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

Sunday, October 23, 2011



                    When John was asked recently what the men at Outpost 31 did in their jobs he replied  "I don't know" and this is literally the truth. Running away as fast as we could from the usual stereotype of Dedicated Scientists Engaged in Something Bigger than Themselves, it was essential that our group be bored with their garden variety activities and, more importantly, bored and on edge with each other, a process accelerated by the creature's arrival and it's subsequent manipulations ( This as opposed to the usual dynamic of putting aside one's differences and banding together to fight and destroy a common enemy ). More caretakers really than scientists, keeping the men in the same wardrobe throughout the film serves as a physical reminder of that boredom, and also helps to re-enforce the glacial passage of time.

               "... I suggested putting ceilings on all the sets and bringing the pipes into the frame line to heighten the claustrophobia... I suggested using practical lighting to make it look realistic, so we lit whole scenes with just the flares the actors carried... We ended up using color selectively, with " The Thing " it's most colorful object..." Dean Cundey, Starlog magazine, November, 1982

            The anomaly of an all male ( and indeed, mostly middle aged male ) cast was surprisingly not much of an issue at the time. Once we had decided with Bill Lancaster to stay true to the intent of the original novella we were never asked to re-consider ( John was prepared to use THE WILD BUNCH as an example should the issue come up, and I thought about using THE GREAT ESCAPE ). I think now that probably the biggest factor in our favor was that everyone from the studio on down recognized at the outset that Bill's script worked , the characters and their interaction worked, and why mess with something that good ?

                After Bill came back from the Los Angeles Public Library from doing some basic research on Antarctica he asked us a  question:  how accurate do we want to be in our portrayal of Outpost 31 as a functioning research station?  We decided early on  to go to great lengths to protect the large elements that were essential to the telling of this story - the cold ( sets were originally planned to be built inside abandoned ice houses in the Los Angeles area ) and the sense of isolation leading to paranoia - and if we didn't get some of the details right, well... It's no secret flamethrowers, gun racks in hallways, dynamite in storage rooms, and a commander wandering around with a gun on his hip aren't exactly standard operating procedure, but it is pleasing to see that the film is prized now by those who inhabit the Antarctic research community, and is screened yearly at McMurdo on Winter Solstice ( great reading can be had at, a special section devoted to the film from people who ought to know... ).

          One additional note : when John went down to the sound stage to look at the finished Outpost 31 interior several day before filming was to begin it was painted a lighter, almost antiseptic hospital green. He immediately ordered it completely repainted with the cooler grey-blue color you see now - a small change making a big cumulative difference...

1 comment:

  1. I'd just like to point out that the address you posted has a typo, it should be: