THE THING

THE THING
From right to left : John, Myself, Production Manager Robert Brown, Associate Producer Larry Franco. The Juneau Ice Field. Location Scout April, 1981

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

THE COMPUTERS






                 THE THING, having been produced on the cusp of a digital universe, is a resolutely all-analog film, without a frame electronically processed. It is somehow fitting that the computers appearing in the movie are both mock ups, non-functioning props made out of bits and pieces, with the video display portion in both cases shot well after principal photography.









              Originally a much shorter moment containing less specific information, with Blair at the computer John essentially created a new scene in post-production built out of inserts. The only two pieces done during filming were those of Blair intently watching. John saw this as an opportunity to hammer home to the audience, in the simplest possible way, the idea of assimilation and it's consequences ( this became a primary concern as editing on the film advanced ).

               



                      An analog endeavour, the program simulation was written by John and animated on film by fellow USC alumnus John Wash.    None of us had any idea what this ought to  look like, so JC instructed John to make it as simple and familiar as possible by using video game graphics... 




                    It was then transferred ( at a special 24 frame rate in order to avoid scanning lines) to U Matic 3/4 inch tape, fed back to a monitor, and photographed.





                 This information, written by John, was designed to lay out the stakes for the men ( and the audience) in sledgehammer fashion. There is nothing coy or shaded about the message here... 




                      Also added by John, Blair's reach for the gun was shot on the insert stage later ( with someone else's hands ) to complete the scene...












                McCready's chess game was an actual program, something designed for an Apple II computer ( the only one I knew of  was owned and offered up by our Production Manager Robert Brown). On set we tried to photograph it operating in the same frame with Kurt, but the results were a mess. For photographic purposes it too was converted to 24 frame analog video, recorded onto 3/4 inch tape and played back later, which resulted in an acceptable image...











4 comments:

  1. Mr Cohen, am I right in thinking that the computer simulation run by Blair simplifies the concept of the Thing too much?

    In the simulation, we see that the Thing-cell attacks a dog cell and then that it takes its appearance. There seems to be only one cell at that point, the Thing-cell disguised in the dog-cell. The dig-thing cell then attacks another dog cell and starts the process over.

    If we apply this principle to the Thing, this would for instance mean that when the norwegian body attacks Bennings, at the end of the assimilation process, there wouldn't be the norwegian body and a Bennings-Thing (which is the way the Thing is supposed to work in the movie) but only a Bennings-Thing (if we rely on the simulation run by Blair).

    That's why whenever I show this movie to friends (which happened quite some times when I was a teenager :) ), I've always explained that the simulation does not quite represent the way the Thing works, as it doesn't give the feeling that it multiplies by assimilation.

    Was I correct or wrong in this assumption?

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  2. @Gary - That's how I've always understood it as well - Mass is conserved, and the thing reproduces. It eats something and spits out a thing-imitation of equal size and mass (at least that's how it works in Who Goes There, and it appears to be what we see going on in the kennel).

    On a totally unrelated note, I always thought it was interesting that these percentages are actually somewhat close to the values found using the Poisson distribution. Some of the fans on outpost31 did the analysis here:

    http://www.outpost31.com/vistar/essays/probability.html

    and

    http://www.outpost31.com/vistar/essays/blairprobability.html

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  3. A question I've always pondered is "is Blair infected at this point?"

    If he's not - then it's him being concerned as to how it might spread. He then gets the gun for his own protection

    If he is, then it's The Thing checking how long it will take to take over the planet. He then gets the gun to start the process of being locked up and begin it's dastardly plan for world hegemonisation!

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  4. This is an absolutely amazing site, as I'm sure you've grown sick and tired of hearing! But it really is.

    All I wanted to chime in on was the idea of Blair and the infection.
    For me I've always imagined it was in that moment he pops his pencil in his mouth, the one he's been prodding the half-transformed thing-cadaver with. But that's just me, and so much of this movie is about not-knowing how things happen between the men - and yet knowing exactly how the Thing operates...

    ReplyDelete