The Thing - Limited Edition Review
Due to the elaborate nature of the Disc Review I’ve decided to copy the following film review from Eamonn McCusker’s 2008 DVD Review:
In 1982, the pilot of a helicopter chases a husky across the snow of Antartica, his colleague shooting at it. The farther they are from their own camp, the closer they get to an American research station, one that is staffed by a group of out of shape scientists, most of whom gather outside to find out what all the commotion is about. When the helicopter lands, a stray grenade destroys the helicopter and kills the pilot while, as the dog runs amongst the men for protection, the shooter clips Bennings with a shot from his rifle. Seeing this man fire at Bennings, Garry (Peter Maloney) breaks the glass through which he's watching events and shoots him dead with his own pistol. Not knowing what to do with the husky, the camp vet puts it with the rest of the dogs while the others drag the body of the shooter inside, wondering what it might have been that sent him on this killing spree.
John Carpenter's decision to make The Thing doesn't seem that surprising when one looks back over his previous films. There is The Thing from Another World playing on the television as part of an all-night-long series of horror movies in Halloween. Carpenter had also talked of seeing the film in his youth and the impact that it made on him but while his love of the film is clear, it's not a straight remake. Going back to the original Joseph Campbell short story Who Goes There?, scriptwriter Bill Lancaster made his creature Campbell's shape-changer, a world away from the Hawks and Nyby 'intellectual carrot' of The Thing From Another World. How this creature propagates itself is very different from the gently pulsating little aliens neatly arranged in rows in the doctor's laboratory.
This made for some visceral horror, perhaps the thing for which The Thing is most famous. Its standout scene comes as MacReady comes under suspicion. As he defends himself from those who would have left him out in the snow, Norris (Charles Hallahan) appears to suffer a heart attack from which Copper attempts to revive him. As Copper goes to place defibrillation paddles on Norris's chest, it opens to reveal a mouth full of sharp, jagged teeth, which bite off Copper's arms. Norris's head then detaches itself, grows legs and scuttles away. "You gotta be fuckin' kiddin'!" is what Palmer (David Clennon) has to say on seeing it and there were probably many in the audience who shared his sentiment. There are many more examples, not least when Palmer's head splits open and chews Windows ( Thomas G. Waites) before MacReady sets fire to him. The gore does indeed come thick and fast and while the models may have aged somewhat, the body horror more than stands up even now.
However, the biggest change comes in the difference in tone between this film and the Hawks and Nyby Thing From Another World. In that, the armed forces are entirely confident in each plan that is proposed and go about it with a sense of purpose that is alien to the likes of MacReady. They even do so with a sense of humour, joking, before the film's showdown with the creature, that if it can read minds, "He's gonna be mad when he gets to me!" In The Thing, no one is entirely sure what's happening. MacReady attacks the creature with a flamethrower without ever being sure if fire will actually prove fatal to it. A perfect example comes with another standout scene, one that also highlights just how tense The Thing is. Thinking that perhaps any part of the creature is as alive as the whole, MacReady takes a blood sample from each of the survivors and tests it by placing a heated wire onto it. When the creature does eventually burst out - its blood springs to life to give the audience a good jump - it finds Childs (Keith David), Garry, and Nauls (TK Carter) conveniently tied to their chairs.
But where The Thing From Another World ended with a warning - "Watch the skies!" - this has nothing like as much optimism. The Thing is downbeat, saying that humanity is unprepared when it comes to as ferocious a threat as this one. Carpenter didn't, however, blame The Thing's box office failure on that as much as a film out of place and time. With all the world celebrating a friendly alien (E.T.), Carpenter's alien sprouted tentacles, showed a lot of teeth and sprayed dogs with a purple goo. It could take any form it wanted and, in the one time it's actually caught, makes an unearthly howl. As Carpenter says in his commentary, it was a prescient film in that with HIV hitting the headlines, there was a disease, like The Thing, where you couldn't tell who was infected and who was not. Read into it what you will but The Thing has both tension and horror to spare. It is superbly made, looks great and is the best film John Carpenter made. This set of seven of his films would have been incomplete without it.
As per their usual model for high-interest “cult” films, Arrow Video have chosen to go with the Limited and Standard Edition method of release for The Thing, but where matters get confusing is that they chose to split the “Limited Edition” into two separate releases: One comes in a ultra-hard and durable Digibox that contains the disc in a standard Amaray case with reversible cover (so you can have your traditional Drew Struzan cover or the Arrow cover that features a new poster created by Gary Pullin) and a number of printed treats, like a fancy selection of lobby cards, a reversible poster, and a nice thick paperback booklet featuring two new essays on the film (and when I say thick, the pages are like card).
The first essay is about the standard length of your average internet article and is entitled Some Thing Wicked This Way Comes... by Film Comment writer Violet Lucca. The second essay is a much longer affair entitled In Defense of John Carpenter's The Thing by film expert/author/director Kevin Alexander Boon. The Steelbook however is all about the metal packaging and contains only a thin leaflet offering notes on the disc, 4K restoration details, and the shorter essay from Violet Lucca. Mr. Boon’s extensive essay is not printed in the Steelbook leaflet. Here’s what the two separate Limited Editions look like:
Both LE releases were limited to 6,000 copies (Digibox) and 4,000 copies (Steelbook) respectively. Why Arrow couldn’t simply place the Steelbook inside the Digibox with the booklet and printed materials and just release one Limited Edition with a 10,000 number run at a slightly higher price point to accommodate the extra manufacturing cost of producing ten thousand Steelbooks and Digiboxes, I do not know.
