Welcome to the Last Movie Outpost Behind the Scenes column. We hope to cover the most interesting and timeless movies with some pics and factoids you might already know, but if you don’t, even better! Feel free to recommend or contribute images or articles in the comments below.
“First Goddamn Week Of Winter”
Director John Carpenter identified The Thing as the first film in what he calls his “Apocalypse Trilogy,” Prince Of Darkness and Into The Mouth Of Madness complete the set. This was the director’s first big studio film, about which he said –
“The most incredible part of making a studio film was the amount of professionalism you could put into a scene. To do the blood test, acting, costumes, special effects—it would be very difficult without the studio and (their) team.”
The film is based on John W. Campbell, Jr.’s short story, Who Goes There?. A controversial editor (Astounding Science Fiction) and writer (The Incredible Planet), Campbell is credited with having shaped modern science fiction and Isaac Asimov called Campbell –
“The most powerful force in science fiction ever…”
Who Goes There? had previously been adapted to film (by Howard Hawks) in 1951 as The Thing from Another World; Carpenter’s film is more faithful to the novella.
Legendary makeup and effects artist Stan Winston (Alien, Jurassic Park) had a hand in the movie. Winston was brought on board late in production after original makeup artist Rob Bottin had to be hospitalized due to the stress of the project. That’s why Winston receives a “thank you” mention in the end credits.
While he’s worked with Carpenter many times over the years, Kurt Russell wasn’t the first choice to play MacReady. Both Jeff Bridges and Nick Nolte turned down the role. Several actors were also considered for the part of Childs, including Isaac Hayes and Carl Weathers.
Carpenter and Russell began working on The Thing immediately following Escape From New York, this was their third film together (including the television movie, Elvis) and the pair continued collaborating with Big Trouble In Little China and Escape From L.A..
Of Carpenter, Russell has said –
”I feel like I have a smarter, older brother in John.”
Carpenter on Russell –
“Friendship aside and aside from the fact he’s so damned agreeable, he’s trained—the kind of training a lot of actors never get. To him, being in front of a camera is second nature. Instinctively, he knows where the camera is and how to play to it. Directors love actors like that.”
“You Gotta Be Fucking kidding!”
Though it’s never mentioned in the film, Carpenter and Russell worked out a back-story for the MacReady character. They envisioned MacReady as a disaffected, alcoholic Vietnam vet/chopper pilot, who is reluctant to be thrust back into a leadership role.
If MacReady’s shocked reaction after throwing a stick of dynamite seems surprisingly authentic, it’s because Russell wasn’t actually acting. He misjudged the strength of the blast after throwing the dynamite and was knocked backwards. Carpenter elected to use that take in the final film.
There is some conversation about how hot the flares were and how much Carpenter and Russell burned themselves with them. In the scene where MacReady threatens the camp with dynamite and a flare, he rushed through his dialogue in order to get it all in before the 90-second flare ran out.
The shot of MacReady walking to the small hole in the ice where the alien was buried was filmed on the Universal backlot. The snow, helicopter, and alien ship in the background, basically all of the surroundings, were painted.
This was the first time Carpenter had actors using a real flamethrower; they had two on set. Keith David ran in with it, the set was put on fire and then the fire put out. One day after shooting a scene with the flamethrower, Russell pulled a practical joke on Carpenter by covering his face and head with bandages and claiming he had gotten burned.
In the film, T.K. Carter’s Nauls mysteriously vanishes during the climax and is never heard from again. Alan Dean Foster’s novelization explains that disappearance, as it includes a scene from an earlier screenplay draft where Nauls is cornered by the alien and kills himself rather than be assimilated.
“You Guys Think I’M Crazy! Well, That’s Fine!”
Wilford Brimley, being a real cowboy, didn’t have any issues handling some of the disgusting props used in the dissection sequences. When Carpenter asked him what he thought of in the more intense scenes, Brimley would reply –
“I’m picking up my laundry.”.
Fifty people operated the Blair monster at the end.
Carpenter cut production costs by using the same set for both the US and Norwegian camps in the film. The Norwegian scenes were filmed after the set was destroyed for the big finale sequence.
The computer sequence showing how the alien takes over its prey was designed by John Wash, a friend of Carpenter’s from USC, who also designed the opening computer graphics in Escape from New York. During an early test screening, someone made a note that those type of graphics and the program didn’t exist at the time. Likewise, Carpenter and Russell remember playing a lot of Pong on set.
Part of the fear instilled into The Thing came from the AIDs epidemic that was making itself known at the time of filming. The idea that you couldn’t tell who was infected just by looking at them, only blood tests would reveal it, was not lost on Carpenter.
Editor Todd Ramsay was concerned that audiences might react poorly to the film’s dark, ambiguous ending, so he and Carpenter filmed an alternate ending where MacReady is rescued and a blood test confirms his humanity. However, Carpenter elected to leave that scene out of all test screenings, and to this day the alternate ending has yet to be released. Aside from toning down the violence and language, this version also adds voiceover narration and a new ending, where the Thing again transforms into a dog and escapes the ruins of the camp.
The Thing hit theaters the exact same day as Blade Runner. Interestingly, both films suffered similar fates, receiving middling reviews and doing poorly at the box office. Eventually, they attracted massive followings on home video and became modern classics. Both these films were released a fortnight after the release of E.T. which Carpenter feels was a big aspect to The Thing not doing well at the box office.
There were many discussions on set about whether someone would know if they were the Thing or not. An agreement was made that if the Thing is a perfect imitation, whoever was taken over would still believe they were human, not an alien.
Carpenter always likened the end of The Thing to a World War II film where a crew is set on a suicide mission they have to fulfil even though they know they won’t survive it.
Prior to the release of the 2011 prequel, there were multiple attempts at green-lighting a sequel to the original film. The Sci-Fi Channel announced a TV mini-series continuation in 2003, though it apparently never got past the writing stage and was quietly forgotten.
Carpenter himself revealed his ideas for a sequel in a 2004 interview with Empire Magazine. He envisioned The Thing 2 picking up right where the original left off, with MacReady and Childs struggling to survive the deadly Antarctic climate until a rescue team arrived. Carpenter even planned on having Russell and David reprise their roles, with frostbite injuries being used to disguise their older ages.
DISCLAIMER: We try our best to attribute images, videos, and quotes to their creators and original sources. If you see something on Last Movie Outpost that’s incorrect, please contact us.