Film: The Thing
Director: John Carpenter
Performers: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Jed the Wolfdog
Production Information: Universal Pictures, 1982 (USA)
Breeds featured: Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky
I was annoyed when I first heard there was to be a new version of The Thing, riffing off John Carpenter’s classic about a parasitic alien that terrorizes an isolated camp of Antarctic scientists. Though itself ostensibly a remake of a 1951 sci-fi flick, I feel that the 1982 version has weathered the test of time, with just enough jelly and jumps to make an effective and suspenseful creature feature.
Then I watched the trailer, and was relieved to find out that the new version is actually going to be a prequel. I can live with that — especially if they make sure to tie the end to the John Carpenter film’s beginning, which, as some of you might know from having this film indelibly etched into your childhood memories, introduces the first incarnation of the alien in the guise of Jed the Wolfdog.
The film starts out with a Norwegian helicopter chasing and shooting at a large Malamute (Jed), who runs onto the American base camp. A crazed Norwegian man busts out shooting, then is killed instantly with a retaliatory shot to the face before anyone can figure out what the hell is going on. The Malamute flashes the dog handler his puppy dog eyes. Since nobody realizes that he’s hosting an alien that’s seriously about to Mess Things Up, they take in the dog and kennel him up with the rest of their own.
When he’s inside the kennel surrounded by all the other real dogs, the alien decides to make its presence known by bursting out of its host’s body in a gruesome, bloody mess. The effects are well above average for a film from the early 1980s, but what makes the scene so intense is the buildup. Jed the Wolfdog moves with a mechanical stiffness that is suited to the situation. Here, it’s okay that he’s obviously staring at an off-screen handler; the fact that he seems to be a little too intense compared to the other lazy sled dogs is part of what gives the scene some friction, and makes it work.
The original storyboards for the scene on the official John Carpenter page are pretty cool — better than the actual scene turned out, in my opinion. It looks like he had a lot more camera movement in mind, and more choreographed action from the dogs, but the rather static reaction shots were the best he could manage.
It’s difficult to ask most dogs to “act,” I suppose. Even Jed the Wolfdog, who was probably one of the more expressive dog stars in recent decades, could only do so much, given the technical limitations of this film.
Yeah, a lot of things looked pretty crude in 1982. So maybe some parts of this could benefit from a remake… Still, I’ll be holding them accountable for continuity, and they better keep the dog.