Qt3 Movie Podcast: The Thing (2011)

In this podcast, at least one of us correctly pronounces the names of Matthijs van Heijningen and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, the director and one of the actors in the 2011 version of The Thing. Then we recall fondly how good movies called The Thing were back in 1982. At the 57-minute mark, this week’s 3×3 covers our favorite accidental deaths in movies that don’t have the words Final Destination in the title.

Listen here.

Next week’s podcast: Paranormal Activity 3

So, you guys raise a point that actually runs counter to the way I’ve always thought of the original Thing. Which, let me preface by saying, doesn’t mean I’m right and you’re wrong. Necessarily.

But I’ve always tended to think that a person who is “infected” or “turned” by a thing has no idea that he or she has been infected until the critical point where the “thingness” comes forth, where it has nothing to lose by exposing itself. I can’t recall the movie ever explicitly making the point either way, but I guess it just made more sense to me that the thing lies dormant, letting the person get it safely to somewhere it could cause the most damage, spread itself around better.

I guess though that I never thought of the thing as having intelligence, as such. I don’t think communication or discussion is possible, it’s just too alien and maybe just too primal. Kind of like an alien from that other freaky movie.

But I guess it’s to the movie’s strength that we never really know how it works. I really have no idea at the end of the movie whether MacCready or Childs or both or neither of them are things. And maybe they don’t either, maybe they can’t. It’s the kind of thought that digs itself into my head and won’t let go, and I’d be curious what you and Kelly and Tom and anyone else thought about this.

I don’t think the Thing is “infecting” people – it’s consuming and replicating them. If that’s the case, it has to be faking its behavior.

I take issue with the earring thing at the end of the prequel, since in order to convincingly replicate human behavior (as it does repeatedly), it would have to subsume the entirety of the victim’s knowledge. Therefor, it should have known which ear was supposed to be pierced. On top of that, they hit the earring hard enough earlier in the movie (Chekhov’s Piercing) that having her actually explain to the alien how she knew it was an alien seemed pretty insulting.

edit: back to your main point. I guess that the replicated victim could be running on a sort of autopilot wherein the Thing doesn’t need to consciously control its actions. However, the Thing-humans do practice some subterfuge with regard to getting other people alone, putting suspicion on others, etc in a way that a normally functioning human probably wouldn’t. Certainly they do that in the prequel (the keys to the snow cat), but it’s been quite a few years since I last watched the Carpenter version.

If I had a platform for choosing a post of the week, these two words would be it. Made my night.

…that having her actually explain to the alien how she knew it was an alien seemed pretty insulting.

Spot on.


“So if this was in his arm, what’s it doing out of him now?”

I really think you’re right about this. What’s more, in watching the '82 movie the question doesn’t really even occur to me. In fact, I think that’s integral to the horror, at least for me. That is to say that I want to lean to what you say a bit earlier:

But I’ve always tended to think that a person who is “infected” or “turned” by a thing has no idea that he or she has been infected until the critical point where the “thingness” comes forth…

I like this in particular because of how the two actors in the '82 movie, Charles Hallahan (Norris) and David Clennon (Palmer), play the scene, or more properly, their scenes. They seem just as surprised as everybody else. I really love how that plays out. It feels a bit Blade Runnery on this point.

I think the new version muddies this, and thus ruins the tension and horror for me. When Juliette leads Kate into that little room, it feels calculated and thus hammy. I had no doubt what was going to happen, and when Kate turns her back and the sound effect dutifully cranks up I’m not the least bit surprised. [On a side note, how much do these Thingquel names suck? When I reference the '82 version I get to say Palmer and Fuchs and Norris and Childs and Windows and MacReady (such a Dickensian one, that). Every one of those fucking names has a punch when you say it. Even the glasses-wearing-nerd is named Fuchs. Fuchs! You could imagine yourself yelling that in extremis and sounding actiony-cool. When I refer to this new film I’m talking Kate and Juliette and Braxton Carter and Dr. Sander and Adam Goodman and it all feels so amorphous because they’re all so limp. Lars is the only cool name. This movie needed a nickname wrangler. I’m not going to refer to Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character as ‘Lloyd’. Why is that? Because ‘Lloyd’ makes no sense for this character and makes me think of Say Anything, and while I’m at it, ‘Kate Lloyd’ is a stupid name for an action hero(ine). And Juliette makes me want to barf planets. Jesus I miss Ripley.]

Back on point, what I’m most curious about is how far the alien could go in assimilation. That is to say, isn’t thought and memory, on a basic level, just biology and chemistry?

I guess though that I never thought of the thing as having intelligence, as such. I don’t think communication or discussion is possible, it’s just too alien and maybe just too primal. Kind of like an alien from that other freaky movie.

I think you’re right about the thing having intelligence, at least as we define it on a human level. Given the primal screams and sound effects. But given the thing’s ability to replicate, why couldn’t it replicate thoughts, memories, and speech? Why would that be any different than the virtual intelligence we humans create in computers, where computers “learn” to answer questions in real time?

Maybe that’s a stretch. I just want to hold on to Tom’s idea of us getting a conversation with the thing. Even one that devolves into some weird syntax errors as we reach the limits of the thing’s capacity for replication.

On another note, I still think it’s awesome that the ship starts up without a hitch after sitting in the ice for a hundred thousand years. Reminds me of those old Die Hard battery commercials.


“We have to rely on science.”

These are valid, and good, points. I just had never thought about things like this. It’s funny to me when you say that the earlier movie never inspired you to wonder, but I thought about it a great deal as a young fellow. I also picked up on the clues that the people who were “infected*” didn’t seem to realize it until the last moment. And I agree that it was pretty cool. So yeah, I need to think about this.

*but if it sort of takes their identity, then it must do something with the body of the person it bumped off, right? Or does the thing eat it? Of course I’m asking you to speculate, but I just always thought that the thing converted people into a weird biomass that it could manipulate like silly putty. But it’s also fun not knowing.

The only exposure I ever had to the thing was the old short story “Who goes there?”, in which they explicitly theorise that the thing is telepathic and can perfectly emulate a human mentally as well as physically. Also that it is probably far more intelligent than any human, which is seen at the end when a suspected thing left alone and locked up has built a ray gun, atomic generator, and antigravity backpack out of spare radio parts.

Unfortunately I was prevented from watching it as a young fellow. I got to watch it on HBO with a friend up until the dog, at which point his mom said, 'That’s enough!" and turned it off and sent us to bed. When I eventually saw it many years later I think I was watching it exclusively as horror, due in no small part to the fact that the image stuck in my head like some absurd mental gif through all the intervening years was of that poor dog splitting open.




SPOILERS, in case that’s not obvious at this point.

I didn’t listen to the podcast so maybe I’m misunderstanding this discussion, but doesn’t the Thing have to be intelligent? It flies the spaceship to earth, and at the end of the movie it’s firing up the spaceship again getting ready to fly it off somewhere. It definitely seems to maneuver people into being alone or suspecting one another. Everything it does in the end sequence points to intelligence: the Sander/Thing takes a Sno-Cat and drives off to get its ship, then when that Thing gets killed and the ship destroyed, the Braxton/Thing tries to trick Kate into going with it to the next nearest place with transportation (the Russian base). At the very end the dog/Thing escapes the base and heads over to the American base, which must be on purpose (i.e. it’s not just wandering around, it’s deliberately heading to where it knows there’s transportation and unsuspecting victims).

It can’t just be an animal-level intelligence like the aliens in Alien/Aliens. And we know it can talk and listen and communicate while in human form, because it does that while imitating humans. I think we have to assume that it just doesn’t want to communicate with us, presumably because it doesn’t care about us or making contact with us.

“How can they cut the power, man? They’re animals!”

I didn’t think the reboot/prequel was bad, but it did have quite a few holes in the plot that made me “WTF?” out loud.

In watching the 1982 Thing, I always liked to imagine that the ship that crashed belonged to some other species that had been killed and imitated. Did the 2011 Thing establish that it did actually belong to… uh, the Thing?

I guess I should have pointed out from the beginning that I haven’t even seen the prequel yet, I’m just a huge fan of the 1982 movie. But in response to Rywill, I would have to go with Anonymgeist – we don’t really know whose ship that is, just that the thing was on it. I like how the first shot of that movie shows the ship swerving and crashing into the earth, and wondered if the thing had hitched a ride and was killing/taking over the original inhabitants. But that’s just one more little item left to our imaginations.

It occurs to me that I’ve always kind of thought of the thing as kind of like the Flood from the Halo games, just mindless consumers and propagators of their own kind, just way, way better at mimicry.

Yeah, in the 1982 movie, Blair has started building a small flying saucer under the utility shed (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=maoJixvlOz0&feature=related 4 minute mark or so).

I think the creature is unambiguously intellegent.

hmmmm, i assumed the ship was the thing’s since

a) quaker oats thing built its own little ship in the shack

and b) it crashed into the icy part of the planet, so i assumed it was a piloted crash.

but neither one rules out your third species idea.

My buddy had a great line after watching this referring to how all the scenes were lifted from the first one, “You’d think, since the monster had seen all this before, he’d have been better prepared in the John Carpenter one.”

I just can’t believe how they didn’t even try to set up having everyone be separated while searching for the monster. Because the audience didn’t feel like a lot of time was being taken during the search, it didn’t feel like there was any time for anyone to get infected. So while we knew that someone had to be infected, because otherwise there’d be no movie, it seemed like the movie was totally arbitrary about who the initial vectors were. It also showed way too many people die on camera, confirming their infection instead of not knowing who just screamed.

I’ve always had that theory. I believe that “The Thing” is insane. My line of thinking is that something that batshit crazy and violent would lack the intellect and ability to possess an advanced spacecraft, and that whoever actually owned the ended up its victims. The new film doesn’t change that.

The only “Ah ha!” moment for me was when we got to see the guy at the end that had cut his own throat. I kept wondering what had happened to him, so it was nice to see him as that guy in the 1982 version.

On the flipside, the Lars end sequence felt like the filmmakers had totally forgotten about the way the movie needed to mesh up to the Carpenter version, and at the end went, “Oh, crap!” and just shoved that together.

Nitpicky, but why did the Thing on the helicopter go berserk when it did and crash the aircraft?

As with the space-jockey / alien, I prefer the idea that the saucer people were infected / overtaken by the Thing, either by accident, or while transporting it as a prisoner. It gives the action some nice parallelism.

However if the saucer wasn’t the Thing’s, another possibility is that, as a mental parasite, the thing can assimilate / supplement the knowledge of it’s hosts. So, maybe the Thing isn’t intelligent, but learned how to build saucers by infecting the saucer-building race. Or, maybe the Thing can’t build a saucer by itself, but Doctor Brimley-Thing can. Maybe the finished product would have been a weird saucer-helicopter hybrid based on assimilation of space-knowledge with human internal-combustion engine knowledge.

You could probably even go so far as to speculate that as a dumb animal, it was making the image of a saucer, but that the saucer never would have worked, because it didn’t understand how to make engines. Like a child making a car out of a cardboard box. I couldn’t figure out where in the mini-saucer the thing was supposed to sit, so I like that idea.

Of course, I’ve never been clear on if the Thing infects victims or just eats and copies them, so I’m hardly an authority.

I remember watching a fairly comprehensive review of the 1982 thing on youtube, I think I was linked to it from either here or someplace lame like Dvice.com but can’t find it now.

But I do remember it mentioning that the movie got delayed, so they had lots of time to really go over the script and tighten it up. It also argued really well on how everything was deliberate and made a very good case that Keith David’s character in the end was the Thing and that MacReady knew it. It would point out things like when characters switched clothing, because that was often a sign that they had been infected.

It really is a great film, and though I haven’t seen the 2011 one, I pretty much knew it wasn’t going to hold up.