If either of the above releases look really tempting to you, there’s one snag: Officially released on Monday October 23rd, both editions swiftly sold out in a matter of days when Arrow and various other etailers started listing them a few months back. So as of now they are officially OOP but you can no doubt still find price-inflated scalper listings on ebay and the likes, should the cost of obtaining one of these “things” be of no issue. Alternatively you can keep checking on amazon, HMV, and zavvi in the hopes of any stray relistings of new copies due to last-minute consumer pre-order cancellations and late returns, although this late in the game it’s probably a wild goose chase.
There is some good news: The Standard Edition has an official release date of 20th November 2017 and a lower RRP of £14.99, and it contains the exact same disc as the Limited Editions! Yes, that’s right, the only exclusive elements of the Limited Editions are the snazzy packaging and the printed materials, the disc and its contents are the same whatever release you buy. Hoorah! To common sense, and commiserations to the scalpers dreaming of immediately selling their LE copies for triple-figure, cash sums. I guess they’ll just have to wait a little longer for the LE prices to sky rocket.
Other good news is that apparently Sainsbury's have struck an exclusive deal with Arrow to release the Standard Edition a month early and are currently stocking the Standard Edition in supermarkets across the country right now! Apparently their list price is £14.99 but there have been reports that some stores have been listing it on shelves at £12.99 and they’re honouring that pricepoint at the tills, so if you’ve got a hankering for a thing this Halloween, check your nearest Sainsbury’s.
One final note: The Standard Edition uses the same artwork as the Digibox Limited Edition (Gary Pullin’s design of Outpost 31 framed in an anorak), but this time I think they’re using just a slipcover with the Amaray (with reversible sleeve) underneath, so you might find that confusing when placing orders online because the Digibox LE listing and the Standard Edition listing look the same on a number of sites. If it’s £14.99 and in stock, it’s the Standard Edition you’re ordering!
The Thing has a somewhat rocky history when it comes to high definition presentations, having first been released on HD-DVD by Universal in 2006 featuring a solid transfer that was praised at the time for providing a relatively film-like, natural presentation that only had minor signs of obtrusive digital processing. Two years later Universal brought this presentation across to Blu-ray and apparently decided that grain was the devil and proceeded to nuke the transfer with Digital Noise Reduction so egregious, it practically erased all traces of film grain from the image - along with many other objects in the frame that were small enough to fool the software. Ping pong balls disappeared into nothing, snowflakes erased from history, sparks from flares magically vanish in mid-air, lots of fun stuff like that going on. For many years after the death of HD-DVD this was the only home video release of The Thing in HD you could buy, making a newly-restored Special Edition of The Thing one of the holy grails of cult Blu-ray fandom.
In 2016 Shout Factory in the US answered that call, releasing a Collector’s Edition that boasted a “New 2K scan of the interpositive supervised by Director of Photography Dean Cundey” as its primary selling point (on top of a mountain of extras). This new restoration proved popular, but a little divisive in that it was only a 2K scan from an interpositive when most fans considered The Thing to be worthy of nothing less than a 4K Original Camera Negative restoration. On top of that there were signs of digital processing in the form of sharpening and Digital Noise Reduction, which is never a welcome combination. The primary source of contention, however, proved to be the new colour scheme: It was viewed as a considerably “cooler” look that had a somewhat violet push to the film’s final act.
So along comes Arrow in 2017 with an announcement that they’re tackling The Thing with that magic statement fans had been waiting for, for almost a decade now: “Brand new 4K restoration from the original negative, supervised and approved by John Carpenter and director of photography Dean Cundey”.
How does it look? In a word: Fantastic! Finally we have a presentation of The Thing that actually looks like you’re peering at a negative that’s gone through final colour grading. The grain is pretty much omnipresent and it gives the film a lovely authentic texture that immediately places it as a production from the 1980s. It just has that slightly soft, diffuse, noisy as hell look that fans of uncompromisingly “hands-off” presentations have come to appreciate. Arrow’s 4K isn’t afraid to look considerably softer than the Shout Factory release and indeed the softness will probably be something of a shock when checking comparison grabs, but when viewing the film in motion it looks vibrant and detailed and just comes alive in a way the older, more artificial releases do not.
I must admit to being a little surprised that a 4K scan from the OCN didn’t yield more of a detail boost over the heavily DNR’d Universal release, but I guess if the extra detail isn’t there it simply isn’t there. Check out comparison grab number nine in this review and look at the rear cover of Windows’s book. You can make out the print on it much more clearly in the Arrow grab compared to the Universal, which is proof that on top of all the grainy texture you’re gaining in the Arrow (which is detail in and of itself), you’re also seeing a modest boost in high frequency detail in places. On top of this, the Universal release wasn’t just DNR’d it was also artificially sharpened: Check out comparison number seven and look at those white halos running down those poles for clear indications of sharpening, and considering there’s sharpening and yet the Universal looks no “sharper” than the Arrow, it’s fair to say the newer release has the edge in terms of “raw” detail.
