You don’t know how excited I was to watch this movie again, and then, wonder to myself why in the HELL haven’t I watched this frequently over the years. Of course, I speak of the director’s cut which I feel is a vastly superior and richer story. From every fan I’ve heard from, they are hardcore about Pitch Black, but not so much about this one. I am really more the reverse. The more expansive science fiction epic traveling to various unique worlds, and facing multiple dangers with colorful characters is right in my cinematic sweet spot.
After years of outrunning ruthless bounty hunters, escaped convict Riddick (Vin Diesel) suddenly finds himself caught between opposing forces in a fight for the future of all races. An army of fearsome world ravagers known as Necromongers are “cleansing” and forcibly converting other species in their goal of universal conquest, but Imam (Keith David) and the Elemental Ambassador Aereon (Judi Dench) believe Riddick holds the key to a prophecy that could bring down Necromonger Lord Marshal (Colm Feore). Now, waging incredible battles on fantastic and deadly worlds, this lone, reluctant hero will emerge as a champion, and the last hope for a universe on the edge of annihilation.
Vin Diesel and David Twohy really develop the character of Riddick further and in more depth. There’s more emotional texture on the surface now, especially when conversing with Imam. I absolutely love how this film expands this character without ever betraying what made him fascinating to begin with. He’s placed into a larger story and a larger world which delves further into who he is, where he came from, and that’s exactly what a sequel should do. Every bad ass, intriguing quality of him is intact, but circumstances force him to make choices he never thought he’d be faced with. Diesel does an excellent job stretching Riddick out into this wider universe. He still carries the air of mystique with him, but there’s more emotional weight and tethers to the character. The connection with Imam is quite cool, if only for having two of the deepest, smoothest voices in Hollywood trading dialogue, but honestly, these are especially good scenes. Diesel also gets more dynamic action sequences to shine in, and galvanizes Riddick into a bigger, smarter, more clever bad ass than before. I also love the light touches of wit and humor that we are given. Riddick has some clever, fun dialogue making him just as funny as he is threatening and dangerous.
Building upon his character is the relationship with Jack, who now goes by Kyra and portrayed by Alexa Davalos. She’s grown into a jaded version of Riddick because she feels he abandoned her. She’s a convicted criminal willing to kill for pleasure or to survive. Davalos does a very good job in this role making a solid emotional connection with the audience, and shows her physicality is in prime shape. Some might know her from her three guest appearances on Angel as the electricity powered Gwen Raiden, where she also showed she could throw down. Davalos is a great successor to this role, and the film pulls no punches in tearing these characters away from Riddick, forcing him to stand more and more on his own. I like that Kyra and Imam become involved in the Necromonger storyline, albeit in different ways, and so, all threads tie tightly back into the main plot.
The director’s cut absolutely makes this an excellent film. The theatrical version cuts out the real meat of the Furyan subplot including the character of Shirah who comes to Riddick in visions and unlocks his power as a Furyan. All of that is rather critical to the entire driving factors of the movie. It gives motivation and purpose to Riddick and Lord Marshal, and propels them forward with more weight and depth. Without all of that, the story becomes thinner and more basic. I remember seeing moments in the trailer from this subplot, and being upset when they didn’t appear when I saw the film theatrically. This aspect of The Chronicles of Riddick gives depth, purpose, and poignancy to Riddick, and simply makes it a more substantive story that I really, strongly endorse.
There’s also amazing action everywhere in The Chronicles of Riddick. From the mercs chasing Riddick on the frigid ice world to the race against the scorching, lethal sunrise on the prison planet Crematoria, we get wickedly conceived and executed set pieces. There’s plenty of violence, especially in the unrated director’s cut, as Riddick really cuts deep into his adversaries, and we get plenty of bang for our buck. The stunt work is amazing, and the imagination on display is rich and refreshing. David Twohy creates some very dynamic acrobatic moments that do strain physics, but it fits just fine into the hyper stylized intensity. He absolutely goes for an expansive scope that stunningly sucked me into the film. The entire look of the movie is just awesome with excellent cinematography and a brilliant, epic vision from Twohy himself.
