Two of the most influential 80s genre films receive deluxe Blu-ray treatments just in time for Halloween. They come from iconic directors whose impact is felt on science fiction and horror to this day. I’m speaking about Aliens, written and directed by James Cameron, and John Carpenter’s The Thing, made by the man whose name is in the title. The films combined sci-fi and horror to spectacular results, and they feel as fresh and viable today as they did thirty years ago.
Cameron was coming off of the surprise success of The Terminator when he took on the job of helming the sequel to Ridley Scott’s classic, Alien (1979). Instead of mimicking the slow burn of Scott’s film, Cameron changed the tone by making the sequel an action/sci-fi/horror movie. Sigourney Weaver reprised her signature role as Ripley, who returns to Earth after the horrific events of the first film.
After being rescued from stasis after floating in space for 57 years, Ripley is hired to return to the moon where she first encountered the alien eggs. In the years in which she was missing, unwitting humans have colonized the moon. It’s supposed to be a rescue mission, with Ripley as a guide, and a chance to wipe out the aline monsters by the group of gung ho team of commandos (including Michael Biehn and a young Bill Paxton) that come along.
When they get to planet, they find the humans wiped out, save for a little girl, Newt (Carrie Henn), whom Ripley becomes a surrogate mother. The soldiers find themselves in the middle of an alien breeding ground, and must fight to get off the planet, or wind up dead.
Cameron paces the film like one of his action driven epics, yet takes the time to build terror in many of the scenes in which anything can jump out from any corner. The tenderness he brings to the moments between Ripley and Newt are as impressive as his huge set pieces. His secret weapon was Weaver, who grounds these scenes with humanity and tenderness. She earned a well-deserved Academy Award nomination for her work, which oscillated between the motherly side of Ripley to the kick ass action hero she was capable of being.
Technically, the film is near flawless, including the stunning work by Stan Winston and his group of effects artists that created the aliens. Winston won his second Oscar for Aliens, and the monster effects his shop manufactured remain some of the most intricate and beautiful ever to grace the screen.
The Aliens 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray comes with two versions of the film, the theatrical release, and a longer Director’s Cut that includes more backstory to the human colony. It’s interesting material, but not essential to the story. Other bonus features on the release include deleted and extended scenes, featurettes on the making of the film. At galleries, and a brand new featurette about the inspiration and design of Aliens.
Since its release in 1982, John Carpenter’s cinematic masterpiece, The Thing, has only grown in stature and respect among film enthusiasts. A box office failure upon its release, The Thing’s cult status expanded beyond horror and sci-fi fans as more people watched it on cable and through video rentals. As much an Agatha Christie “who done it” (or in this case, “who is it?”) as a monster movie, general audiences saw The Thing as complex and topical. I’ve seen the film over 50 times in the past 30 years, and I’ve watched it on ever format available at various times: VHS, laser disc, and DVD. Each viewing made me fall in love with the movie again, and Shout! Factory’s Collector’s Edition Blu-ray ignites the passion once again. It presents the greatest viewing experience of the movie, short of seeing it in the theater.
Kurt Russell leads a group of researchers, stuck on an isolated base in the Antarctica. Supported by one of the greatest assemblies of character actors in film (including Keith David, Wilford Brimley and David Clennon), Russell and company try to destroy an alien monster that absorbs its victims and mimics them by becoming an exact duplicate life form. One by one, the bodies drop, until only a few are left standing, left to question “Is he human?”
Working from a script by Bill Lancaster, Carpenter’s methodical pace brings a sense of dread to every moment, and manages to leave room for solid laughs at the most appropriate times. He may have had bigger hits with audiences and critics, but The Thing is his most accomplished work. You can feel the pain and struggle he, his cast and crew went through to make the film in every frame.
Each actor acts at the top of their game, especially Russell, one of the most underrated actors of his generation. Ennio Morricone’s score also plays an important role to creating the tension in the film. Simple, scary and succinct, it is as important a film score as John Williams’ music for Jaws in shaping the terror that awaits the characters and the audience.
Finally, there are the groundbreaking special make-up effects by Rob Bottin and his crew. What was done in The Thing stands as some of the most realistic and beautifully realized gore/creature creations in motion picture history.
Shout! Factory’s new 2K transfer, supervised by the film’s Director of Photography, Dean Cundey, is crystal clear; it revealed things to me that I’d never seen in the grainier video releases of the past. Most shocking? Richard Dysart’s Cooper has a gold nose ring! I can’t tell you how impressed I am by this transfer. It looks like it was shot last year. Additionally, the audio remastering is a skillful mix that really separates the dialogue from the music and sound effects. Past releases have featured muddled sound. Now, every word spoken is audible, only adding to what is already a great experience. If you’re a fan of The Thing, or looking to discover one of the greatest films from the 1980s, this collector’s edition is a must.
Bonus features on this release include: Audio Commentary with director of photography Dean Cundey, Audio Commentary by director John Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell, Interviews with Keith David, Thomas Waites, Peter Maloney, and more, An interview with editor Todd Ramsay, Interviews with visual effects artists Peter Kuran and Susan Turner, special make-up effects artist Rob Burman, and Brian Wade and more, and John Carpenter’s The Thing: Terror Takes Shape:” An 80 minute documentary on the making of The Thing featuring interviews with John Carpenter, Kurt Russell, Rob Bottin, legendary matte artist Albert Whitlock, and members of the cast and crew.