The Shout Factory release may be from a better, newer scan than the Universal, but is still has egregious signs of far too much artificial sharpening going on. Again comparison seven exhibits extreme halos both on the outside and inside of edges: Lighter on the outside, darker on the inside is the story of edges on the Shout Factory release, the darker haloing a tell-tale sign of a particularly insidious form of Edge Enhancement that many regular viewers don’t pick up on. Sure it can fool the uninitiated into seeing a much sharper image, but you end up with anomalies like the hair on the lens in grab seven, which has been picked out and “enhanced” by the two forms of sharpening to make it stand out very clearly and also appear thicker. The Arrow in comparison looks completely natural, what armchair reviewers like myself like to say is “filmlike”. As a projection owner viewing on a 109” screen I can’t tell you that ultra-sharpness is overrated when it comes in the form of digital processing, natural and soft will always look significantly more real and authentic at twenty-four frames per second.
Paint It Black
A few weeks before the release was due to hit the market Arrow’s head of restoration, James White, posted an illuminating article on the new 4K restoration of The Thing. In it he points out that “Details previously lost in the dark areas and the highlights are now distinct.”, which he certainly wasn’t joking about; the new Arrow transfer is considerably brighter than previous releases, offering far more shadow detail than I think anyone expected. That outpost pool and poker downtime going on in comparison ten shows just how gloomy the cinematography looks at times on the Shout Factory and especially the Universal release, plus all that grain is there in the Arrow as opposed to being lost in a pool of black on previous releases.
The drawback of this extra brightness is that often contrast isn’t as punchy as people will like, we’re already seeing complaints online from consumers that the blacks are too thin and sequences like the opening and closing credits have people pointing out that a traditional film credit sequences is white text on black background, yet the black background looks faded (especially in the lower third of the image) and the white text occasionally blooms between words. There’s a rational logic to that which is hard argue with, only to point out that while the Shout Factory and Universal release have deep, inky blacks, they also have clear signs of being too dark and too contrasting at times, leading to blatant clipping. In the first comparison grabs you can see the spacebound opening of the film, and you can see that space isn’t quite so black on the Arrow, but then you can also see a hell of a lot more stars in the Arrow as well. The universal for instance has just swallowed over half the stars into the void of space.
Outside of credit sequences it’s a lot harder to gauge whether a scene is too bright or whether it’s just the contrast being more reined in and expressing the true nature of the cinematography, so here the brighter look definitely starts to exhibit more strengths than weaknesses - Yes the blacks often seem a little thin on the Arrow in night-time shots and other murky moments, but often the contrast lower contrast is extremely expressive. As the video deck article mentioned, highlights now have a thorough consistency throughout; if you look at the snow plough’s headlights in comparison sixteen you can see the circles of the bulbs and all that wonderful lens flare, whereas in the Shout Factory and the Universal the clipping and blooming is so extreme that the plough appears to have developed an Anne Robinson wink. The Universal transfer is just blown to hell in this scene.
This doesn’t mean that the Arrow release completely lacks contrast though, in fact some scenes are actually more contrasting on the Arrow and you can see true black and even less shadow detail in them (although this is the exception to the general rule). When Macready is heating up that wire in comparison twenty-one it’s the Arrow that has the deepest blacks and “whitest” whites of the three. In comparison three both the Arrow and the Universal have a little less dynamic range than the Shout and details of the dog’s coat congeal into an indistinct dark clump. The Shout wins the battle of contrast and detail in that particular shot, but that shot only lasts five seconds and the rest of that entire opening dog chase looks pretty much like you see in comparison two.
“A little bit of thinness” is a common characteristic of in-house Arrow restorations, they’re not afraid to let the black levels stray a little, almost as if Arrow restorationer-in-chief James White is deciding that not every dark scene requires inky blacks and every light source searing light, just tone it down and coax out the detail. It can be a tricky path to tread given that increasing contrast can make the colours of an image “pop” more and lowering a contrast too much washes them out, but I think you can hardly accuse this Arrow transfer of being washed out when looking at the colours. It’s gloriously colourful.
Colour from a Thousand Worlds
One of the greatest sources of debate about The Thing in the digital arena has been about what colour scheme should it really exhibit? See, the Shout Factory release boasts of Dean Cundey’s supervision without ever really detailing the extent to which that supervision was given, and it has a considerably different scheme to the Universal release. The general opinion was that the Universal transfer was “too pinkish” and that the Shout was “more violet”, with many preferring the cooler hues that the Shout Factory seemed to give the film. The Universal was viewed as “warm” whereas the Shout was considered suitably “cold”.
Generally speaking, the Arrow tends to fall between the two versions, providing a scheme that in my opinion is the best of both worlds. The outdoor daytime snowy sequences are colder and “bluer” in tone on the Arrow presentation than they have ever been, leaning towards a bluish-violet hue you can see pretty blatantly in all the snowy comparison grabs. Interiors, however, are more neutral and noticeably more colourful. Skintones in particular feel more natural on the Arrow in comparison to the more saturated, pinkish tones of the Universal. Some feel the Arrow’s skintones look too orange, but I just don’t see that at all. Much of the difference is down to the transfer simply being brighter, making skin look a little lighter.
The colour palette in general on this new 4K restoration is wonderfully expressive - considerably more so than any home video release to date. One of my biggest gripes with the Shout Factory transfer was how desaturated it could look at times, almost as if the grading was choking the colour out of the film. Comparison eight has long been a bugbear of mine when it comes to the Shout release, that dusky shot of the helicopter is just so drab and grey on the Shout compared to the Arrow where the colours of the individual objects in frame are no longer washed out: The helicopter is still greenish-brown, Macready’s leather jacket is still brown, Norris’s anorak still has that tan look; also look at comparison twelve to see how deeply saturated the Arrow can appear. Rob Bottin’s effects work has never looked so richly saturated and that bloody red goo covering the dog thing is really striking. Again just look at how colourful Blair’s tool shed/makeshift cell looks on the Arrow, those colours just scream out “1980s cinematography” to me whereas the Shout grab just looks dingy in comparison.
For most of the film the Arrow, Shout and Universal are kind of playing in the same ballpark in terms of colour scheme: snow has cool tones, the sky is blue, the night is black and illuminated by deep dark blue lighting, but for some reason all that changes about twenty minutes from the end when the closing act of the story creeps into view. This is when the Shout really earns its reputation for being the “violet” presentation of The Thing. The Arrow restoration has mostly re-instated the look of the Universal release, meaning salmon tones for the flare illumination and a closing sequence awash with orange lighting that presumably should be representing the glow of nearby firelight. The Shout shifts this dramatically to a strong violet glow permeating flares that colours the surrounding environment purple, and it almost completely neutralises any orange tones in the finale.
This last point for my money is a pretty big deal. Check out comparisons twenty-two through to twenty-five and just ponder how Dean Cundey could have possibly supervised both the Arrow and the Shout restorations for a second. My gut tells me that something might have gone wrong with the Shout transfer in the final act and the 4K Arrow has finally redressed the (colour) balance. Usually I don’t advise people to check out set photos as a reference to how a finished film should look, but if you check out the photos of the outpost basement set in the Production Archive on this disc you can clearly see that orange lighting was used extensively on that set, so why would they then neutralise said lighting in the final grading like it appears on the Shout restoration?
Anomalies have plagued previous releases of The Thing precisely because of bad processing practices, dust/debris/damage removal algorithms are often an important tool in the battle to revitalise and restore an old, worn print or negative, but too often we see the horrible results of studios slathering on extra layers of DNR in a misguided attempt to micro-manage any form of noise and grain. I’ve already touched upon the completely egregious use of DNR on the Universal release, but comparison grabs six and twenty demonstrate that the Shout Factory also suffers from the excessive application of digital scrubbing.
That elusive ping pong ball never returned in the Shout and sparks falling from flares end up being unceremoniously scraped away throughout the entire film, and yet despite this there’s still considerably more print damage, flecks, dust, pops, etc on both the print-sourced Universal and Shout releases. The 4K Arrow restoration is the first digital release of The Thing that finally exhibits no overt signs of sharpening or noise reduction, and it has only fleeting, minimal instances of damage, debris, stains and the likes popping into frame. I guess, to paraphrase the film itself, it’s an almost perfect imitation of the original film elements. But is it truly a perfect transfer? Well, there are some anomalies that have to be brought up and questioned.
First is some odd blue-violet colouration going on in the optical shots and one regular shot. The spaceship crash-landing at the start is noticeably more violet-tinged than before (it’s also got new details we’ve not seen before, like a forcefield type effect enveloping the ship!) and a few minutes later the close-up of the Outpost 31 sign has a bit of a blue tinge to it that’s turned the writing blue (see comparison five). The writing’s never appeared blue before and when we revisit the sign a few minutes later in a wide shot the sign and the writing no longer has the blue tinge. Later still when the men go to examine the crash site it almost appears like a little bit of funky violet bleeding into their clothing is going on (see comparison fifteen). Perhaps my eyes are tricking me because of the general blue-violet hue we see in the snowscapes, though. Either way it’s not necessarily wrong, just different to what we’ve seen before.
Second is one specific shot that in places is weirdly tinged in yellow, which you can see in comparison four. Not quite sure what’s going on there but it could be a weird quirk of the cinematography or the negative that was fixed on the other releases (although you can see a little bit of it in the Universal grab). Luckily this is a true one-shot deal that I can’t recall occurring at any other point in the film.
Third and finally is the framing and geometry of the image; the general gist of the new framing is that the Arrow release has a little more image on the left and a little less image on the right. Occasionally it has fractionally more image top and/or bottom too, but I can’t deny that there are times when the Arrow feels just a tiny bit pinched on the right. Comparison fifteen for my money is better framed on both the Universal and the Shout because the far right of that spaceship painting is not cropped away like it is on the Arrow. In comparison eighteen the Shout and particularly the Universal look nicely centred, whereas on the Arrow the men are a little off-centre. In general the compositions are shifted over to the right on the Arrow, not by any huge amount, but enough to make a difference – and conversely I have to point out it occasionally does make the framing look a little tidier (comparison seventeen). Also, the Arrow finally fixes the infamous gaffe of a crouching crew member’s hair creeping into the bottom of the frame during the final frames of the shot of the Outpost 31 sign. Universal zoomed-in this shot to “fix” the issue but the Shout retained the wider framing, hair and all. Either Arrow digitally removed the hair or the softer image means it’s not so noticeable because the Arrow maintains the wider framing without that hair!