The Chronicles of Riddick has a very lavish production design that I could compare to a big Dino De Laurentiis 1980’s science fiction / fantasy epic like Flash Gordon or David Lynch’s Dune. This really goes all out in detailed costume designs, big sprawling landscapes, and simply elegant sets filled with depth and nuance. Twohy really went for broke making this an exquisitely high grade production, and I think it immensely pays off at every turn. Some of the visual effects are exceptional, but there are a number of moments that are quite noticeably less than excellent. Regardless, the vast, stunning vision of David Twohy is realized impressively, and with stronger resources than what he had on Pitch Black. The visual effects are a MAJOR upgrade from that movie allowing for Twohy’s vision to thrive on screen. There might be a green screen effect here or there that could be a notch or two better, and the animals set loose in the Crematoria prison are the most obvious undercooked CGI elements, but the visual effects spectacle is very strong creating a fully realized and enveloping universe. I thoroughly love every aspect of the look of this film. It’s what hooked me from the trailers, and it’s what continues to excite me. And yes, Graeme Revell does return to reprise his themes from the first movie, and does a remarkable job capturing the feel of this more action / adventure-centric sequel.
What I absolutely, deeply love in this film is Nick Chinlund as the bounty hunter Toombs. He is a massive upgrade in entertainment value over Johns in Pitch Black. Toombs is a rugged, sleazy, charismatic joy to be had all through his screentime. He’s an excellent, fun adversary for Riddick. Chinlund and Diesel have great adversarial chemistry to the point that I had always wanted Toombs to return for a sequel, but you can’t always get what you want. This role made me an enthusiastic Nick Chinlund fan.
And damn, does Karl Urban not do his best in everything he does? He’s a hardened, menacing threat as Vaako who schemes against the Lord Marshal to succeed him as leader of the Necromongers. This might seem like a subplot that is a bit extraneous, but it has strategic impact on the main plot. And Urban’s strong presence and dramatic weight really helps enhance Vaako and his role in this film. As I always say, Karl Urban is an actor with a rich depth of talent who never gives anything but his absolute best every time he takes on a role. He does rock solid, consistent, high quality work, and that has made him a wholehearted favorite of mine since The Lord of the Rings and The Bourne Supremacy.
And it’s odd to speak of the film’s main villain after all of these supporting characters, but Colm Feore is great as the Lord Marshal. He adds the right balance of militaristic conqueror and haunting specter. He is a man of supposed ultimate power seeking universal domination, and is fully consumed by his radical faith. His unwavering mindset makes him immensely dangerous like a barreling down freight train, and Feore has the right eerie quality to sell all of this. He fills the role just right making him a seemingly insurmountable enemy fueled by these fantastical powers of the Underverse. He doesn’t have the entertainment value of Toombs, or the fierce intensity of Vaako. However, he is the dominant presence that none can contend with, but you do get the subtle feeling that, whether it’s Riddick or Vaako, someone is going to take him down by the end. The climax entirely plays upon that expectation, and executes it in a very clever way.
Pitch Black was the one-off adventure that introduced us to Riddick, and just allowed us a small glimpse into the potential of this character. The Chronicles of Riddick was clearly the start of a larger, epic story that I have been excited to see continued for nine years. David Twohy establishes a great, exciting, and vast universe for endless possibilities with this movie. I love taking a character like Riddick and injecting him into a different kind of film. So many sequels aren’t a tenth as ambitious as this film strives and succeeds to be. Many would do the same old thing, playing it safe with audience expectations, but Twohy engages us with Riddick and develops him further in a story that forces that to happen. It puts Riddick into the bigger picture of the universe, and sets the stage for something even more fascinating and expansive to occur.
With the third film, Riddick, hitting theatres this weekend, it’s great to see another chance being taken here with a franchise of ripe potential. The Chronicles of Riddick was not profitable upon its theatrical release, and that was a terrible shame. Twohy and Diesel had well plotted plans for two more films, but would need that larger budget to realize them. So, I don’t expect Riddick to expand as wondrously and amazingly upon the concepts of this film, but more a fusion of the styles of Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick. Finding a middle ground between them seems like it could generate success and appeal to fans of both films. Again, my preference is towards the second film as it just breaks open the universe in a stunning realization of imagination, and is fueled by some great action sequences that have always stuck with me through the years. The Chronicles of Riddick is greatly exciting, immensely enjoyable, and simply fascinating to see unfold with its fantastical ideas and purposeful spectacle. If you haven’t been exposed to these films, I strongly encourage you to do so, and I hope that Riddick lives up to the years of anticipation. Even if it’s smaller scale, I’m greatly pleased to see a solid, imaginative franchise get another chance at success.
