john carpenter’s “the thing” a chat with the director on the 30th anniversary

Dave Struzen’s incredible poster

June the 25th 1982. On this day in history two incredible science fiction films opened at the same time. Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing” Both films were ahead of their time in terms of visual design and creature effects and influenced the way movies looked for decades after.  At the time of their release both pictures did quite poorly at the box office. “ET” had come out two weeks earlier and Spielberg’s masterpiece made the world turn all soft and cuddly in the way audiences viewed Science Fiction and aliens in particular. So these two dark and heavy films chased the good mood crowds away. 30 years later their popularity is without measure and both films stand out as classics. Reviewers and fans alike will say that both movies are the directors crowning achievements. I love both motion pictures immensely, but Carpenter’s version of “The Thing” stands as one of my all time favorite movies. My good buddy Rod Andrewson and I were there on opening night and I don’t really think either of us were prepared to experience what we were about to see. The coming attraction trailer’s we got for this one were very vague and showed nothing from the film. Being huge fans of Hawk’s original, the teaser only showed a block of ice with something moving inside of it followed by text saying, “coming this Summer”. On opening night however terror in movies took on a whole new meaning. Most of my popcorn wound up in the air and on the floor and Rods candy did just about the same. Great times to be sure and we both went out and took back as many friends, (or victims would be a more proper term) as we could for the rest of the summer! hard to believe that all happened 30 years ago…….  Anyways!!!!!!!

If your a regular reader here your very familiar with the name John Carpenter. Johns films and music have always been amongst my favorites, and with today being the 30th Anniversary of “The Thing” I couldn’t think of a better way to remember this film than to have a quick chat with the master himself. John has done a lot of interviews as well as a great commentary on “The Thing” and every time there is a new discussion more interesting behind the scenes information comes out. Working on a location film is a huge undertaking and what you see on film is really the smallest part of the adventure. Watching the movie on screen you can only imagine that making “The Thing” was an incredible challenge on multiple levels. Ask anyone who was a part of this film and they will tell you that the production was hard but the end results were all worth it.

So without any further babble, here is John Carpenter answering a few questions about the making of “The Thing”

JE.    Hi John, Thanks for taking some time today to talk about your film.   I remember watching your first big hit “Halloween” in the 70’s, and in one of the background scenes we see Jamie Lee Curtis watching Howard Hawks “The Thing” on TV. It was obvious then that you were a fan and it was funny to see just a few years later you would be doing your own version. If I could ask how did this come to be. Did you approach Universal about doing the film or did they come to you???

JC.    I was asked to do The Thing, I was a fan but I really didn’t want to remake this movie. It took a while but Universal finally convinced me to sign on. so I agreed and the adventure began.

JE.   I was so glad that you took it on. When the trailers started showing in the theaters I was thrilled to see your name as the director.  A lot of your previous films credited you with conceiving the screenplay. For “The Thing” you were taking on an existing story and I was curious to how much Universal allowed you to contribute.

JC.   Bill Lancaster (the son of Burt Lancaster) and I wrote the story together. We based our version on the Original story “Who Goes there” by John Campbell. We stayed far away from Hawk’s film, and we really wanted to make our own story.

JE.   Well You certainly did!!!  For your Production designer you brought on John L. Lloyd. John has had a fabulous Career working on decades of Classic Television, and more recently some rather extravagant movies. What a treat it must have been to work with him.

JC.   It was!! John was a blast to work with and he was so professional. He solved a lot of problems before they had a chance start.

JE.   That was a brilliant idea to Use the US compound after it was blown up for the Norwegian camp in the opening of the film.

JC.   Yes it worked out great. We shot all the Norwegian exteriors last using the burned out US outpost and saved a lot of money. John (John Lloyd) did a fantastic job utilizing the same location for both sets.

JE.   I became a big fan of Mike Ploog’s art because of “The Thing”  He does some brilliant fantasy work and I love his style of story boarding. How was it having him as a part of your team?

JC.  Boarding the film was a very important factor especially because for the most part we were shooting the movie in order. Mike put together a book logging all of boards, as well as some illustrations of how a lot of the visual gags would work. Mike took on the task and really did a great job with it.

JE.   Up to this point you had composed and performed all of your own scores. I was expecting the same with “The Thing” and was surprised to see Ennio Morricone’s name on the poster.  I never knew the story about this so I was assuming that the scope of the show was huge and you didn’t have time to do it yourself, so you hired Ennio. HAAAA! Is that even close to what really happened?

JC.   No not at all, Universal didn’t want me to score the film,,, They wanted something more for their movie. Ennio was available so we hired him and I couldn’t have asked for more. I was always big fan of his music.

JE.  Ennio’s score defiantly captured your style, were you a part of how the score would be composed?

JC.   Yes, We were able to work together on the score, and mutually came up with how it should sound. Very fun times.