The geometry is probably the strangest of all and hardest to put a finger on because it seems that all three releases of The Thing have just fractionally, fractionally different geometry. If we take the Universal release as the “baseline” the Shout Factory image appears a little squished in so everything is “thinner” on the Shout, whereas the Arrow transfer looks a little stretched out so everything is “fatter”. I can’t really say which is accurate, other than my gut feeling again telling me that the Shout is definitely a little too thin (some round objects in the back of shots, like a clock or a dartboard, appear a little oval at times). Could the Arrow be off? Possibly, but it’s hard to say, this is simply the consequence of different groups of people working from different sources on a film that was shot anamorphically to begin with (so the image is stretched vertically on the negative). The only thing we can do is refer back to James White’s Arrow Video Deck article: They [Carpenter and Cundey] also went through the entire film to assign final 2.35:1 framing to every shot. Sometimes this allowed for a sliver more image area than on previous video editions, one of the luxuries of having the unmasked negative to work from.
Who can argue with that?
A Word on Compression
I believe there’s approximately 5hrs 15mins of Hi-Def and 84mins of Standard-Def video material on this disc, and by that I do mean literally everything: Feature film, documentaries, featurettes, archive sceenshots, and art galleries. The feature presentation itself has an average video bitrate of 29.96Mbps and I cannot recall seeing a single compression artifact during regular viewing or during the prolonged screenshot taking process I conducted for the purposes of this review. That’s a pretty damn impressive feat of disc mastering when you think about it, so a special shout out is deserved for David Mackenzie and his ongoing sterling work for both Arrow and numerous other boutique labels.
Garbled Alien Screaming
As with the Shout Factory edition we have three audio options all sourced from NBC Universal, in the same order as they’re presented on the disc they all present the original English audio in LPCM Stereo 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio 4.1, and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes. Now, the two really important options here are the 2.0 and 4.1 mixes because they represent the original Dolby Stereo mix shown in 35mm screenings and the 6-track Dolby Stereo mix found on the 70mm screenings of the film.
Yes, you read that right folks: Dolby Stereo, not mono as Arrow erroneously stated in their original press release and what has unfortunately been reproduced in a number of online reviews since. The Thing has always been a stereo film and it is presented as such on this disc, and just to speak in a general sense here (lumping all three tracks together), what a wonderfully expressive stereo soundstage it is, offering layers upon layers of subtle sound design from surprising locations when you sit and really examine it closely. Obviously a lot of the credit for that goes to the film’s phenomenal sound design, but without a crystal-clear presentation nuances can be lost and here it feels like you’re missing nothing, clarity in general is just exceptional with dialogue sounding quite often like it was recorded a couple of years back not thirty-five years ago, although the occasional tearing during elevated exchanges does occur to remind us this is an old classic after all.
Both the lossless 2.0 and 5.1 presentations sound remarkably similar if you chose to put the former into Surround mode so that you get a full Front-Right-Centre-Surround mix, that’s because bass reproduction on the 2.0 is pretty strong. As a side note: On the Shout Factory release they sort of botched the 2.0 stereo track by forgetting to include surround encoding, so even if you put your receiver into Surround mode you were still stuck with a front stereo soundstage, and the old Universal release didn’t bother with stereo at all so this is a little mini-scoop for Arrow in that for the first time in HD they’re providing a full lossless 2.0 stereo presentation of the film. Anyway, rear action in Surround mode on the 2.0 and obviously as standard on the 5.1 is also very expressive (although even on the 5.1 its effectively just a mono surround) and doesn’t lack for vitality and volume during action sequences.
Ok, so why do we need a 4.1 track? Well as I mentioned before The Thing originally played in 70mm with the format’s exclusive 6-track Dolby Stereo audio, which basically meant Front-Right-Centre and mono Surrounds for this movie, so 4.1 is going to replicate that experience. The 4.1 track on here is in truth only marginally different to the other presentations - it’s undoubtedly louder and a little bit brighter, and the surround channel is to my ears just a little higher in the mix perhaps in comparison to the 2.0 & 5.1. This makes for a slightly more aggressive presentation, but one that at times is a little more expressive than the other tracks. I guess you could say the 2.0 and 5.1 offer a slightly more balanced, warm presentation of the film whereas the 4.1 is just a tiny bit more in-your-face and alive. In terms of condition the 4.1 can also occasionally be a little rougher, for instance during the opening scene when the alien spaceship flies into view with a very loud wooosh from the rears, it comes with a very loud crackle on the 4.1 that isn’t there on the other tracks.
Another anomaly affecting all three tracks that betrays the film’s age is a little bit of hiss now and then, which obviously is to be expected from a film this old, but there is one scene approximately 70mins into the film when Childs is waiting by a door for people to come back from Macready’s shack when roughly fifteen seconds of very loud hiss kicks in. This appears to be down to the source materials because it’s there on every audio track of every release of The Thing that I checked - and while we’re mentioning the other releases I would argue that there is negligible (if any) difference in quality between the audio tracks on the Shout Factory and the Arrow releases (despite the former’s audio tracks having higher bitrates). The only real thing that separates the two is the correct surround separation on the Arrow’s 2.0 track.
