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 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...