van Heijningen was taking a gamble when he undertook to helm this prequel to such a beloved genre classic as John Carpenter's The Thing. Hostile eyes were just itching for him to fall flat on his face in the snow and ice. To be fair, in many ways, it is one of the most unnecessary additions to filmic folklore that there has been … and yet, I loved almost every minute of it.
Now we discover how those crazy Swedes (“Norwegians, Mac!!!”) came such a serious cropper with a big block of ice … and we get to see lots of nasty alien tentacles and teeth making mincemeat out of them. Cute Mary Elizabeth Winstead and rugged Joel Edgerton do their damnedest to thwart the beast, and it is to writer Eric Heisserer's credit that he worms so much excitement and suspense out of a story that we all know the ending of. Some of the set-pieces are thrilling and the gloopy stuff is suitably barf-inducing, but I have to admit that the CG does rankle quite a bit, and that the final act is a bit of letdown. There is a perplexing lack of imagination when it comes to the physical appearances of the Thing that render it quite a clumsy and all-too obvious, but Heijningen tackles the action with gusto and ensures that there is never a dull moment.
The video transfer is good and solid, with terrific blacks, fantastic contrast and beautiful fire-bug pleasing oranges, ambers and gold for the frequent flame-outs. The audio is a definite delight, boasting some barnstorming moments of detail, directionality and dynamics. Sadly, the extras are only a meagre-to-middling bunch of mainly EPK gubbins. There's a couple of great deleted scenes that I wish had been left in the film, and the commentary is okay, if still very superficial, but the featurettes and the PiP track are largely disappointing. Can you imagine how cool it would have been to have heard Carpenter, Russell and Bottin voicing their opnions on the prequel in an alternate chat-track?
Die hard fans of the original really have nothing to worry about. You simply won't find a bigger devotee of Carpenter's classiest act than me, and I found this prequel to be highly entertaining and a neat addition to a mythos that I've been fascinated by for three decades. I've seen the long-awaited, perhaps even dreaded film a few times now, and I think I've enjoyed it more on each occasion, and its presentation on Blu-ray only adds to this.
Good solid horror, with a fine sense of deja vu.
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