The 4K restoration from the OCN is the real prize of this release, but Arrow have also compiled a relatively small yet compelling list of extra features, comprising of an all-new commentary and a number of high quality, lengthy, documentaries and featurettes. The extras exclusive to the Arrow release are printed in red font, regular black font applies to pre-existing extra materials that Arrow are porting over in this release.
I’ll start off with the extras that wouldn’t be classed as featurettes or documentaries:
Audio Commentary with John Carpenter and Kurt Russell
First recorded back in ye olde days of LaserDisc, this commentary track has been a “Thing” mainstay on home video ever since, chiefly because it’s a bloody excellent recording that provides an entertaining and fully comprehensive encapsulation of the film’s production. Carpenter does most of the heavy lifting here, providing a constant stream of information on how each scene was filmed while Kurt Russell offers his usual laid-back, sunny disposition as support, providing amusing nostalgic asides.
If you’ve owned The Thing on home video any time in the last twenty years and more you’ve probably already experienced this classic commentary, but if you are familiar with it and you have never owned the film on Blu-ray before, you might just notice that it’s missing a few lines that were once there in its LD and DVD days. That’s because someone at Universal came along around ten years ago and decided there were one or two comments made by the duo that might be confusing or cause offence, so they censored a handful of lines.
What could they have said that was so shocking? Absolutely nothing, at one point Carpenter jokes that “T.K. (Carter) was constantly worried that all of us were gonna be racists... He was very, very worried about it!” and at another point when Carpenter is revealing that in some shots you can spot a makeshift, fake arm they had to create for Keith David because he’d broken his hand in a car accident, Kurt chimes in with "As I remember... The only car he had driven prior to that one was a stolen car in New York City”. A couple more lines are gone: One simply reveals that they are recording a LaserDisc commentary and the other is just an offhand gag about set smoke and the “politically correct” way to describe it. It appears that simply using the term “politically correct” was enough to get it deleted. Inflammatory stuff.
Obviously none of these changes are Arrow’s fault, this revised and censored audio commentary first appeared on the original Universal BD and features on both the Shout Factory and now this Arrow release. I only know of the four lines that were censored so it’s just not a big deal by any stretch of the imagination, just a damn shame that some undoubtedly white, lily livered jobsworth at Universal Pictures feels that Carpenter and Russell were making any kind of off-colour remarks about friends and colleagues, or that any viewer of The Thing would be sensitive enough to take offence at a white actor revealing that a black co-star once stole a car in his misbegotten youth.
Audio Commentary with Mike White, Patrick Bromley and El Goro
If you’re not a fan of film podcasts these three names might not mean an awful lot to you! Mike White is mostly known as the creator of The Projection Booth, which is one of the most popular cult film podcasts on the net. El Goro runs the Talk Without Rhythm podcast, and Patrick Bromley is responsible for another popular podcast called F This Movie! Between them you’re looking at about 25yrs podcast experience covering god knows how many hours of film chatter, so what these guys know to do is analyse the crap out of cult cinema, and in this commentary track they all come together to analyse the crap out of John Carpenter’s The Thing.
If the Russell/Carpenter track offers comprehensive information and insight into how the film was made, this does the same thing for the film itself, picking apart the vast majority of the themes, motifs and a little of the background behind the picture. I’ve got to say it’s a pretty entertaining track with three good-humoured fellows who love and know an awful lot about the film coming together to enlighten and inform on all the different levels on which the film works.
Another old rollover from previous home video releases, this archive compiles some reasonably extensive notes on the film’s production and presents them alongside a really great collection of photos from all aspects of the production (from location scouting to building the outpost out in Stewert and waiting for it to get snowed in, to numerous behind-the-scenes photos from the actual shoot itself), together with story boards, a few snippets of the film script, and a few photos showing how the film was promoted and premiered.
All the text is presented as screenshots which you navigate through by pressing chapter forward or back, and of course this is a pretty old archive now so don’t expect pristine 1080p photos, this is all standard-def upscale territory. The latter half of this archive however features a few brief videos: There are two sections on how the iconic optical and animated effects were produced (complete with original FX video footage that in particular gives you some really cool shots of the “final” monster), and an Outtakes section where you can find 4mins:08s of deleted scenes, presented in 4:3 (oh and your player isn’t malfunctioning if you discover the audio takes a few seconds to kick in for that first deleted scene! Seems to be a quirk of the feature).
One interesting thing to note is that in the Outtakes section you can see a photograph from a scene that is mentioned briefly in some of the documentaries and featurettes on this disc: That of an ultimately scrapped alternative death for Fuchs where his body is found impaled on a door, but the notes that accompany this photo wrongly attribute it to the sequence when Macready and Copper explore the Norwegian Outpost!
