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20.7.15

WRITTEN REVIEW: The Thing: Terror Takes Shape

By LEE RUSSELL
I sometimes feel that when a documentary is filmed with the intention of being a featurette on a special edition DVD they fail to be be recognized as being proper documentaries, and perhaps don't end up being remembered like whatever new cheapo doc about zombies that pops up on Netflix every month. That's a shame, as John Carpenter's The Thing: Terror Takes Shape is nicely put together piece of work that alone would have justified the slightly higher price for the special edition DVD of John Carpenter's The Thing back in 1998, but it just happens to be the crown jewel on an already ridiculously loaded single-disc release. This doc can also be found on the Blu-ray from 2008.

I'm sure even relative newbies to this collective film obsession we share know that, like most of his films from this period, John Carpenter's remake of the 1951 classic -- and closer to the actual text of the 1938 John W. Campbell story Who Goes There? -- was not a massive commercial success. It was only later, on home video, that it gained its status as a classic sci-fi horror film, and finally got the respect it deserved.

Terror Takes Shape shows us just why this film was so good. The blood, sweat and tears that went into the creation of the stand-out practical effects; the harsh shooting conditions; and the typical stresses, strains and conflicts during the creative process are laid out in detail for us from many of the principal players behind the scenes.

Split into segments, the doc covers The Thing title sequence and the simple process that was used in order to mimic the title from the original film; the building of the flying saucer and how that effect was done; the concepts for the various Thing transformations; and the background on why famed composer Ennio Morricone's score sounded somewhat atypical of his general style, and much more like Carpenter's. There's also a nice bit on Albert Whitlock's wonderful matte paintings, which helped sweeten the visuals in the film, and heightened the cosmic horror atmosphere to a degree. All of these segments, while somewhat brief, are highly interesting and informative.

One of the stand-out interviewees on this doc is from effects man Rob Bottin, who is quite engaging as he talks about his work on the film, which was what really put him on the map and got him tons of work afterwards (and his Oscar nomination for his work on Legend). He explains how he worked seven days a week for a year and five weeks, rarely sleeping. Often over his head, some of his effects were trial-and-error situations that halted filming when they went wrong, prompting Carpenter to give him grief on-set. Eventually his dedication put him in the hospital by the end of production, but did give us some wonderful moments, which will forever be on the minds of the fans of this film.


The film was ill-fated at the time, mostly due to marketing blunders. Nobody wanted to see a gory, vicious, creepy alien after seeing E.T. cute-up the big screen with his glowing finger and flying bike nonsense. It did make a modest profit, but as already stated, it was the home video market that finally exposed this film to a larger audience.

If there's any let down, it's that not much is mentioned about the alternate happy-ending of the film, and very few of the all-male cast is back to give their recollections of their time on the film. As nice as it is to have Kurt Russell here, I'd have liked to have other key players like Wilford Brimley and Keith David, considering the central parts they play in the film. Still, one of the key aspects of the film is its special effects, and the fact that they have so many people from the production side of the film on-board here is enough to satisfy most fans.

TERROR TAKES SHAPE

★ ★ ★ ★


Written by Lee Russell from They Must Be Destroyed on Sight!
Lee is a man of style, a man of science, a man about town and also the host of the They Must Be Destroyed on Sight! movie podcast. Taking a closer look at the films you may have forgotten -- from blood-n-guts horror to '80s sex comedies. Check out They Must Be Destroyed on Sight!

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