Last night the Arclight Hollywood hosted AFI’s Night at the Movies, a celebration of 13 great American films hosted by the stars that helped make them famous. As a part of the event Kurt Russell was on hand to introduce a screening of John Carpenter’s 1982 classic The Thing. Having been born a few years too late for The Thing’s theatrical run, I take every opportunity I can to watch it on the big screen and my favorite part is always the audience. You can’t beat an audience that’s just as excited to be there as you are; an audience that screams, cheers and applauds at all the right moments – that is, I used to think you couldn’t beat it until last night’s screening. Turns out a little reminiscing from Russell beforehand make the whole thing just that much more fantastic. Hit the jump to check out the highlights of what he had to say.
- Russell was involved in the production, kicking around ideas with Carpenter, long before he was asked to play J.R. MacReady. He wasn’t actually brought on to act until production had begun shooting second unit in Alaska.
- The Thing is the third of five movies that Russell and Carpenter have made together, and Russell pegs it as the best of the lot calling it, “John’s finest hour.”
- There are no female characters in the film and the only female presence is the voice of the chess computer MacReady plays (voiced by Adrienne Barbeau). Likewise, the crew ended up being comprised entirely of men. Russell recalled, “It was the most interesting set I was on because the psychology of what happened on that movie was unique, it was something I’ve never seen. Very little posturing goes on with men when there’s no women to posture for and…it seriously begins to show itself in the movie, the way these actors used it.”
- The Thing and Blade Runner both opened June 25, 1982 and were poorly received at the box office. Coincidentally, both films were celebrated by AFI last night.
- Russell believes that the film failed initially because people were too horrified by the monsters Carpenter imagined and Rob Bottin’s legendary effects that brought them to life. As a result they failed to see the quality of the film behind the scary monsters. “It disallowed some audiences, and certainly critics and reviewers, to be able to get past the horrificness of the monster to watch the movie.”
- Russell recalled the experience of making a film heavily reliant on effects before that became the norm, “I remember John Carpenter, many times, trying to describe to his actors what it was they were looking at. It was in post-production that this monster was going to be created, we had a couple puppets on set that were pretty cool that would give us an idea, but it always amazed us that we would turn around and be playing the scene to a wall with an X on it, or a box, or a gobo with a big white X. I would look around after the shot and realize there’s nine guys looking at one object with nine different imaginings.”
- The bulk of the shoot was extremely environmentally taxing. They shot part of it on the Universal lot in the heart of summer. Outside it was over 100 degrees while the inside was climate controlled to stay at 28 degrees. The set they used in Alaska was used as an exterior as well as an interior, which meant there had to be snow on the roof and they could never heat the inside above freezing. Outside it was so cold that they had to deal with frozen and broken lenses.
- While the film is technically a remake of The Thing from Another World Carpenter was more interested in adapting the short story it was based on, “Who Goes There?” He wanted to make a film about “deep paranoia”.
- While shooting the film Russell absolutely hated the giant sombrero MacReady wears, but when he looks back on it now it’s one of his favorite parts. “To me it was just another example of the whole relationship that John Carpenter and I have shared together and the one we have shared together with the movie industry. I was like the reviewers to come, I just didn’t get it, I just didn’t understand this hat, but now that I watch the movie I realize it’s perfect. John was just ahead of the curve. He generally was.”