The Thing, 1982. Directed by John Carpenter. Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Richard Dysart, Keith David, T.K. Carter.

Synopsis: A dog is chased across the ice of Antarctica by Norweigan scienctists. The dog makes it to an American scientific outpost where its pursuers and their helicopter are destroyed. The staff at the American outpost is perplexed by the events that led to the deaths of the Norweigans and mount an expedition to the Norweigan station to find out what happened. When they get there, the Americans discover that the Norweigans have dug something out of the ice--a flying saucer--and then met with a bad end. The investigators take back what evidence they find that hasn't been set to the torch, and speculate as to what went on at the Norweigan station. The dog has been put in the kennell with other dogs. That night, the dog reveals its true nature: it is in reality a shapeshifting alien, capable of disguising itself as other life forms. It becomes apparent to the scientists, and to MacReady, the helicopter pilot, that one or more of their own people may already have been replaced by an invading alien. The scientists begin to mistrust one another as the alien picks them off one by one...

Pedigree: John Carpenter's favorite filmmaker was Howard Hawks. By the time he got around to remaking Hawks's Cold War fable, he had already tapped Hawks for Assault on Precinct 13 (which remakes Rio Bravo after a fashion) and for Halloween (which features both snippets from the original Thing From Another World and an underlying structure borrowed from The Thing). It's interesting that, when presented with the opportunity to remake the film in earnest, he went off in an entirely different direction.

This is a visceral reworking of John W. Campbell's short story, "Who Goes There?" rather than a remake of Hawks's film. Carpenter strips the Cold War subtext from the film and inserts a more profoundly frightening ideological monster. By making the alien a shape shifter, Carpenter aligns the film more closely with The Invasion of the Body Snatchers than with The Thing's militant message. In the first film, the terror is mostly a political one--what the alien intends in Carpenter's remake is apocalyptic and unthinkable.

Carpenter has updated the architecture of the story to fit the mix of elements he brings to it. The Scientist, as an archetype, is not cast here as an appeaser or a peacemaker, and The Lone Hero is as clueless and ineffective as anyone else in the movie. The characters more resemble real people here as they do exactly the wrong things and distrust each other more and more. Dean Cundey's 70mm Panavision camera prowls through the movie, through the claustrophobic interiors of the outpost and over the harsh vistas of Antarctica, generating a mood of menace that is present in almost every frame--a counterpoint to the film's most potent weapon: Rob Bottin's monster. Bottin, more mad genius than effects man, was given carte blanche after convincing Carpenter to abandon the monster from the first film. Instead, he substitutes in a carnival of shape-shifting abominations whose permutations are as stomach churning as an autopsy and as alien as anything on film. These are utterly repulsive, and in the context of the film, they want not only the planet, but our bodies as well. This is an alien to fear. The end of this movie is as much a call for vigilance as the first, but instead of watching the skies, we must now watch ourselves.