David Twohy is one of those talents who deserves better success than what he has achieved. He’s done some stellar screenwriting work with hits like The Fugitive and G.I. Jane, and many of his directorial efforts have received critical praise from genre fans. With Pitch Black, he struck a cult following chord that still, hopefully, resonates to this day. I’ve heard many say that Pitch Black is essentially a reworking of David Twohy’s rejected script for Alien 3, but my research does not confirm any correlation between the two projects especially since he co-wrote Pitch Black with two other writers in Jim & Ken Wheat. However, it is very easy to see how this could have been part of that franchise, but thankfully, this was its own thing that launched its own franchise that I am glad to say that I am a fan of. And yes, the director’s cut is the way to go for me.
When their ship crash-lands on a remote planet, the marooned passengers soon learn that escaped convict Riddick (Vin Diesel) isn’t the only thing they have to fear. Deadly creatures lurk in the shadows, waiting to attack in the dark, and the planet is rapidly plunging into the utter blackness of a total eclipse. With the body count rising, the doomed survivors are forced to turn to Riddick with his eerie eyes to guide them through the darkness to safety. With time running out there is only one rule: Stay in the light.
It’s interesting the structure that David Twohy goes for here. Once the crash occurs, most films would take on a gradual pace to establish many of these characters, and walk through the process of a slow burn build up to the lurking threats waiting for everyone. Instead, Twohy does a lot to jump forward beyond those gradual beats and goes for the tight, faster rhythm. He knows that the necessary focus is on Riddick, Fry, and Johns, primarily, and there are points that need to be hit with them before jumping headlong into the meat of the plot. We then learn more about these individuals as the conflicts and tensions escalate, which really works. Twohy keeps the pace very well balanced because of this approach. It starts out exciting, and continues to hold to that rhythm throughout. Danger is encroaching upon these characters, and that faster tempo is very essential to the effectiveness of the scenario.
The film has some very well crafted sequences that surely deliver on the suspense using silence, subtlety, and the darkness in very effective ways. While it doesn’t send chills up my spine to tingle me with terror, it is thrilling nonetheless. For me, I would veer this more towards an action vibe. The intention is survival horror, but there is enough intense action here to cater to anyone who isn’t so easily scared. Several characters are put into peril early on, some die, and that serves the tension later on knowing that anyone is expendable in this story. Anyone can fall prey to these quickly striking nocturnal creatures, and when they are charging through hordes of them with only minimal light to clear their way, it puts an audience on edge. Yet, little of this would mean anything if there weren’t well portrayed and written characters to involve yourself with.
I really like everything that David Twohy and Radha Mitchell do with Carolyn Fry, the now defacto commanding officer after the captain died during a hull breech. We know throughout the movie that she is not an altruistic hero as she tries to jettison the passengers to save her own life during the impending crash landing. So, there’s that condemnable quality that she works to redeem herself for through the film. She struggles to lead these people to safety as she constantly pushes that responsibility away, but she has to ultimately accept that leadership role in order to survive. Mitchell really stands strong in this role delivering a dimensional character that an audience can latch onto, emotionally, and invest themselves in as she grows and solidifies through this terrifying ordeal. Fry is vulnerable, but shows her strength by the end.
Cole Hauser makes the bounty hunter Johns a very good, subtly unstable foil here. He’s supposed to be a good guy considering he caught Riddick, but he’s a tough mercenary challenging everyone’s authority while feeding his drug habit. He’s a hostile wild card that could motivate people to safety, or more likely, jeopardize lives, including his own. He and Riddick are definitely set at odds, but the scenes between them are very interesting in the psychological aspect. Riddick is a guy who likes to play on peoples’ perceptions of him, and give them a certain amount of unpredictability to what he’ll do next. Johns knows plenty of Riddick’s tricks, and it’s interesting to see them subtly square off psychologically and physically.