JE.   As far as your cast went you had no leading ladies, is that how it was Campbell’s story?

JC.   yes the all male cast came from Campbell and the actors we chose were all great fun to work with. This was my third picture with Kurt Russell and my first with many of the others.

JE. Will Brimley pulled off quite a performance and he seemed like a fun actor to work with. From watching his other films he seems the same both on and off the camera.

JC.  Brimley is Brimley, He really made his character (Blair) very believable and he was great to work with,, I liked him very much

JE.    He is a good friend of my father in law and he says the same about you!

JE.   This is also your third film using Dean Cundey as your director of photography. You two have had a great working relationship and I was curious to how you two work. I’ve been on sets where the DP not only lights the shot but dictates where the camera positions will be.

JC.  I love working with Dean… No one can light a set like he does and what he did on “The Thing” was just great.  As far as setting up the camera, I don’t let anyone set up my shots for me, Haaa.

JE.  Watching “The Thing ” in Arizona was quite a treat, the theaters were always packed with screaming fans, and the local critics had nothing but praise for the film. This didn’t seem to be the case around the rest of the country. The reviews were harsh to say the least and the box office attendance was not what Universal was hoping for… You put a lot of yourself into your work so all of this had to have hit pretty hard.

JC.   Yes it did… Critics are critics and they really didn’t like the film. “The Thing” was supposed to come out before “ET” but Universal changed the order of release so our movie came out a few weeks later.  Audiences now wanted nice alien movies and I feel this really pulled the film down. What hurt me the most though was that the fans didn’t like it! They bashed it severely and I couldn’t understand why. This all really effected me.

JE.   I can’t even imagine how hard those times must have been. You really do put a lot into what you do and I can’t believe that it was attacked so… Looking back on the film at the time of it’s release. regardless of how it was received, you as a film director have to be very proud of what you and your team put together.

JC.  In perspective I am very proud of “The Thing”. It all came together and I was very happy with film.

JE.  It must be rewarding to see how popular the movie has become today.

JC.   I am, it took a long time for the audience to come around and it seems to have  a cult following.

JE.   Well John Thank you so much for taking the time to reminisce  about”The Thing” and I am so glad we had a chance to catch up a bit. Take care and talk to you again soon.

JC.   My pleasure.

In case you haven’t seen “The thing” yet here is a brief synopsis of the film and some images to wet your appetite.

It’s the winter of 1982 and a huge Antarctic snow storm is about to hit.   Scientists at small American research base are stunned when a Norwegian helicopter begins to circle their camp, chasing and firing at a dog. When the helicopter is destroyed and the two passengers are killed, the dog is let into the base and roams free while the American’s try to figure out what has just happened. The American crew discover that their is a Norwegian base not too far from their own. So a the doctor and the US Helicopter pilot travel to the  Norwegian base to see if their are any survivors. On arrival, they find that the place has been totally destroyed from the inside out. The two discover and large block of ice in one of the rooms that at one time had something frozen in it. Further exploration finds a frozen mans body in one of the burned out rooms He had committed suicide with a strait razor. On departure they make one more grizzly find. It’s of the mangled remains of what was at one time a person. They bring back the remains for further study and what the team discovers from the autopsies and by watching the Norwegians tapes leaves them all feeling that they are in horrible danger. As the clues are beginning to add up; the dog transforms into a horrible into a creature that attacks the other dogs in the kennel as well as the scientific team.. Fire seems to be the best weapon and the charred remains open up a box of more questions with very little answers. A new tweam is assembled and off again they fly back to the Norwegian camp and  on this trip they discover the remains of a giant flying saucer frozen in the ice as well as the spot where the block of ice was cut from. They come to a terrible conclusion that they are dealing with an alien life form that has the power to transform and take the appearance of any living creature that it comes in close contact with. And man is the warmest place to hide. Paranoia sets in as the crew doesn’t know who the thing could be hiding in.  Havoc ensues and one by one the the crew is lost as the Thing tries to survive. As the team’s #’s dwindle they discover that the creature has been building a spaceship under the ice using parts from their tractors and helicopter. The decision is made that the whole camp has to go at any cost before the thing can escape, or freeze again only to awakened when the rescue team comes in spring. Lots of story twists bring this horrifying to an open ended final and you are left wanting more.

Carpenter and his team really made one wicked tale with “The Thing” and Johns talent’s as a director shined oh so brightly !!!!  His story took us on a two hour adventure, deep  into a frozen world where fear, claustrophobia and paranoia are the emotional fuels that make this film so utterly horrifying.

Happy 30th John and to your amazing movie as well.

100,000 years ago, a disable flying saucer enters the earth’s atmosphere.

The title was shot the same way as it was in the 1951 version of the film.

The Norwegians hunting the dog.

the block of ice

a gruesome discovery.

