Auteur, out now
A detailed examination of the themes in John Carpenter’s 1982 movie.
It’s not always been easy being a John Carpenter fan, particularly in the UK. Although he’s had his high-profile supporters – notably Anne Bilson, whose work on The Thing is rightly referenced regularly in Jez Conolly’s book – Carpenter isn’t regarded as one of the key figures in cinema history; certainly the idea of a mainstream book on his films has seemed to be a non-starter.
There are, however, a number of people who see in Carpenter’s work a lot more than just a hack horror artist, and Conolly’s contribution to the Devil’s Advocates series reinforces that view. The hallmark for me of this sort of book is whether it makes me want to go back to the item under discussion to view it through new eyes, and there is certainly a lot in this, particularly about the choices that Carpenter makes in his framing of shots and the narrative, which does exactly that.
Conolly provides a synopsis of The Thing, which comes in handy even if you’ve watched the movie frequently, before diverting into various different themes. Along the way a lot of information is imparted about the making of the film, and some persistent urban myths dispelled; the three different possible alternate endings (including the TV version which really makes no sense whatsoever) are discussed, and the reasons for their discarding explained.
A large part of the book is devoted to the critical re-examination that the film has undergone in the last 30 years, from the initial devastating reviews (and the reaction of some of those who worked on it) through the influence of Bilson and Quentin Tarantino, to the possible effect that 9/11 had on the industry and the way that audiences look at films now. The 2011 prequel is given its due, as are some of the other attempts to continue the saga, and the Howard Hawks/Christian Nyby version of the original story also comes under review.
You may feel that Conolly is reaching sometimes for his conclusions, but like the film he’s discussing, he doesn’t suggest that there are easy answers. His style is nicely conversational for much of the time, and the new interviews with some of the key players adds elements to the book that you won’t find elsewhere.
I suspect that on completing this, many people will want to go back and read Campbell’s original tale, and then watch the three film versions – I certainly will be.
Verdict: A fascinating discussion about an often-maligned movie. 8/10