• Reel Reviews

Don’t Thing Twice, It’s All Right

written by: on January 31, 2012

When John Carpenter’s genre-defining horror classic The Thing slithered into cinemas three decades ago, Carpenter and his screenwriters shoved audiences right into the middle of the story—placing them in a helicopter with two crazed Norwegians, one trying his damndest to gun down a lone Alaskan Malamute dog. With each fumbling pull of the trigger, the gunman misses. The two race across the Antarctic wilderness, chasing the four-legged fugitive to a nearby American military outpost and ultimately, their doom. A language barrier keeps the Norwegians from conveying to the Americans that this Alaskan Malamute must be killed. Tension escalates, a gunfight ensues and two Norwegian pilots lie dead in the snow. So begins The Thing, a film that starts in the middle.

Released the same day as the critically-lauded Blade Runner and forced to compete with the likes of family-friendly E.T.: The Extra-TerrestrialThe Thing did poorly at the 1982 box office. Despite disappointing numbers, the film would ignite the imagination of countless moviegoers, all of whom wondered: who were the Norwegian pilots? And what happened to the rest of their team? Here to address the events leading up to those tense moments is last year’s prequel of the same name.

“It’s the story about the guys who are just ghosts in Carpenter’s movie,” says producer Eric Newman. “They’re already dead.”

Franchises are a tricky enterprise. When it comes to revisiting a previously established universe in film, much is made of the most basic, obvious decisions. Who to cast, how to best fill in the story gaps and of course, every iMDB message board user’s favorite, whether to rely upon the strength of practical special effects or computer-generated wizardry. What you won’t hear apologists and detractors fighting over, however, is the original motion picture soundtrack. Surprising, given the irreplaceable presence of music in film.

Injecting punctuation and color to last year’s The Thing outing was none other than veteran composer Marco Beltrami, who has made a career out of breathing new life into everything from the midnight movie fodder of Halloween H20: 20 Years Later to Academy Award-nominated The Hurt Locker. For The Thing ’11, Beltrami had some sizable shoes to fill: composer Ennio Morricone’s work on The Thing ’82 is regarded by many film historians as a seminal horror score. Its unique array of sinister, minimalistic synthesizer and coiled jazz were, for the time, unexpected, and nothing short of a landmark achievement.

Beltrami wastes no time in paying homage to Morricone’s groundbreaking work with opening number “God’s Country Music”, which layers a burly collection of brass and strings over Morricone’s recurring motif from The Thing ’82, a menacing, digitized heartbeat. Beltrami, unafraid of turning to the aid of studio effects in establishing atmosphere, introduces the breeze of a snowstorm. There, he sonically transports the listener to the very Antarctic plain where Norwegian scientists first encounter the organism that will change their lives forever.

The discovery of the alien signals an irreversible setting of the plot into motion, a change reflected in the score’s sudden tonal shift. By the ten minute mark in the soundtrack, it’s already too late for the film’s characters. Over the course of three hair-raising minutes, “Autopsy” thaws as though it were the creature itself. A lingering note lies dormantly in wait, steadily gaining traction near the song’s monstrous conclusion, where it reveals itself to the audience as an ugly mass of growling bass tones. Now that the creature has presented itself to us, it begins to stalk the film’s characters in “Female Persuasion”, where it attempts to assimilate the film’s lead protagonist, Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth-Winstead, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World). Nightmarish strings snarl and whip as audible tentacles, hellbent on destroying all in its path.

The caffeinated jolt of “Sander Bucks” is enough to swell a lump in the bravest person’s throat, and the disturbing “Meating of the Minds” documents the literal merger of alien tissue and human flesh with convulsing, inverted horns and screaming Staccato rhythms. Disgusting.

As members of the Norwegian camp fall prey to the alien left and right and things quickly descend into madness, the score adapts to the hopeless environment it is soundtracking. The caffeinated jolt of “Sander Bucks” is enough to swell a lump in the bravest person’s throat, and the disturbing “Meating of the Minds” documents the literal merger of alien tissue and human flesh with convulsing, inverted horns and screaming Staccato rhythms. Disgusting.

By the end of the film and soundtrack (“How Did You Know”), Kate isn’t even sure if her most esteemed comrade, Sam Carter (Joel Edgerton, Warrior), is to be trusted anymore. The Thing ’11 marks the third official adaptation of John W. Campbell, Jr. novella Who Goes There? which turns 74 this August. Seven decades later, the original source material continues to tap into the most primal of fears: if we are no longer able to trust our friends in the midst of chaos, then to whom can we turn? Are we ourselves to be trusted? Rather than seeking answers, The Thing ’11 and Beltrami’s masterful score opt for haunting ambiguity, leaving it up to us to decide which is more dangerous: the literal or figurative monster within.

The Thing (2011) is available in stores today on DVD and Blu-Ray, as well as Digital Download. The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, by Marco Beltrami, is available via Varese Sarabande Records