Who Goes There? In Search of The Thing [77m:47s] [2.35:1, 1080p/23.976fps/AVC, Eng DD2.0]
I guess you could say this is the jewel in the crown of the exclusive extra features Arrow have commissioned for this release, given that it’s a newly-produced feature length documentary on the making of The Thing. It has a fine line to tread because there’s already a pretty comprehensive feature length documentary on the making of the film out there called The Thing: Terror Takes Shape that was made in 1998, so to cover the same topic and provide a fresh perspective must have been a challenge in and of itself, but producers Ballyhoo Motion Pictures have done a pretty great job of it.
Unlike in the Terror Takes Shape documentary this assembles a pretty large group of film historians to provide a really great overview of how the original John W. Campbell novella came to be and how that subsequently came to be The Thing from Another World, then they discuss the making of the original film adaptation and how it influenced John Carpenter and evolved into The Thing. After that we get into the making of The Thing itself, assembling members of the cast and crew who for the most part weren’t involved in the Terror Takes Shape documentary to discuss their experiences. I guess you could say that if Terror Takes Shape focuses primarily on John Carpenter and Rob Bottin’s experiences of making the film, this focuses on co-producer Stuart Cohen’s story, so you get a good alternative perspective. There’s also some new insights into the post production process and just overall it’s a very slickly produced and entertaining documentary.
1982: One Amazing Summer [27m:20s] [2.35:1, 1080p/23.976fps/AVC, Eng DD2.0]
Another Ballyhoo production, this featurette takes a look at the cinematic schedule of the summer of ’82, when seemingly classic after classic was released back-to-back and even the films that weren’t that great went on to develop something of a cult following decades later for their schlocky appeal. This is basically just a fun nostalgic roll-call piece that might surprise you in revealing how many great films were competing against the juggernaut that was E.T. that summer. It also offers some insight into why The Thing and Blade Runner might have bombed so miserably that year when they were released into theatres on the same weekend.
John Carpenter’s The Thing: Terror Takes Shape [84m:00s] [4:3, NTSC, 480i/29.970fps/AVC, Eng DD2.0]
And so we get to the classic 1998 Making Of documentary that has been a home video mainstay ever since it was produced, so much like the Carpenter/Russell commentary, you probably know and love this documentary if you’ve owned the movie in some format in the last two decades. It’s feature length and in terms of just giving an overview of the entire production it has yet to be bettered because it focuses mostly on that one subject and goes into tremendous depth. John Carpenter, Kurt Russell, Bill Lancaster, John Lloyd, Todd Ramsay, Rob Bottin, and many more major players in the making of the film all chime in with illuminating recollections. If it hadn’t been linked to releases of The Thing for soooo long now it would be the standout extra feature on this disc.
One thing worth bringing up is that for some inexplicable reason Shout Factory decided to play around with the gamma of this documentary when they included it in their Collector’s Edition, boosting the blacks to the point where massive amount of clipping occurred and completely ruined the look of all the great video and photo footage. Arrow have not done any of that on this release, it’s presented in its full, uninterrupted, uncut 84min form and it looks pretty much exactly the same as it does on the Universal BD.
NoThing Left Unsaid: Texas Frightmare Panel [55m:08s] [2.35:1, 1080p/23.976fps/AVC, Eng DD2.0]
On 6th May 2017 the Texas Frightmare Weekend assembled a panel consisting of DoP Dean Cundey and actors Thomas Waites, Keith David, and Wilford Brimley, moderated by horror journalist/producer Ryan Turek. Running 55mins long this is a wildly entertaining Q&A session that owes a lot to the natural comic timing of straight-shooting Wilford Brimley, proving that 83yrs might have taking a toll on his body but his mind is still fully intact. Anyway with Keith David, Cundey and Waites also on the panel there’s no lack of great anecdotes on the film and most of the questions seem pretty well judged and the whole thing is just so good-natured that the runtime flies by. The audio quality on some of the dialogue can be a bit iffy though, as it seems the makers didn’t quite get all the coverage they needed on the main microphones so had to switch to a pretty unclear ancillary mic from time to time. Doesn’t happen often though.
The Thing: 27,000 Hours [06m:01s] [2.35:1, 1080p/23.976fps/AVC, Eng DD2.0]
Five short films were commissioned for the 2011 London FrightFest to pay homage to filmmaker John Carpenter... and then he couldn’t appear at the event! The original idea was for five filmmakers to each produce a short that each pay homage to one of five classic Carpenter films, and The Thing: 27,000 Hours was obviously the one paying homage to The Thing. Arrow have snagged it for this release and even brought in director Sean Hogan (accompanied by Arrow Video Podcast hosts Dan Martin and Sam Ashurst) to record a commentary for the film.
To discuss the plot would pretty much completely spoil the film, but the concept is basically that it’s a sequel set 27,000hrs after the original movie, offering a theoretical scenario where the creature has taken over much of the world and recently decimated a British army barracks. It’s essentially a recreation of the film’s iconic “blood test” scene with a bit of a twist that doesn’t really follow the logic of the original film, and in that capacity it’s fairly interesting but ultimately too short to make much of an impression. The commentary track obviously struggles to offer too much insight into the film in just six minutes, but they do their best.
I guess this is the home video version of the original trailer given that it’s presented in 4:3. Not really much more to say about this, it’s a trailer and we’ve seen it on previous releases.