Chaos in the kennel

More clues and not many answers

The discovery, this is one of Albert Whitlock’s matte paintings

The truth is revealed and the entire population of the world is threatened if this Thing makes back to civilization.

The first of the human victoms.

Fire is the only solution.

A moment of hope.

Turns into a moment of unholy horror.

Rob Bottin at his best.

More of Bottin’s work

And one more!!!!

The blood test

The death of Window’s

The creature has been making a flying saucer under the ice

The destruction of the camp

the last survivors

the last survivors

the end

15 Responses to “john carpenter’s “the thing” a chat with the director on the 30th anniversary”

  1. June 26, 2012 at 1:36 am

    John how could you do that?
    Just as I was getting into the artical, there are those dreaded words from end of season on TV “To Be Contiued.”

    You already got your hooks into us with the Blog. 😉
    I look forward to reading the rest of the intreview, when you get the chance to post it up.

    • 2 johneaves
      June 26, 2012 at 9:53 am

      HAAA! It was to late to continue… It’s all up know for you so come on back.

      • July 4, 2012 at 4:25 am

        LOL, no worries.
        I know that your a busy man. Thanks for that, it was an intresting read.
        Will you be doing more interviews in the future, on different films?

  2. 4 Tallguy
    June 26, 2012 at 9:40 am

    No Phoenix stories this time! I didn’t see The Thing in the theaters as I was a tender 13 and didn’t see R rated flicks (not even with Harrison Ford – so no Blade Runner either).

    I DID see it on cable a year later. It was awesome. But more to the point I don’t think I’ve ever MET anyone who didn’t like this movie. Then or now. Unless you just can’t stand horror or sci-fi — in which case why are you watching The Thing?

    I sat down to watch the movie on DVD about ten years ago. I hadn’t seen it in twenty years and hadn’t seen it start to finish ever. I wasn’t sure what I’d think of it when it wasn’t “what I wasn’t supposed to be watching”.

    It was awesome.

    My favorite — Ok, SECOND favorite Carpenter film. (Big Trouble in Little China rules.)

    • 5 johneaves
      June 26, 2012 at 9:55 am

      HAAA! I couldn’t make it work in the story, but I did see this one at the Town and Country, both the metro center theaters, Christown, and once in Scottsdale. I took everyone I knew at one time or another. And Yes Big Trouble is another Carpenter masterpiece.

  3. June 28, 2012 at 3:21 am

    Saw this when it came out in ’82 at KC, audience in the theater seemed pretty receptive. The biggest laugh came when Charles Halloran’s head walks away as David Clennon underplays “You gotta be f–king kidding.”

    • 7 johneaves
      June 29, 2012 at 7:03 am

      And how! The same in PHX, and after the two or three minutes of what we just saw a quick laughto break the temsion was so needed.

  4. June 28, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    The Thing is probably my favorite horror movie of all time. Rob Bottin did such an amazing job, nothing can, or will ever compare to the monsters in this film. I love the fact that Will Brimley was making a flying saucer in his shack. I can just imagine him cruising across the snowy landscape on his way to civilization, with his head sticking out the top of this thing lol

    • 9 johneaves
      June 29, 2012 at 7:11 am

      That was such a cool and unexpected scene,, I was waiting for another attack in the cave scene and instead they discover what the Thing was doing… Really took the monster out of just being a monster and made it quite an intelligent life-form.. Bottin’s Work does stand as some of the best work ever… and I loved the fact that it was always vastly different in shape with only an element or two that would carry over when we would see it. One of the The wildest scene was when Bennings is being consumed by the thing in the chair.. Holy cow those greast tenticle swirling around his torso with the tip of one sticking out his mouth!!!

  5. July 2, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    I love this movie so much I can’t even rank it as my favorite because it would be higher than that. Between Rob Bottin’s work and Ennio Morricone’s great music and Dean Cundey amazing cinematography. This movie it pitch perfect. The movie also has a great sound mix so if ever think something is wrong with my surround sound I throw this movie on because I know the mix backwards and forwards. And now that I’ve gotten the Blu-Ray it’s even better. 😀 It has my favorite commentary track between Carpenter and Russell.

    • 13 johneaves
      July 2, 2012 at 5:32 pm

      I so agree and I love that commentary track. Also love the Escape from NY and Big trouble commentaries but The Thing is by far the best,,, It was very fun talking to Carpenter on the phone but tere were so few questions that hadn’t been asked..

  6. 14 robert minnes
    September 14, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    This is one of the extremely rare instances that a remake is superior to the original, figure that! Has anybody noticed Ennio Morricone’s extremely subdued thumb/thumb at the beginning of the movie…Talking about less is more…The fact that they’ve tried to make a Carpenter remake is an insult to all movielovers…AN INSULT!!!!

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June 2012

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