Of course, the real star of the movie is Vin Diesel. The character of Richard B. Riddick is very much an anti-hero. He’s a convicted criminal who makes no excuses for himself, but knows how to use everyone’s fears and perceptions about him to his benefit. Diesel is very subtle in these moments speaking softly with a smirk showing that Riddick has people wrapped around his finger. Riddick knows just how far to push, and when to twist things back around. First and foremost, he is a survivor, and he knows that you can’t always do it alone. Vin Diesel injects confidence, intelligence, and cunning into the character, but also a very compelling mystique. Just like a Snake Plissken type, the less he says, the more interesting he becomes. His actions make him intriguing while what words he does speak weave a complex tapestry that simply sucks you in. You can gradually see this character becoming an iconic role as the film progresses, and even his opening narration sets the focus intriguingly upon Riddick right from the start.
There are a couple of notable supporting roles here including Keith David as the Muslim passenger Imam. He offers up a very solid character with strong beliefs and morality that add to the diverse personalities and attitudes of these characters. David is always a charismatic actor who can do tough everyman like in They Live or The Thing, but turn around and give you a substantive, cultured character such as Imam. Add to that is Jack, portrayed by Rhianna Griffith who comes to idolize Riddick, and forms some kind of attachment to him. There’s an odd twist to the character that seems fairly unnecessary, but it’s another trait to make Jack a slight bit more memorable. These are both well established, well portrayed characters which aid the film in very grounded, human ways.
Now, Pitch Black has a certain stylized look at times that never entirely sat right with me. I do like some of the over exposed daylight shots driving home the triple sun environment, but the rather monochromatic color washes don’t quite appeal to me. I just feel there must have been a better, more subtle way to color time these scenes to allow a slightly more varied color palette to shine through. Also, the inverted colors used in one false scare moment and a few cinematography and editing choices feel more akin to a flashy, stylized music video. These artistic choices just seemed more akin to stuff I had seen in the direct-to-video market than a theatrically released motion picture. That is sad for me to admit because beyond these off-beat moments, there is a lot of excellent cinematography to be had here. There’s a definite effort put towards production value with the cinematic camera moves and angles chosen. When the film gets into the darker and darker environments, it really takes on a very moody, atmospheric, and dangerous visual intensity. The whole planet eventually feels like a black, empty void perfectly reflecting the tense situation at hand. I also like that, in contrast to the overly exposed daytime scenes, the full-on night time scenes seem straining a little for exposure. You feel how dim the light is that these people have to work with and ward off these creatures, and that extra grain on the film stock just adds more gritty edge to the movie. Those issues I had are present only in the early part of the film. The remainder of it is shot, edited, and executed especially well.
Considering this was made on a $23 million budget in the early 2000s, I will say that the visual effects are fairly good based on those factors. In the grand scheme of CGI, Pitch Black has a LOT of room for improvement. These filmmakers were very ambitious with what they wanted to achieve on such a limited budget, and I can’t fault them for that. There are some better looking moments than others, and it is likely best, by design, that so many of these effects are played out in dark environments. In a brightly lit one, these creatures and digital effects would look really bad. While Riddick’s “shine job” vision allowing him to see in the dark is pretty damn cool, the creature vision is quite primitive like some cheap Photoshop radial blur effect. I hate to talk poorly about all of this because I see the ambition and visionary talent at work, but the budget could only be stretched so far to accommodate that, which is very unfortunate. If you doubled this film’s budget, the visual effects would be approaching excellent, I’m sure. As it is, if the characters and scenario pull you in, I think any shortcomings in the CGI will be forgivable in an audience’s eyes.
Another really exceptional quality here is Graeme Revell’s rich score. The main theme is excellent, thrilling, and rather triumphant. In an age of films that rarely attempt to forge a recognizable main theme of any kind, it’s refreshing to see especially a genre film crafting one that strikes a strong chord. Even though it had been several, several years since I had seen either this or The Chronicles of Riddick, I still recalled the theme fondly. Revell has done some stunning work when he really applies himself, such as on The Crow, Strange Days, and The Craft, and his effort really shows through here.
Surely, the basic concept of Pitch Black is not very original as I’m sure you can draw comparisons to the Alien franchise and various other science fiction / horror classics. However, like I said, even if this film does tingle you with terror, it has action and excitement to engage you. I definitely like the Riddick character. He’s very intriguing, and a solid anti-hero in cinema is always a fun concept. Vin Diesel was the right man for this role, and I love that he has had such a devotion to it alongside David Twohy. Pitch Black is definitely a cult classic which has plenty of merit and entertainment value. It’s a straight up type of film with certain plot conveniences to allow for this story to happen, but if it hooks you and you have fun watching it, none of it is gonna matter.