Fans of The Thing:
Three featurettes focussing on fanbase-orientated material are granted their own little sub-section in the Extra Features section of this release:
Outpost #31 - History & Impact of the Fans [15m:42s] [2.35:1, 1080p/23.976fps/AVC, Eng DD2.0]
Shot in St. Petersburg, Florida in 2017 this is an interview with Todd Cameron, who runs probably the most popular fansite for The Thing on the internet, called Outpost #31. Todd explains his history with the film and how it eventually led to him setting up the site and running a number of fan events over the years. He also describes his 2003 trip to the filming location in Stewart, British Columbia, complete with photos of the journey that are pretty cool to see, but unless you’re a member of the site I can’t see this featurette being of any great interest, and if you go to the site you can see all the photos we see here anyway.
”We’ve Found Something in the Ice” - A Fan’s Journey [05m:38s] [2.35:1, 1080p/23.976fps/AVC, Eng DD2.0]
Another fan interview, this time with Peter Abbot, who inspired by Todd’s own 2003 adventure decided to make the trip to Stewart in 2016 in the hopes of uncovering the shooting location and unearthing some mementos. Again more photos and a reasonably engaging story of a fan adventure that ultimately paid off with a fully autographed, mangled chunk from the rotor of the Norwegian helicopter that was blown up at the start of the film. Once again, said photos can be seen over on the Outpost #31 site.
The Thing Tribute Artwork by Danny Wagner
Mr. Wagner has a seriously impressive C.V. as a professional special effects artist working at the likes of ILM and Kerner Optical and he’s also fully licensed fanatic of The Thing who likes nothing better in his spare time than to create awesome sculptures inspired from the film. This photo gallery shows off his work, from incredibly accurate reproductions of the face-split and “final”-monster creatures to a rather unique fan convention costume that comprised of a mask of the face-split head and a gloved reproduction of the dog monster. Interesting photos!
Limited Edition Exclusives
As already mentioned, the disc is the same on both the Limited Edition and the Standard Edition so the only extra features exclusive to the Limited Edition are the following essays:
Some Thing Wicked This Way Comes... by Violet Lucca
Around three pages long, as I said at the start of the disc review this is essentially just a well written, standard review of The Thing that’s most insightful in its analysis of the Lovecraftian elements of the film. This essay is present in both Limited Editions.
In Defense of John Carpenter's The Thing by Kevin Alexander Boon
A reprint of a 1999 Creative Screenwriting article, this is a very extensive essay that effectively acts as an extremely detailed rebuttal of the widespread criticism the film received upon its release. It’s a little heavy on the philosophy (plenty of Nietzsche quotes) but otherwise a great examination of the movie and how it differs from the John Campbell novella and Howard Hawks’s original, mostly by focusing on the psychology of the character of MacReady. The final paragraph perfectly encapsulates why I feel the film both bombed commercially and became a classic on home video later on.
In terms of feature film presentation this is hands-down the most definitive release of John Carpenter’s The Thing to date, offering a truly stunning 4K restoration from the OCN that finally consigns all prior, heavily processed releases to the past where they belong. As a Standard Edition release that’s widely available for £14.99 it’s also an absolutely phenomenal package offering hours of exclusive extra material alongside that magnificent presentation. Technically it’s hard to find fault in the overall package from a SE release viewpoint, but as a Limited Edition release, with mostly cosmetic bonuses on offer over the SE, the hardcore fan in me can’t help being just a little bit disappointed that Arrow didn’t decide to push the boat out and the whole flotilla too...
I mean, this is The Thing! Here in the UK it’s been widely reappraised as one of the great classics of Science Fiction Horror, and it’s about as mainstream as anything Arrow have ever released. It is, in essence, a license to print money, yet right from the start Arrow seemed to completely underestimate both demand and what the fans would be willing to pay for a completely definitive edition of the film (as seen when their original consignment of 8,000 copies proved woefully inadequate), so they seemed to hold back, offering only a single disc edition of extra features, some of which are ultimately frivolous (the Fans of the Thing section is mostly material you can view online, I would have much preferred they were dropped in favour of boosting the runtime of the Ballyhoo documentaries).
I certainly can’t argue with the competitive pricepoint for the LE, but when you look at the plethora of special features that came with the 2-disc Shout Factory Collector’s Edition, I’ve got to wonder why Arrow didn’t put more money into their project to deliver a similarly expansive Limited Edition exclusive for the hardcore fanbase. Even at a £40 pricepoint this film would have sold out in weeks at the very most, it’s that big a classic in the UK. Of course with bigger properties from big studios come bigger costs: bigger costs to access film materials, bigger costs towards the famous names who made the film, and I’m also assuming bigger licensing costs, etc. and Arrow are not as big an outfit as Shout Factory when all is said and done, so perhaps I’m just being too hard on them on this point. What we’ve got is great. It truly is... and everyone involved in the production of this disc should be very proud of what they’ve accomplished. I guess the hardcore, ever-hungry fan in me wishes this was hands down the most immense single-film, Limited Edition set Arrow had ever put out to match the status of the film itself, rather than one that seems a little light on the extras compared to other amazing Limited Editions they’ve put out before. I guess the most important point is that the 4K restoration is stunning, and most of extra material Arrow commissioned is really great too!