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

Monday, June 11, 2012

THE CAST AND CREW SCREENING








The original program given to invited guests on June 11, 1982 



           
             
               THE THING cast and crew screening was held thirty years ago tonight on the evening of June 11, 1982. We had some trouble finalising the date. Universal's largest showcase, the Alfred Hitchcock Theatre, was then in nightly use trying to accommodate the turn away throngs of invited guests to E.T. THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL ( which also opened theatrically this night amid reports of record-breaking box office ), but for one evening they agreed to relinquish their hold and moved to three smaller screening rooms nearby ( the same rooms where we had tested the alternate ending for THE THING several weeks earlier ).


               John, in Tennessee for pre-production on FIRESTARTER, could not attend. Many of our mutual friends and colleagues did , as well as large contingents of Rob's special effects crew and David Yewdall's sound effects team. One of the six 70mm prints made for release was pressed into service for the first time...






... and the back




                   While the screening was taking place I did what producers are supposed to do, pace the lobby and walk aimlessly around the studio - this night it was easy to sense an electricity in the air, some sort of palpable energy, but it was not directed at us - the buzz on the lot among the night shift, the studio gate guards, our own assistants, the publicity people assigned to work our screening was all about E.T. and the expectation that it would become the highest grossing film of all time. Word had spread that wherever it was playing showings of the film were sold out for the entire day - an unheard of proposition in an era before online ticket ordering and reservations - and that people were standing in massive lines for five or six hours. In this giddy, increasingly celebratory atmosphere it was almost as if  THE THING was an afterthought, the screening taking place in a near vacuum of anonymity, something already discounted and consigned to oblivion. I smiled as I thought of the film in terms of a poor relation...












               The most enthusiastic response to the film that night came from the loyalists - Rob Bottin's gang loved it, as well they should, and thought it fairly represented the year of punishing work they had put into it. They were the rock stars of the evening, the execution of the effects universally praised by everyone. Ditto, acclaim for the sound effects team and their impeccable performance.
  
               The reaction elsewhere was decidedly mixed - strong differences of opinion seemed to break down along generational lines. I was confronted in the lobby afterward by a visibly angry Albert Whitlock, who thought the film was unnecessarily weighted toward gore and violence at the expense of almost everything else - he said his wife had to leave the theatre during the kennel scene and chose not to return. He found much of the film offensive, the first time I had heard this word used by someone closely connected with us to describe this movie...












                  Kurt Russell had seen THE THING several weeks earlier. I was the first person he spoke to when he left the screening ( John was in Tennessee ). His initial reaction was not positive, believing that much of the hard work, the relationship work done by the actors from rehearsal on was left on the cutting room floor in favor of what he called the "ick" factor. I think it is fair to say that most of the cast who saw the film this night felt the same way. There was general agreement that Rob's work was superb but maybe too good in that it overwhelmed the film and reduced them all to "pawns" as one put it  ( I think thirty years intervening time has notably changed and softened their view as it has at the same time increasingly validated John's decision-making ).


              The reaction among friends was more positive, but scarcely the ringing endorsement we had hoped for. Most thought the film powerful, but at the same time too dark and depressing - as one put it, John "had taken things one step too far". Several said the THE THING was unpleasant to sit through, something to be endured  rather than watched, not words one cares to hear describe the film two weeks before release. But the dominant storyline of the night was typified by the reaction of a close professional colleague, a producer of note, who came up to me with a "what can you do" expression on his face, shrugged with his palms up and said " Well, it isn't E.T."


                As if on cue, the three smaller screening rooms to our left opened up, ejecting a small sea of smiling, happy people, standing in marked contrast to our rapidly diminishing group of supporters. I was envious - it seemed we were caught in the wake of a phenomenon we hadn't counted on and were faring the poorer for it. Oh well, the great majority of reviews ( mostly print ) were yet to come - maybe they would see the light and help turn the tide... 
















7 comments:

  1. Another excellent blog....
    Funny thing about The Thing (:) is that it's an excellent film, one of my favourites, but I couldn't say why

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    1. You don't care about what people said, today The thing is a cult/great movie ! Took just 30 years to understand it...

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  3. Hi Stuart,

    thank you so much for all of the info you've shared on the Blog so far. I had held out hope we'd see a big update/post on the release date anniversary (June 25th?) and have been checking every day. I realize you've covered most all of it but can we expect any more?

    I've heard John Carpenter say in many interviews that everyone hated THE THING on release, not just the critics but the horror fans as well. After reading your posts here it seems that this is what you ran into as well, but I need you to know that not ALL of us horror fans took 20 years to appreciate you and your teams work. I was only 12, almost 13, when I first saw it but I loved it right away, immediately singing it's praises to my friends, buying the one-sheet, buying the soundtrack. Later I had a special video party to show my friends who couldn't talk their folks into taking them to see it in the theater. ALIEN had made me fall in love with horror movies, but I thought, and still think, THE THING had outdone it to take the title of greatest monster movie ever made. Sorry it has taken this long for you to hear this from the fans, but thank you sir. Thank you for picking up the torch for this project and running with it through completion. You all did a fantastic job.

    Now to a movie-geek fan question that I've had for 30 years:

    Over on the Novelization page you posted a pic of "photo" image of the novels cover of the dark figure with glowing face and hands that features the MAN IS THE WARMEST PLACE TO HIDE tagline. http://theoriginalfan.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/novelisation.html

    I always assumed the original main art that Universal had created for the film was the same as seen on the novelization, but that at some point they must have decided it would not translate well to newsprint ads so they scrambled to have Drew Struzan create a painting that was a brighter, lighter, version of the image -- which he famously did in just over a day. Though I have a fondness for Drew's artwork, since it was the release art, I always thought the novelizations image and catchphrase was far superior (creepier, darker, more atmospheric, mysterious and foreboding) and always wanted a one-sheet of the novels artwork. Was THIS also the same artwork you were referring to being changed over (along with the catchphrase) at the last minute on the FINAL DAYS page? http://theoriginalfan.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/final-days.html

    I have a friend who has licensed and printed anniversary one-sheets for the original STAR WARS films, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, ALIEN, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE and a few Disney titles. We had discussed looking into the rights to do a THING 20th Anniversary poster and I brought up the image/photo of the dark man in the snowsuit with glowing face and hands, but we couldn't find anybody who could provide a transparency of the image. Do you have any idea if they actually printed any posters of this image? Any idea who might have this source image to do a new poster?

    Via my correspondence with Drew when I asked if he had this original image, and in a recent interview on the Mondo website, he stated that he never saw any reference material and wasn't coached on the design but just came up with it himself on the spur of the moment. As you know, both images feature a man in a snowsuit with a glow obscuring his face. Coincidence? It is widely known that he usually works from reference material so I assume the image was at least described to him and after so many years he has merely forgotten. Do you have any thoughts here? http://www.movies.com/movie-news/mondo-struzan-the-thing/8439

    Thanks again for sharing all you have so far. I'm trying to spread the word.

    BeAst WisheS -- Leif Jonker

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    1. No, the artwork I speak of in my piece is represented by the unused poster in B and W I feature. We never considered anything like a figure with the face blacked out. I really think Drew came up with the original idea on his own, and the artwork for the novelisation was drawn from that idea ( I am unclear whether this is a first edition or not ).

      Thanks for your kind words - there are more pieces to come, my time has been severely limited recently...

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    2. Thank you for the info Stuart! I hope your time becoming severely limited is due to a new movie project getting underway. Regardless, I remain ever vigil awaiting your next post. :-)

      BeAst WisheS -- Leif Jonker

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