The Thing Scream Factory & Universal Blu-ray Comparison (originally published 2016)
In the winter of 1982, a twelve-man research team at a remote Antarctic research station discovers an alien buried in the snow for over 100,000 years. When unfrozen, the form-changing alien wreaks havoc, creates terror… and becomes one of them. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)
As one of the most beloved and heavily dissected films of the 1980s, there’s very little left unsaid about John Carpenter’s The Thing. There are the usual retrospective celebrations, which mention that Carpenter’s film follows John W. Campbell’s original story, Who Goes There?, much closer than Howard Hawks’ 1951 version, The Thing from Another World, and blame the film’s initial critical/box office failure on the popularity of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. (which was released two weeks before The Thing in 1982). More in-depth articles may explore its lasting influence on pop culture (including comic and video game sequels, a prequel film in 2011) and the many movies that ‘borrowed’ its aesthetic and ideas (George P. Cosmatos’ Leviathan, 1989; Robert Rodriguez’ The Faculty, 1998; Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful 8, 2015; et cetera). For my part, I’m think that I’m finally willing to admit that The Thing is Carpenter’s masterpiece. Halloween is the even more influential film and endured as my favourite for decades, but, rewatching The Thing for the hundredth time, I can’t overlook its technical perfection and seemingly effortless artistry any longer.
By now, we all know the story that The Thing flopped upon release and slowly built a reputation on home video. Universal was aware of its cult following and did right by it over the years, beginning with an extras-packed Laserdisc, which was ported onto non-anamorphic DVD. This was followed by a ‘remastered’ anamorphic DVD (with the same extras), and 1080p Blu-ray and HD DVD versions that were, apparently, based on that same ‘remastered’ scan. The transfer was fine for an early HD release, but there was room for improvement. When Scream Factory announced that they had yet another home video release of The Thing on tap, they were met with some skepticism, especially considering their habit of reusing old Universal scans. Doubts were quelled when they added that not only were they doing a 2K rescan of the original interpositive, but that the process was going to be supervised and approved by original cinematographer, Dean Cundey.
Comparing the two transfers – Scream Factory release on the top, original Universal release on the bottom – it seems that it was worth the effort. The old master isn’t the DNR mess that Universal’s Cat People and Darkman discs were, but it is certainly over-smoothed. Scream’s disc has much more texture, particularly during big close-ups of intricate and slimy special effects. Grain is a bit on the noisy side, which could be a different kind of digital clean-up problem, but there aren’t any notable edge haloes or blocking effects. This brings us to the color-timing and grading, which is considerably different between the transfers, especially during the darker sequences. Scream’s image is brighter overall, revealing more of Bottin’s artistry in low-light situations without overwhelming the intent of the moody photography. The snow-capped daylight sequences don’t appear any more blown-out than the flatter Universal release. In terms of colors, I miss the more pink & orange hues of the older disc, but can appreciate the remaster’s natural skin tones and its more eclectic monster palette (there greens are given the largest boost). Also, the cool blues – a Cundy trademark – have been maintained. This is usually the part where I speculate as to which palette and contrast is more ‘accurate.’ Fortunately, I don’t need to guess, because Cundey’s supervision/approval (assuming it was that intensive) tells me that the new timing/grading is now the preferred version.
For its original LaserDisc and DVD releases, The Thing was given a 5.1 overhaul and that mix has followed it to every Blu-ray/HD DVD disc since, including this one. Scream Factory has included that track, but also created an exclusive 4.1 mix from the original 70mm six track Dolby Stereo sound. In addition, they’ve included an original 2.0 stereo track and all sound choices are presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. The new mix is the best option, because it makes for a lively, multi-channel experience that is still consistent (or at least more consistent) with the filmmakers’ original intent. The 5.1 mx is still quite effective, though, as it engages the rear channels more regularly (specifically during helicopter and creature attack sequences) and it is respectful of the original sound designs. Its disadvantages are echo effects and a slightly too aggressive LFE track. The original stereo is the plainest of the three and has division issues with dialogue, but is also the most ‘pure’ in terms of an authentic experience.
For years, there has been a common misconception that Ennio Morricone was credited with The Thing’s musical soundtrack, but that Carpenter had largely rejected the Italian maestro’s score and replaced it with his own music. This theory makes sense, since Carpenter composed/co-composed most of his own scores. According to the director during the new interview included with this set, he only composed three ‘connecting moments,’ not major themes. I’ve also read that none of his work made the official soundtrack album, either, so it’s safe to say that the majority of the music we remember in regards to The Thing was composed by Morricone. On the other hand, Carpenter’s co-composer Alan Howarth claims that they wrote the main title theme during his interview, so I suppose that the truth is more complicated. Whatever the case, the electronic interludes are not unusual for Morricone, who fully embraced synth music during the era.
Commentary with director John Carpenter and Kurt Russell – This might actually be the first commentary track I ever listened to and it’s every bit as good as it was back then.
Commentary with director of photography Dean Cundey – Cundey’s track is the first Scream Factory exclusive. The typically low-key cinematographer is moderated by Blumhouse.com’s Rob Galluzzo, who leads him through questions and supplies his own factoids during down moments. It’s a bit lethargic, but still a good addition to this exhaustive collection.
Commentary with co-producer Stuart Cohen – Red Shirt Pictures’ Michael Felsher moderates this second new track, treating it like an extended interview, as he usually does. This is a more lively discussion than the Cundey track and covers some of the adaptations pre-Carpenter years in development.
Teaser, two trailers, a German trailer, three TV spots, radio spots
Still Galleries: Behind-the-scenes photos, lobby cards and press stills, programs, posters, storyboards, production artwork
Requiem For A Shape-Shifter (28:39, HD) – A brand new interview with Carpenter conducted by director/fan Mick Garris. Though the talking points tend to be similar to information already shared in the original commentary and documentary, Garris’ questions tend are usually posed in ways that make the discussion feel fresh. Carpenter delves further into certain aspects of the production, such as studio financing, framing choices, Morricone’s score, and his recent musical tour.
The Men Of Outpost 31 (51:41, HD) – The second new featurette includes interviews with cast members Keith David, Wilford Brimley, David Clennon, Thomas Waites, Peter Maloney, Richard Masur, and Joel Polis. Again, there is some overlap with the older extras, but it’s worth it for the new and expanded points of view, especially early stories about the casting process. Even if the content wasn’t great, the whole thing is worth it for the moment where Brimley’s cat and dog have a fight on his lap.
Assembling And Assimilation (11:09, HD) – New interview with editor Todd Ramsay, who breaks down his process on The Thing and his working relationship with Carpenter.
Behind The Chameleon: The Sights of The Thing (25:26, HD) – The new featurettes continue as the technical staff is interviewed in more depth than they were during the original documentary. Subjects include visual effects artists Peter Kuran & Susan Turner, special make-up effects artist Rob Burman & Brian Wade, and stop motion animators Randall William Cook & Jim Aupperle. The footage is augmented with new behind-the-scenes photos.
Sounds From The Cold (14:53, HD) – These new interviews with supervising sound editor David Lewis Yewdall and special sound effects designer/co-composer Alan Howarth are definitely welcome, as none of the film’s sound crew has appeared on any of the older extras.
Between The Lines – Legendary author Alan Dean Foster, who wrote the novelization of the movie, speaks about his process and communications with Who Goes There? author John W. Campbell in last of Scream Factory’s exclusive interview.
John Carpenter's The Thing: Terror Takes Shape (1:24:03, SD) – The original, feature-length documentary produced for the LaserDisc and DVD releases. This insightful and entertaining piece has been included on every home video release, but, for some reason, Universal decided to make it a picture-in-picture [i]only[/i] option on their last Blu-ray, prompting many fans to hang on to their old DVDs and HD DVDs.
Network TV broadcast version of the movie (1:33:45, 1.33:1 SD) – This censored TV version includes scenes that are not in the original cut.
The Making Of A Chilling Tale Vintage Featurette (5:14, SD)
The Making of The Thing Vintage Featurette (8:20, SD)[/list]
The Art of Mike Ploog Vintage Featurette (12:21, HD) – Animated image gallery of Ploog’s pencil-rendered storyboards and creature designs.
Back Into The Cold: A Return To The Shooting Locations Of The Thing Vintage Featurette (11:16, HD) – Animated image gallery narrated by Todd Cameron of the fan site Outpost31.com.
Outtake reel (5:20, 1.33:1, SD)
Vintage EPK interviews (13:20, SD) – Despite the title, these are really more advertising featurettes.
Vintage product reel (19:38, SD) – This elongated distribution advertising reel includes some footage that had been deleted from the final film.
Vintage behind-the-scenes footage (2:02, SD)
Annotated production archive (54:12, SD) – A collection of location photos, production art, storyboards, make-up design photos, and images taken during post-production, all annotated with text descriptions. There is some video footage, such as the complete Blair Monster sequence with stop-motion inserts, but most of the content is stills. The weirdest thing about this extra, which is compiled from older extras, is that it includes some of the animated menus from Universal’s European Blu-ray – as if someone recorded the process of watching the previous disc’s extras, instead of just porting them over.
I’m sorry, everyone, but it looks like you’re gonna have to buy The Thing again. I know, I know, you’ve already quadruple or quintuple-dipped on this particular movie, but Scream Factory really has done just about everything possible to make it worth just one more purchase. There’s still room to fiddle with the video quality, I suppose, but, at a certain point, you’re just ‘pushing paint around the canvas.’ This is a big upgrade over Universal’s soft and smooth HD transfer and, until someone makes a 4K version (which I seriously doubt will happen anytime soon), this is the closest to an original 35mm print that we’re going to see. The audio options are fantastic, especially the new 4.1 track, and the extras are exhaustive, including (I think) every ‘legacy’ supplement and hours of exclusive Scream Factory content.
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer. Full-sized .jpg versions can (currently) only be accessed by right-clicking/ctrl-clicking the images and opening them in a new window/tab.