Studio Distribution Services (SDS) and Universal released a 4k Blu-ray edition of John Carpenter’s The Thing on Sept. 7, 2021. For the UHD BD, the movie’s original negatives were scanned and restored, and the original soundtrack and audio were remixed for DTS:X and DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. The 4k Blu-ray combo edition of the film includes a Blu-ray and Digital Copy redeemable with Movies Anywhere.
The Thing starts off in Antarctica during the winter of 1982. Unknown to a team of American researchers stationed in a remote location, a dangerous alien had been uncovered several miles away by a Norwegian scientific exhibition. When two of the Norwegians chase a dog back to the American’s station, their helicopter is accidentally blown up. The American team, led by pilot R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) investigate the other station and find a disfigured corpse. They decide to take the corpse back to study it, but the alien life-form that assimilates other life-forms begins to wreak havoc on the Americans.
Filmed on a $15M budget, The Thing was not well-received upon its release. However, a renewed interest, even of cult status, has arisen with home media releases including VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, and now 4k Blu-ray. The special effects, although considered grotesque at the time (and probably still now) were the work of Rob Bottin who was given about $1.5M to create the horrific life forms that were part human, part animal, and part who-knows-what. As the story unfolds the alien is not always able to perfectly assimilate other life-forms, but at the core of the thriller is finding out who could have been infiltrated by the alien invader.
The Thing is based on the 1938 novella “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell Jr. (under the pen name Don A. Stuart). The film was produced by The Turman-Foster Company and distributed by Universal Pictures.
The Thing is presented in 4k Ultra HD (2160p) at 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The UHD BD played at bitrates averaging in the high 80s and 90s, which are really high bitrates compared to other 4k Blu-rays.
High Dynamic Range is provided via HDR10 and the BT.2020 spec that allows up to 10-bits of color depth. As far as color, The Thing has a less saturated palette than other HDR films but there is evidence of deeper color in the shadow and bright areas that were not possible in 8-bit color on Blu-rays.
However, the shots at around one hour and seven minutes when the guys are walking with flares have a really nice color effect with HDR. There is a glow to the pinkish magenta hue that isn’t possible on all TVs or PC monitors, only with HDR.
When compared to newer films some of the camera work in The Thing seems awfully shaky. Case in point, a steady cam on a drone would have helped the opening scene when the Norwegians are chasing the dog in a helicopter. The shots used long lenses though, so a bumpy helicopter ride would have always produced shaky video compared to new camera and lens stabilization technology we have today.
There is some great camera work at 14:58 when the Husky senses something is wrong at the base. This is when Stevie wonders superstition is playing on the radio and the camera travels low as if an alien creeping through the station. Also, take note of the shadow that accompanies the Husky at 15:40. It’s a powerful image that enhances the suspense.
The following camera shot of the helicopter at 15:50 is one of the most beautiful in the film. It’s a pan across the Antarctic that lasts about 20 seconds, taking MacReady and Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley) to the Norwegian station. These are the kinds of shots that look great in 4k on a large screen TV, delivering that cinematic experience as close as possible to home.
There is noticeably more grain when the shots are indoors rather than outside in the bright snowy daylight that allows plenty of exposure and focus. Like other films though, the grain in The Thing is manageable and at least consistent. You’ve just got to “embrace the grain” when watching films of this generation and other films shot in low lighting. It’s an aesthetic we’ve gotten away from as newer films are shot on advanced camera sensors that allow very high noise-free ISO settings.
4k gives The Thing a new life. There so many details were hard to notice in previous home media releases such as the wall of girlie photos in the pool room at 00:4:50. But with improved sharpness in the video comes more visibility of film imperfections.
Back in the film days it was hard to find perfect sharpness in every frame. The scene when MacReady is recording a taped message is unfortunately blurry even in Kurt Russell‘s face. You can imagine directors deciding to go with a better acting take that may have been blurry over a take that was not acted as well. After all, 40 years ago digital cinema didn’t exist. But what cinematographers did with the technology of the time was incredible.
The English soundtrack to The Thing on 4k Blu-ray is provided in DTS:X 7.1 channel surround sound. That’s a substantial upgrade from the 2008 Blu-ray edition with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The 48kHz audio streamed at a high 7Mbps in some scenes. Like the audio, those are high bitrates compared to other movies we’ve scanned.
From its opening credits, the soundtrack to The Thing starts to envelop you. There is a beating heart effect played on a bass that’s not unlike other horror films especially its contemporaries. The composition by Marco Beltrami is minimal at times, but moments of terror are enhanced by the notes Beltrami chose. His baseline creeps up on you whenever there’s a more dangerous scene opening.
Explosions, gunshots, flares and flame thrower sounds (there are a lot of them) are fairly immersive in DTS:X. The opening scene when the alien spaceship crashes into Earth has a strong left-to-right pan, as do the helicopter flyovers that seem to circle around the viewing space.
The final explosion at the station wasn’t as grand as you might expect today from a blockbuster film, but it was enough to end the movie with a bang. Given the resilience of the alien though, it would not be a surprise if it survived that explosion. The film could have easily been taken to a sequel, but only if it had done better at the box office. About a year ago there were reports about John Carpenter and Blumhouse working on a reboot of The Thing. A prequel to the movie was released in 2011 starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
Included with the 4k Blu-ray is Director John Carpenter’s The Thing: Terror Takes Shape, outtakes, theatrical trailer, and feature commentary with Director John Carpenter and actor Kurt Russel. In the Setup section, you can turn on the feature commentary that provides plenty of insight into making the film. The 4k Blu-ray combo edition from SDS also includes a 1080p Blu-ray and Digital Copy redeemable with Movies Anywhere