The late 1980’s was the debut of a new action star – Steven Seagal. By the dawn of the 90’s, he had already done Above the Law and Hard to Kill, but he was still finding his footing. However, Marked For Death finds him successfully planting his feet and launching forward with a gritty, hard edged action blockbuster. Helmed by Dwight H. Little, who I’ve found to be a very solid director starting with Halloween 4, this delivers qualities that I find severely lacking in modern action cinema. Here, Dwight Little demonstrates his merit alongside Seagal in excellent fashion. This is my best friend’s favorite Steven Seagal film. So, I hope I do it justice for him.
Burned-out after losing his partner on the job, Drug Enforcement Agent John Hatcher (Steven Seagal) hopes to find some calm and serenity by returning to his hometown. But things at home have changed and not for the better. Jamaican drug lords, led by a black-magic high priest named Screwface (Basil Wallace), have completely infiltrated the small town. But this gang soon learns that they’ve met their match in John Hatcher, and all the mystical voodoo in the world won’t be enough to stop Hatcher’s wrath!
I think this would be a great double feature with Predator 2 due to the Jamaican drug gangs in both. The spooky ritualistic and mystical atmosphere around them is very compelling. Screwface, a hell of a weird name if I’ve ever heard one, is a scary, psychotic bad guy. He’s right off the deep end, and like something from your darkest, twisted nightmare. His piercing eyes are haunting, and the fact that he almost never blinks when that fiery intensity is burning inside him enhances that quality. He masterfully builds this aura of mystique around him with a very effective and authentic Jamaican accent. This is a wickedly awesome villain that adds so much horrific danger to this film.
I will admit that Seagal has never been a very dynamic actor, but he carries the dramatic weight and emotional drive of this film well. Along with Dwight Little’s direction, you see the subtle emotion surface when he sits at the hospital bedside of Hatcher’s niece portrayed by Danielle Harris. Seagal can bring some charm and light charisma to the screen in the right moments. Then, when he gets into the heat of the action you see that ass kicking wisecracking bad ass that made Seagal the action star that he was. He’s entirely confident and sharp in this outing showing that this is his signature style, and it couldn’t have been showcased in a better, smarter action picture.
Teaming him up with Keith David just makes everything more bad ass. He brings a wealth of charisma and weight to Max, Hatcher’s old army friend. He’s a tough guy who is ready to take back his community because he cares for the children he teaches every day. So, there’s the light-hearted friend, but also, the skilled soldier ready to unleash a maelstrom on these gangs that are decaying his neighborhood. David’s wide range of talent from the tough bad ass to the heartfelt humanity makes Max a strong complement to Seagal’s more cool, calm, reserved, yet dead-set, bone breaking violent style.
If you want to see Seagal in his most violent, hard edged prime, this is it. These Jamaicans are ruthlessly and graphically violent, and so, John Hatcher has to be a man who is equally as severe. The action highlights are many, but I really enjoy the shootout and fight in the high end department store. It starts as a car chase that crashes into an awesome assault with guns and martial arts violence. And this film keeps upping the action, peril, and explosive caliber. As Screwface becomes more dangerous, so does Hatcher. This is sharp, sleek action with tons of punch that will leave thoroughly satisfied and then some. It’s all evenly paced allowing the story’s momentum to build up tightly while delivering something fresh, dynamic, and exciting at a regular interval. It’s really damn good stuff.
I also find it admirable that this film makes a point to show that they’re not making a stereotype out of Jamaicans. There’s a Jamaican police assistant who is an honest guy that aids Hatcher later on. The film even takes us into Jamaica where we see the people in their vibrancy and hardships. While it was not necessary for the filmmakers to do this, I find it the mark of a well developed and fairly balanced crafting of ideas. If they are going to delve so much into the culture for these abhorrent criminals and killers, it adds more depth and richness to show it in context to the reality of the Jamaican people. The score by the incredible James Newton Howard blends those Jamaican sounds and beat into the film appropriately. His music highlights and drives a fair amount of the action, and brings the flavor of the narrative to just as much life as the visuals.
It’s oddly appropriate that the director of photography on Marked For Death also shot the last film I reviewed, Cobra. Here, Ric Waite gets the chance to work with the wider scope format, and he does a remarkable, rock solid job. He crafts a great atmosphere when Screwface is in his element through smoke, candles, and just excellent moody lighting. The action is perfectly framed with some occasionally intriguing angles, and all around, it’s a greatly lit and photographed film.
And this film has an amazing twist at the end with Screwface’s perceived magic. Not at all would I spoil this for anyone because it’s stunning moment of awe when it happens. Just when you think Hatcher has all things vanquished, it turns around on everyone, and results in another fantastically executed action sequence. I mean, who doesn’t love a good swordfight? It’s one bad ass ending the trumps even what came ten minutes before, and solidifies the hard hitting, take-no-prisoners action intensity of this picture.
Pack all of this in tightly to a 90 minute runtime, and you’ve got an action film that strikes out with killer excitement. This is undoubtedly one of Seagal’s absolute best films, if not the best. He pulls no punches, takes no prisoners, and delivers a performance that adds some sly wit in between the emotional fire underneath and the up front bone-cracking bad assery. Adding further to that bad ass quota, the opening sequence features a small role by Machete himself Danny Trejo. Backed by a director who I’ve always thought deserved a more high profile career because he is that damn good, Marked For Death delivers it all. Today, you got a lot of ridiculously over-the-top action films that devolve into cheesy and even campy indulgences. In this film, you get a lean, hard hitting movie that never softens the blow with those silly distractions. They can have their place in the genre, but we do not get action films like this anymore. Not this well made, and not going straight on for the throat leaving no blood un-spilled. Just go watch it, now!
Right behind Michael Mann, John Carpenter is my favorite filmmaker of all time. The diverse range of films he has given the world are entirely unique and wildly entertaining. In 1982, he ventured to pay homage to one of his favorite filmmakers, Howard Hawkes, by helming a re-adaptation of the John W. Campbell, Jr. short story “Who Goes There?” Hawkes had done so previously in 1951 with The Thing From Another World. What Carpenter gave us is what I consider the best film he’s ever made. A grippingly effective science fiction horror film with an amazing atmosphere of slow building paranoia and sickening alien gore. John Carpenter’s The Thing became a classic of the genre due not only to a solid ensemble cast, but an elite crew that make this such a fantastic film that continues to hold up thirty years later.
In the winter of 1982, a twelve-man research team at a remote Antarctic United States research station discover an alien life form that was buried in the snow and ice for over 100,000 years. They soon realize that not only is it still alive after a deep freeze burial and a fiery defeat by a Norwegian camp, but that it has the ability to imitate any living thing to exact detail. Before they know it, the alien organism has infiltrated their camp, posing as any number of these men. Paranoia and distrust runs amuck in this isolated compound as no one knows who is human, and who is The Thing.
Time always seems to be the best judge of quality. Upon its release, The Thing did poorly. This was because 1982 was the summer of Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial, and many dark science fiction films did badly in the shadow of that wondrous, fantastical film. Blade Runner, which opened the same weekend as The Thing, also suffered at the box office because of this. However, since then, The Thing and Blade Runner have become two of the most revered films of the genre garnering massive praise, and are recognized among the best works from directors John Carpenter and Ridley Scott, respectively. They are both amazing films in different ways, but have both influenced the genre immensely.
Beyond anything, what stands out the most in this film are Rob Bottin’s amazing creature effects. What he achieves puts him on the same level with the absolute best in the business. Effects master Stan Winston also lent a helping hand in a sequence or two, but Bottin is the main man responsible for the richly disgusting slimy alien gore and mind blowing physical creations here. The detail he put into his work to create such twisted and purely alien designs remain as impactful and effective today as they were in 1982. That’s the work of a master, and it lead to him working on blockbusters such as RoboCop, Total Recall, Se7en, Mission: Impossible, and Fight Club. It is a massive loss to the industry that he has been absent from it since 2002. Bottin was a fascinating personality with a wild artistic mind that was ripe with brilliance. This film is eternal testament to his talents.
Speaking of which, John Carpenter’s pure horror talents have never been more taut or focused than in this film. It’s the perfect blending of paranoia, creepiness, gory horror, tension, and suspense. Nobody does it like John Carpenter, and only from his expert direction could this film have become as timeless and consistently effective as it has become. Also from him comes a perfectly selected cast fronted by Kurt Russell as R.J. MacReady – the cool and rational mind, the level-headed one of the bunch. Also featured in this ensemble are Keith David, A. Wilford Brimley, Thomas Waites, Richard Dysart, Richard Masur, David Clennon, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, T.K. Carter, and Donald Moffat. They all inhabit their characters so distinctly and vibrantly. Each man has their own look, and aren’t easy to mistake one for another. Their personalities and characteristics set them all apart very nicely, and all of the cast grasped onto the growing paranoia excellently. A beardless Brimley brings forth a fantastic performance as well as Blair flips out partway through the movie tearing apart the communications center. He plays crazy to immensely entertaining effect. Later, he is truly unsettling leading into the film’s climax. Keith David is constantly entertaining as the gung ho, take-no-crap from anyone Childs. However, Russell clearly remains the most central protagonist of the film bringing stability to the chaos, and handling all the various dimensions of MacReady awesomely.
The script written by Bill Lancaster is wonderfully constructed. Sadly, Mr. Lancaster passed away in 1997 due to a cardiac arrest, and was not able to contribute his thoughts to Universal’s amazing Collector’s Edition DVD. The Thing was the last piece of cinema Lancaster was directly involved with, and at least he could say that he bowed out of filmmaking on a seriously high note. This happens to be a pure classic in the genre of science fiction & horror. The dialogue is always great, never ever cheesy or cliché. There are bits of humor, but nothing that works against the tone of the film or the scene. Any director would be privileged to work with a script this well-conceived.
The cinematography is an absolute pleasure here, and that is forever to be expected from Academy Award winning director of photography Dean Cundey. In the opening minutes of the film, we are given stunning shots of the immense arctic landscape that clearly establish how isolated our characters are. The photography can even prove to be terribly creepy at times such as the storage room scene after MacReady breaks into the compound. Kurt Russell looks ghostly with the brilliant blue lighting upon his snow covered self. Cinematography in a Carpenter film has always been a strong point, and you cannot deny its strength here. It helps evoke the proper emotions at the right times by capturing atmosphere in its compositions and lighting. Another such element is Ennio Morricone’s score. Right from the get go, it sets the tone for the entire film. It grips you and never lets go. This score is haunting, relentless, brooding, and terribly chilling. This is such a powerful score, and despite that Carpenter did not compose it, it does have many elements of his own scores in it. Morricone had scored many “spaghetti” westerns including The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly, and we would later score The Untouchables. To this day, Morricone continues to score many films, mostly Italian ones.
What makes this film so effective is due to the psychological aspect of the story. The paranoia slowly develops in the company of these men while trust diminishes. These characters are nicely setup from the start establishing their relationships and personalities so vividly that later you see how seamlessly the alien has infiltrated their ranks. No one acts any differently, and it is surprising how complete the disguise is. Under a human guise, the Thing turns down the chance to take over as the leader of the group. The life form is not looking to be obvious. It has no ego, and is possibly doing this out of fear for its own survival. It wants to hide, be subversive so that it can keep doing what it does without suspicion. Using covert methods, it can slowly take over the entire camp until it is in total control. However, when threatened, it is a brilliant idea that each part of it is an individual whole that will fight for its own survival. This makes it just that much harder to definitively defeat as even one molecule’s survival can be disastrous, in time. Mixed in with the diverse and dimensional performances, every aspect of paranoia and fear that this film deserved is greatly fleshed out and realized here.
When taking in all of this excellence, one can’t help but realize they are watching a classic piece of science fiction / horror cinema with John Carpenter’s The Thing. From Carpenter’s expert direction, Bottin’s masterful effects work, the stellar production values, the power of Morricone’s score, the amazing cinematography, and certainly the stellar acting talents of this whole ensemble cast you will get a perfect film. The atmosphere in this motion picture is something that many filmmakers fail to inject into their own films. My interest in horror films has waned in past several years. First, it was the torture porn trend, and now, I just don’t see much of anything out there with this level of atmosphere and craftsmanship. John Carpenter’s masterpiece gets a perfect, solid rating from me – 10 out of 10. I did see the 2011 prequel, and while it excelled in the horror and atmospheric areas, it didn’t have the memorable characters or amazing creature effects that set Carpenter’s film apart from the competition. You surely can’t perfectly imitate a masterpiece.